Where will MLB's scandal-stricken teams turn for new managers?

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

From a handheld device, bouncing along radio waves, caroming off big metal towers dressed as trees, the text message arrived here Thursday morning: “We are truly a mess.”

It’d be a fair assumption the sentiment rode along with others just like it, tapped out of frustration in places such as Houston and New York and Boston, fluttering along the horizon and recalling a day — just Sunday, for one — in which their baseball franchises seemed sturdy enough. Maybe not in Houston. But the others.

Today, two months after the saga began and one month before the first fungo bat is swung, the Astros, Mets and Red Sox do not know who their field managers are, the Astros don’t even have a guy who usually chooses the manager, and the sign-stealing scandal that once looked like it might divert a single franchise appears to be only just gaining momentum.

The next domino could be another team. The next domino could be 10 or 15 more teams, and the crisis that was one or two organizations cheating their way to championships inches toward the more chilling scenario that, other than the championships, the Astros and Red Sox were not the exceptions.

Eventually, when enough are left bloodied and gasping, teams will have to determine who will lead them from these times, which might feel like they’re sticking their hands into a barrel of bait fish and hoping to come out with the albino one. But here we are.

As Red Sox general manager Chaim Bloom, 2 1/2 months on the job himself, said during Wednesday’s news conference in Boston, “There’s no question it’s an unusual time to be doing a managerial search. [But], we want to make sure we do this justice.”

For the moment, that being Thursday afternoon, make that mid-afternoon East Coast time, there are those three managerial openings, all as a result of this thing the Astros did and the report that followed. (The Mets, true to form, had nothing to do with either, benefited not at all from either, and still somehow got hit in the mouth. They are persistent.)

So, three franchises (mid-afternoon Thursday, 4 p.m.-ish, ET) are in turmoil. Two have general managers. All of them would, at some point, require a manager. Particularly in Houston and Boston, those teams would require a mature, tested, reliable man who, it seems, would know how to run a baseball game without the blessing of always knowing the other teams’ signs. The commissioner’s office has plenty of time to implement new rules, and unplugging every television, tablet, computer and phone would be a good place to start, and men such as Bruce Bochy and Buck Showalter were managing before there was such a thing as Google. That doesn’t necessarily make them any more qualified, but if Rob Manfred is going to unplug the games there are a few folks who know what that feels like.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Carlos Beltran poses with General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen after a press conference naming him as the team's new manager at Citi Field on November 4, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Given the situation seems fluid, internal candidates in Houston and Boston would seem a potentially flammable solution. While the accusations have been investigated, the report written and the discipline rendered, almost no one considers the story fully told. Also, cultures of sustained foul play — and this surely is not limited to those investigated by MLB — might be best served by someone outside those cultures. Ignorance of rules violations could not be a valid defense. Knowledge of them would be a disqualifier.

The good news is, there are plenty of candidates capable of handling what have become the biggest jobs in the game, of leading contending teams with massive PR problems out of their murky pasts. An illuminating element in the Astros situation held that A.J. Hinch twice disabled television monitors that were part of the illicit system in Houston, and twice those monitors were replaced by players who presumably had grown reliant on them. The asylum, by then, had been overrun.

The Astros reportedly have interviewed Buck Showalter and John Gibbons, both strong, confident leaders who would not put up with that sort of insubordination. Neither would Bruce Bochy. Or Mike Scioscia. Or Dusty Baker. Owner Jim Crane is not so much making a hire as he is rerouting a culture. If he must start over, and he must, and if he expects to continue winning, and he should, then Showalter is the choice.

The Red Sox loved Alex Cora, as they should have. As their manager, he was direct and forceful and charismatic and cared about all the little things that can escape a person in that job. In the clubhouse and in the community, the next man in will be held to those standards, fair or not. A finalist in New York before Beltran was hired, and sure to once again be on the Mets’ short list, Eduardo Perez fits better in Boston, in part because he carries many of the same traits as Cora.

The next manager in New York will be replacing the idea of Carlos Beltran as a manager and also a 0-0 record. The team is not as good as the ones in Boston or Houston, but it is not without promise. Mickey Callaway’s two seasons felt clunky and, almost as soon as Brodie Van Wagenen became general manager, temporary. So, what the Mets require is steadiness, a man who commands the top step and can move a bullpen around and speaks with authority and wins in places other teams lose. 

Van Wagenen’s next move is to talk Bruce Bochy out of his bass boat and back into a game he left just a few months back. Bochy never really wanted to leave San Francisco. He never actually figured on retiring. A guy can only catch so many fish. The bet here is he’d take a shot at winning again for the Mets, for whom he was a career .306 hitter (17 games in 1982), and who need someone like him very badly.

After all, nobody can be a mess forever. Right?

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