Does anybody else remember the 1960s sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies? It might sound crazy but that show flashed across my mind Tuesday when, unsurprised, I heard the Miami Marlins had fired manager Ozzie Guillen.
Jed Clampett and his clan were plucked from the back-wood Ozarks and dropped into a Beverly Hills mansion, but the new address changed them not a bit.
It’s the same with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, in a way. You can surround him with an opulent new, state-of-the-art ballpark but, well, he’s still Jeffrey Loria.
New team name, new logo, new colors, new uniforms, new stadium, new players … same old meddling owner leading the league in impatience.
It has become a comic tragedy, this franchise, a baseball version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. All of his subjects inside the brand new palace surely know the biggest problem in the Marlins kingdom is the king, but who might dare tell him? Who dares call the man signing the paychecks a lousy boss?
Loria is today searching for the eighth manager of his 11-year ownership and the fifth just since early 2010, a reckless, outlandish, embarrassing instability that is the hub of this club’s dysfunction.
Loria famously fired Joe Girardi after one season just prior to Girardi being named NL Manager of the Year for making the most of his owner’s shoestring budget.
The owner called another of his ex’s, Fredi Gonzalez, a “colossal failure” after Gonzalez dared say no manager, “not even Connie Mack,” could please Loria. Gonzalez, also beset by pauper’s payrolls, happens to have been the last man to manage a winning season here.
Now it is Guillen’s turn to be shoved off Loria’s chaotic merry-go-round.
This is the same Guillen whom Loria lavished with a four-year, $10 million contract not quite 13 months earlier.
“You don’t step out and give a guy a four-year contract unless you really have conviction,” Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said Tuesday.
Or, unless you are Jeffrey Loria.
OFF ON THE WRONG FOOT
It was a match made in hell from the start: an impatient hands-on owner wed to the loosest cannon in coaching, an outspoken, F-bomb spewing manager who always said what was on his mind – even if it was an expression of admiration for Fidel Castro.
Now the Marlins will pay Guillen $7.5 million to not manage here, just as they will pay Heath Bell, another failed Loria hire, big bucks to not pitch here.
(It seems Loria opens his wallet pretty freely to waste money for an owner who spent so many years pinching pennies so hard his fingers bore an imprint of Lincoln).
Loria’s decision on Guillen was either a colossal failure then, in hiring him at all, or now, in firing him too soon.
I think it was the latter, but even in saying that I’d admit Guillen gave the 71-year-old Loria more cause to be dismissed than Girardi or Gonzalez ever did.
April’s pro-Castro expression, so outrageous to so many Miami Cubans and others, and the team’s last-place finish with that 69-93 record bookended a season of extreme and overall disappointment. Year One of the new ballpark could not have gone any worse, and Guillen was the face of this holy mess.
I’d also fault Guillen for a half-joking, half-I-don’t-give-a-bleep persona that fostered a clubhouse culture short on professionalism and seriousness. (It didn’t help that Guillen allowed his young-adult sons to roam the clubhouse as if they belonged there).
This wasn’t all on the manager, though, and one season isn’t enough to give a man who not quite 13 months earlier you considered your savior. Guillen was Loria’s chance to finally vote for stability in the dugout, to show patience. This was Loria’s opportunity to dig deeper into what ails this organization and quit pretending that lopping off the manager’s head solves anything in more than a cursory way.
Guillen was bluntly honest to the end when on the last day of the season he said: “I’m not the only one. Let’s start from the top. The front office failed, Ozzie failed, the coaching staff failed, the players failed – everybody failed.”
Loria is the man who hired Guillen, insisted on Bell and was so enamored of catcher John Buck that he egregiously overspent to get him.
BEINFEST MUST SHARE BLAME
Beinfest is the roster architect ultimately responsible, the man whose 10 seasons of largely unfulfilled draft choices have left the club’s farm system weak, the man who could have gone hard after Gio Gonzalez (who won 21 games for the Nationals) but didn’t, the man who failed to get Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes (who signed with the A’s).
It is Beinfest’s job to build a winning team despite his owner’s intrusions. It is Beinfest who today should count himself lucky indeed that it was Guillen, not him, sacrificed to this wreck of a year.
It is fair and right to give the Loria regime credit for fighting years to finally realize the new stadium that assures the club’s long-term future here. But it also is fair and right to question and doubt the folks running the team inside that new stadium.
“We have to reignite our winning culture. We’ve gotten away from that,” Beinfest said. “I think maybe we’ve made some poor decisions. This is an organizational failure. We need to spend some time redefining who we are.”
This is who the Marlins fundamentally are right now, still:
A baseball club with a meddlesome owner whose impatience conveys a lack of direction, and invites a lack of faith in his stewardship.
Brand new palace.
Same old king.