It may be helpful to think of the Miami Marlins as a theme park, one unlike any other. It is called Loria World. It is not the happiest place on earth. It may be the weirdest place on Earth. Guests are not given a map, they are handed a Dramamine tablet.
There is only one ride at Loria World. It is a merry-go-round. It is scary because one minute it is spinning smoothly and the next minute it might slam to a halt or lurch backward. You hear grinding gears, and screaming. See bodies flying.
Here is a fun fact about Loria World:
Giancarlo Stanton is 25 years old and Monday he began playing for his seventh different Marlins manager. In fairness, one was a one-game fill-in so, really, new guy Dan Jennings is only Stanton’s sixth manager in five-plus seasons, after Fredi Gonzalez, Edwin Rodriguez, Jack McKeon The Sequel, Ozzie Guillen and the last man jettisoned from the wild ride, Mike Redmond.
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Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, major-league leader in impatience, continues to regard stability like something you take penicillin to try to get rid of.
While across town the Dolphins showed steady foresight Monday by announcing a new six-year contract for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, it was business as usual for a Marlins franchise always ready to panic and mash the reset button.
The Loria Marlins hit the dubious quiniela with this latest change, inviting ridicule not only for the knee-jerk impatience of firing Redmond less than a quarter into the season, but also of hiring a replacement, Jennings, whose previous managing experience was with Davidson High in Mobile, Ala., in the mid-’80s.
Jennings, 54, who’d been the club’s general manager, informed his mother he’d be the new Marlins manager and this was her response:
“Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind?”
More to the point, have the Marlins?
“There’s an element of surprise here for everybody,” admitted Jennings. “It is out of the box, I will not deny that.”
Throughout the clubhouse players tread carefully, not wishing to convey they were working in an insane asylum yet reflecting the surprise.
“The first thought in anyone’s eyes is, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” as Stanton put it. “It’s only natural for players to think that, too.”
Notably, Loria did not attend the Jennings introductory media session Monday, leaving club president David Samson and president of baseball ops Michael Hill to explain the franchise’s latest bizarre behavior. Samson said he and Hill presented the idea of Jennings to Loria, but there is no doubt the impetus for the change came from the top. The impatience is classic Loria.
“There was a tremendous lack of energy and fire in that clubhouse and dugout,” Loria told USA Today on Monday, adding, poetically: “A Marlin isn’t a Flounder!”
To be clear, the change was premature. Miami was 16-22 entering Monday night’s home game. The Fish had rebounded reasonably well from a 3-11 start despite not having ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, missing starter Henderson Alvarez for a month, seeing left fielder Christian Yelich struggle and watching closer Steve Cishek implode – none of those Redmond’s fault.
“We felt we needed a different voice to get these guys going,” Hill said.
More than a different voice, of course, the Marlins need Fernandez back, Alvarez winning, Yelich hitting and a more consistent bullpen. Stanton, with 11 home runs, and Dee Gordon, batting .420, have been the only two guys consistently producing.
“I feel bad,” Cishek said of Redmond. “It’s not his fault.”
The larger point here isn’t whether Redmond deserved to be let go or whether hiring Jennings is lunacy. It’s that nothing the Marlins do under Loria’s aegis earns much benefit of doubt.
Funny enough, the rudderless Marlins had rewarded Redmond with a two-year contract extension before this season. That means Miami is now paying three managers: Guillen, still, Redmond and Jennings. Of course, the Marlins get Jennings for free, in effect. They needn’t even buy a new nameplate. Just tape over the word “general.”
It’s a low-risk move for the club if you don’t count the national media ridicule or the “here we go again” head-shaking by beleaguered fans.
Worst-case scenario, Miami continues to not make the playoffs, its annual lot ever since the 2003 World Series, and Jennings proves to be an interim guy who quietly slips back into his general manager’s role after the season.
Best case? The change lends the proverbial spark that kick-starts the season and Loria gets to looks like a mad genius, just like in ’03 when he fired Jeff Torborg – also after a 16-22 start – and McKeon sprung serendipitously and triumphantly from mothballs.
Jennings at least know the roster as much as anybody, having helped put it together. Besides, managing isn’t rocket science. As long as he gets the double-switch down pat and doesn’t include a designated hitter on his lineup card, what could go wrong? Miami promoted advance scout Mike Goff, an experienced dugout guy, to be bench coach and sit beside Jennings until the new manager loses the training wheels.
“Feels like Mardi Gras!” Jennings remarked as he sat in the dugout surrounded by a media horde before his debut. “I like this attire much better than a coat and tie.”
To nitpick, a circus may have been a more apt allusion than Mardi Gras.
But, hey, the mathematical odds alone may favor this panning out.
After so many failed managerial moves, who knows, maybe Loria is just plain due to have another one actually work.