Dan Jennings, the new manager of the Miami Marlins, is admired in baseball circles for his scouting acumen and beloved for his people skills and homespun colloquialisms. When Jennings observes that a pitcher "can throw a marshmallow through a battleship" or has a "snapdragon" of a curveball, he oozes earthy Alabama charm -- with heaping helpings of sweat and pine tar on the side.
Jennings' ability to distinguish prospects from suspects has taken him a long way as a scout, scouting director and front office executive. But once the euphoria from his introductory news conference wears off, he's going to resemble a guy trying to roll a boulder up a hill.
At its best, this is a creative and imaginative piece of thinking that goes down as a stroke of brilliance by the Marlins' front office and ownership.
At its worst, it's a move that's destined to fail and an insult to the managing profession.
In light of owner Jeffrey Loria's track record with managers in Florida, does anyone care to place a wager on which is more likely?
The latest installment of Loria's Bizarro World played out with the official announcement Monday. Mike Redmond is out, and has joined Joe Girardi, Fredi Gonzalez, Ozzie Guillen, Jeff Torborg and Edwin Rodriguez on the organizational woodpile otherwise known as "managers who didn't know what hit them."
A lot of people in baseball circles want Jennings to succeed, because he's an old-school ball guy whose love for the game is readily apparent.
"I'm a big DJ fan," said a major league general manager. "Smart man. Good man. I have to imagine he's popular with their players. Obviously it's way off the reservation, but I bet he does well. The biggest drawback will be the perception -- that Loria's doing it for the wrong reasons, etc. -- and the idea that a lot of deserving candidates got passed over."
In reality, the biggest drawback is that managing is really difficult. And Jennings is about to discover some hard truths on the fly, with only a coaching stint at Davidson High School in Alabama on a résumé that extends back more than 30 years. Maybe a trip to Dairy Queen took the edge off tough losses in the Mobile County Public School system, but that's not an option now.
Historians will point out that Billy Martin, Lou Piniella, Dallas Green, Paul Owens and others flitted back and forth from managing to the front office during their careers. But they did it with more diverse portfolios than Jennings, at a time when player-manager relations weren't as complex and managers didn't have to deal with voluminous advance scouting reports, and defensive shifts, and $300 million contracts. And lest we forget, the knee-jerk toxicity of Twitter on an hourly basis.
Just look at the first six weeks of the season for evidence of the demands that managers confront daily. The Cincinnati Reds got off to a disappointing start, and those 77 F-bombs had yet to leave Bryan Price's mouth before he was mocked and assailed on the Internet. Six weeks after the Milwaukee Brewers exercised Ron Roenicke's option and GM Doug Melvin hailed him for his "critical leadership qualities," Roenicke was unemployed.
And as if Buck Showalter weren't challenged enough trying to compete in the American League East, he recently had to calm tensions and avoid saying the wrong thing amid rioting in the streets of Baltimore. When exactly did he sign up for that job?
During hard times, players are always going to look for a crutch or a way to escape accountability, and it's natural to find a hole in the manager's résumé. Dave Trembley struggled for acceptance in Baltimore because he was an experienced baseball guy who had never played in the big leagues. A.J. Hinch struggled for acceptance in Arizona because he played, but had never managed. Even Ryne Sandberg, who's a Hall of Fame player and spent six years apprenticing in the minors, has taken his hits in Philadelphia because he's not "dynamic" or "assertive" enough. Or have people forgotten Dom Brown questioning Sandberg last summer because he was confused about his "role"?
The truth is, the expectations for this Marlins team (a team assembled by president of baseball operations Mike Hill and Jennings) were probably excessive out of the gate. Jose Fernandez will help when he returns from Tommy John surgery, but is he really going to rescue a pitching staff that's 10th in the NL with a 4.17 ERA?
Loria is a huge George Steinbrenner fan, so he's going to make decisions based on impulse rather than long-term ramifications. In recent years, he had grown to value Jennings' input as a trusted sounding board. But how is Loria going to react in the ninth inning of a game when Jennings inserts a pinch-runner who gets picked off, or a reliever who gives up the deciding two-run double? Or, heaven forbid, how forgiving will he be if Jennings and bench coach Mike Goff foul up a double-switch?
Sometimes, outside-the-box personnel moves are nutty enough to be inspired. Given the Marlins' history, this one is just nutty enough to be, well, nutty. Even Jennings conceded the unorthodox nature of events in his first day on the job, as he prepared to shed his suit and tie for a Miami uniform.
"Even my mom, who I love, asked me if I was crazy," Jennings said. "She said, 'Have you lost your mind?'"
Moms can be protective, but a lot of times their first instincts are correct. Dan Jennings has all the best intentions in his new role as Miami Marlins manager. But you don't know whether to congratulate him or send him a condolence card.