"Fire the manager" are the three easiest words to utter in baseball when things aren't going well. Pulling the trigger on such a move doesn't happen as often as the idea is said. But, historically, what occurs after it does? Better results that season? Worse? The same? Is this is trope or solution?
We’re here because of the Nationals’ ongoing spiral. They come into Wednesday seven games under .500, only in front of the trying-to-lose Miami Marlins in the National League and with one more win than the strip-mined Baltimore Orioles.
There are caveats to the Nationals’ current state which exist outside of the manager: injuries, roster construction, general player under-performance. Those same caveats can apply when trying to look at what happens after a manager is fired and someone new takes over in the middle of the season. Did the roster become healthy? Did talent move to where it should have been in the first place?
In all, history shows it’s rare for a team to make a large turnaround after firing a manager during the season. It’s more rare for that team to win the World Series.
The Nationals have gone through this twice in their existence. Once by team choice, the other time by Jim Riggleman’s choice.
In 2009, Manny Acta was fired on July 13. Washington was 26-61 and light years away from current expectations. Riggleman took over. The team went 33-42 under him, which was enough to earn him a return until he decided to walk away amid a winning streak in 2011 because of a contract dispute. The Nationals were 38-37. John McLaren went 2-1 as the interim manager. Davey Johnson finished the season 40-43. So, in those two instances, a bad team improved when the manager changed from Acta to Riggleman. A .500 team stayed about the same after Riggleman left.
Two extremes outliers exist in this discussion: the 1978 New York Yankees and 2003 Miami Marlins.
Rambunctious Billy Martin was 52-42 before resigning (he was expected to be fired, so he stepped aside first). Bob Lemon took over. New York finished 48-20 and won the World Series (which the Yankees had also won the year before and appeared in two seasons prior while Martin was manager).
In Miami, when it was trying to win, Jeff Torborg was 16-22. Jack McKeon -- now a senior advisor in the Nationals franchise -- finished 75-49 and won the World Series. Miguel Cabrera was called up after McKeon took over. He finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.
Miami and an already-loaded Yankees team are the only two teams to make a midseason managerial change and win the World Series. The 2003 Marlins are the only team to miss the playoffs the year before, make a managerial change in the next season, then win the World Series in more than a century of professional baseball.
Another significant turnaround occurred in Colorado in 2009. Clint Hurdle was fired following an 18-28 start. Jim Tracy replaced him. Colorado went 74-42 and made the playoffs. The year before, Colorado was 74-88 following a 90-win season and a World Series appearance.
The 2010 Orioles went from Dave Trembley (15-39) to Juan Samuel (17-34) before Buck Showalter (34-23) was hired. Baltimore excelled in tight games under Showalter, who is currently out of baseball. It was eight games over .500 in August and September combined despite outscoring opponents by just 17 runs. However, the Orioles won just 69 games the next season.
So, major turnarounds are more outlier than common. Of the 80 midseason changes since 1987 resulting from firings, only 19 teams (23.8 percent) played better than .500 baseball and only five (6.3 percent) made the postseason.
Which means it’s important to remember two things when uttering the phrase, “fire the manager”: someone has to replace him, and, historically, it makes little difference when done during the season.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS: