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General managers run the show
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
The Yankees won the World Series, and Joe Torre's hitting coach, Chris Chambliss, was fired. The Mets made it to the World Series, and pitching coach Dave Wallace and bench coach Cookie Rojas were exiled to Toronto.
Two of Bobby Valentine's coaches were fired -- one, Valentine's close friend Tom Robson, for the second time. And in Boston, Dan Duquette and his advisors overruled Jimy Williams and hired Rick Down instead of Leon Roberts as hitting coach, which necessitated the re-assignment of Williams' bench coach, Buddy Bailey.
"If you looked around, you'd find that there are very few general manager-manager relationships that don't have their strains," says Mets GM Steve Phillips. "It's the nature of the two jobs. The manager necessarily has a shorter-term view, because he has to try to win each day. The general manager has to take a broader, longer view. The key is meshing those views."
Phillips and Valentine were able to do it this past season, and the Mets had their finest season since 1986. Valentine got his new three-year contract for more than $7.5 million. Phillips got his three-year deal at approximately 40 percent of Valentine's package.
"The manager in this case is being paid a lot of money to manage, and Steve is the CEO," says another GM. "There is a great deal of pressure on Bobby, no question, but Steve has broader responsibilities. These days, the manager's job is to manage the personnel he is given. It is not his job to tell the general manager and his staff -- in this case Jim Duquette, Omar Minaya and the scouts -- whom to acquire in the long view. The manager should have input, but the general manager as CEO has to make broader decisions, weaving evaluation with cost with the longterm view of annual competitive strength."
"It's sometimes hard for a manager to see the larger picture, so it's the job of the general manager to communicate it with him," says Dan Duquette, who admits that sometimes his communication with Williams has been a message stuck in a bottle tossed into the Charles River.
"It's only natural that managers let their everyday relationships with players affect their talent evaluation, and that's all right, because it's human nature."
In other words, if the GM thinks Mike Stanley is in serious decline, he has to take him away from a manager who cannot detach himself from Stanley's character.
Nothing is too unusual. Braves GM John Schuerholz has shaken up Bobby Cox's staff twice in the last four years, while Twins GM Terry Ryan has never been allowed to freshen Tom Kelly's coaching staff. Rangers GM Doug Melvin fired John Oates' close friend and pitching coach, Dick Bosman. Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar reworked Larry Rothschild's coaches.
Even with the success the A's have had, there has always been an edge to the relationship between Billy Beane and Art Howe.
"I admit I make suggestions, and Art is always so respectful of my opinions that he calls me with the lineup," says Beane. "But this isn't the old days. The GM is the CEO. He has much, much greater responsibilities than he did 10 years ago. It works if it's open dialogue."
One GM jokes about how he kept suggesting to his manager that he improve the club's struggling offense by changing second basemen.
"He told me that he liked his guy because he scooped throws well," says the GM.
Some GMs try to explain to managers that left-right matchups don't necessarily work, and have the statistical proof.
"What you see with some of these organizations is that they have a bunch of brilliant young executives who can offer statistical data and research that refutes traditional thinking," says a GM. "If they listen to one another, it works."
Valentine was critical of Phillips last winter for letting John Olerud go and signing Todd Zeile, for passing on Kazuhiro Sasaki, and for the alignment of the Met outfield. Zeile, of course, turned out to be a fine player and an important clubhouse persona.
The Duquette-Williams civil war runs deep, and the fact that Duquette occasionally rankles the players divides Yawkey Way even more. This goes deeper than the Carl Everett business, which won't be resolved until Everett and agent Larry Reynolds are convinced he can play another season in Boston with Williams and the current players.
Duquette could not figure out some of Williams' lineups. Granted, Jose Offerman had a serious knee injury in 2000, but the Red Sox are a much better team with Offerman at second base; at first, Offerman created two below-average offensive positions in a lineup that was one of the worst in the league.
When Duquette, assistant GM Lee Thomas, Duquette's lieutenant Eddie Haas and Williams met in Florida, they discussed their need for a No. 2 starter and more offense. Williams said he'd be happy with Darren Lewis in center and Lou Merloni at third -- two players who combined for two homers and 37 RBI.
"You can't afford to have outs in the American League," says a Sox official. "We have got to get better. Rick Down will help Brian Daubach, and don't be surprised if Juan Diaz (the Cuban refugee who had 28 homers in 77 games before breaking his leg) is ready. But we have to do something about one more outfielder and third base, especially if we end up having to do something with Everett."
"Third base is one of the toughest positions to fill," says Duquette, who is proceeding as if John Valentin cannot return. He'd like to have Ken Caminiti, but that's a long shot. Duquette doesn't have what the Padres want for Phil Nevin. Corey Koskie apparently isn't available.
"We might give Shea Hillenbrand a shot there," says one Sox executive. "He can hit. In fact, I'd suggest we use him in left field against lefties if he doesn't play third."
The 25-year-old Hillenbrand signed as a shortstop, converted to catcher, hurt his knee and ended up at first, hitting .323 at Trenton in 2000. He has had a strong Arizona Fall League.
"Frank Malzone thinks he can play third," says Duquette. "That's a good recommendation."
The Red Sox folks think Michael Coleman can help as a fourth outfielder who adds righthanded power, and they're hoping to add David Nilsson as a DH, part-time catcher and first baseman.
They'll ask Williams about it, but he won't decide. Duquette, Thomas and Haas will decide. That's just the way it is.
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