When Dan Jennings told his mom he was moving down from the front office to the dugout to become the Marlins’ next manager she couldn’t believe it.
“She asked me if I’m crazy,” Jennings said.
Crazy might be one way to describe it.
Thinking outside of the box is the phrase the Marlins front office prefers in describing what they’ve done in the last 24 hours — firing manager Mike Redmond after only 38 games and promoting someone with only high school managerial experience to right the ship after a 16-22 start.
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“If we didn’t feel that we had the right person with the right skill set to motivate and spark this club, we wouldn’t have made the change,” President of Baseball Operations Mike Hill said.
“I’ve known DJ for over 20 years, he brings over 30 years of experience to this game [as a scout and general manager]. As we looked at what we felt this team needed to get itself going we wanted a leader, we wanted a motivator. We wanted someone knowledgeable in the game. We wanted someone who had an intimate knowledge of our club, and how we tick and who knew how to push the right buttons to get us going. And there’s no one who knew them better than DJ.”
Jennings, 54, hasn’t managed since he was in charge of Davidson High School in Mobile, Ala., in 1985. He said he never went to bed at night aspiring to be a major league manager, but has “always been intrigued by it.”
“For 30 years, I’ve sat behind home plate, and quite honestly, I’ve probably managed the game from that spot for both teams, trying to learn, trying to watch the guys who I’ve had tremendous respect for, how they handle their ballclubs, how they run the game,” Jennings said.
“But to sit here and tell you as a young child I aspired to be a major-league manager, no, I did not. But I do feel very fortunate to have grown in a home with a father who is a coach, who’s been a motivator and leader of men, and who’s still doing that now at 77 years old. A lot of the lessons he’s imparted upon me have set a foundation on which I base my motivation, my leadership and my now managerial style upon.”
In addition to Jennings, the Marlins will have a new bench coach in Mike Goff, who was their advance scout in their system and the former first base coach for the Mariners from 2005 to 2007. Jennings said he wouldn’t have taken the manager’s job without him.
So when did this idea of making Jennings the new manager first pop into the minds of the front office? After the club’s 3-11 start, after Giancarlo Stanton questioned the fire the team was playing with, and after owner Jeffrey Loria came close to firing Redmond himself.
“We did not see the 3-11 coming,” Marlins President David Samson said. “So once it was in front of us we were not fooled necessarily by what happened after that, which was a 9-1 [run]. We saw things that were not the way we needed them to be for sustained winning. So we started talking. And like we do, we came to a conclusion which is a change has to be made and only if you have the right person. And there was only one right person.”
Samson said Redmond, who was fired less than nine months after receiving a contract extension through 2017, wasn’t necessarily let go because he lacked leadership. Samson said it was simply time for a different voice.
“Red was really great turning it around and navigating through us through 2013,” Samson said. “I may have been wrong for [thinking] the same voice [would] continue that process.”
The Marlins went 155-207 with Redmond at the helm. He’s the fifth manager the club has fired since Loria became owner in 2002.
The organization has had a quick trigger finger with managers.
Joe Girardi was fired after winning the National League Manager of the Year award in 2006. The team traded for and then fired Ozzie Guillen, Redmond’s predecessor, after a 69-93 season in 2012. The Marlins are still paying what’s Guillen’s four-year deal. They also will have to pay Redmond through 2017.
Is moving Jennings to manager simply a way an organization once known for penny-pinching to save money? “It was not a factor at all,” Samson said emphatically.
Moving from the front office to the dugout hasn’t happened often in baseball. But there are examples. Astros manager A.J. Hinch went from serving as the Padres president of scouting to Houston’s manager. Hinch, though, had previously managed the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2009 and 2010 after never having managed at the professional level at all.
Samson said the Marlins won’t be hiring a general manager to replace Jennings. His duties simply will be split up by others. He also will continue to be asked for his opinion on trades and personnel moves.
Is there a scenario where at the end of this season the Marlins could decide Jennings should return to his post as GM?
“Yes,” Samson said. “He’ll be evaluated just like we all are. At the end of the year, we do an evaluation from the bottom up and top down. And that will continue regardless of how long the contract is.”
Jennings, Samson and Hill are all signed through 2018.
“Believe me, Mike, DJ and I are just as responsible as Mike Redmond,” Samson said.
“Right now, Redmond lost his job as manager. But the fact is we put this team together and we are now in the clubhouse. There’s nowhere else to look anymore. We’re running out of layers.”