The Baseball Notebook

June 4, 2010 5:49 PM

Firing Trembley The Right Step

Dave Trembley is out in Baltimore and the early reports--from the local press here in Charm City where I live and nationally, with Fox's Ken Rosenthal leading the way, have stepped in to say that Trembley was not the problem and this his firing was more an act of mercy, in removing him from the line of fire.

I disagree. Let me start by saying that I like Dave Trembley. He's obviously a nice guy, and he's got a good reputation as a teacher. But to say the 2010 Orioles were destined to be a hopeless case just ignores reality. I lived in Pittsburgh for eight years. I grew up in Milwaukee and saw the teams they put forth in the late 1990s and the first half of the '00s. I'm very familiar with hopeless baseball, having played it myself in my truncated career as a junior high rightfielder. And this Baltimore Oriole team is not hopeless.

The hopeless teams in Pittsburgh didn't trot out players like Nick Markakis. Or bring up prospects like Adam Jones. Or Matt Wieters. Or have veterans like Brian Roberts, who is expected to be back off the DL soon. In recent years, the Orioles have trotted out talent like an in-his-prime Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard. I never saw players like those come through Pittsburgh, nor in the Lost Years in Milwaukee.

I generally like Rosenthal's columns, but his defense of Trembley was particularly incoherent. He first said the problem was not the manager, but instead that the team lacked fire, lacked urgency and wasn't properly developed. Huh? Isn't this stuff the manager is supposed to fix? Next thing you know, he'll say it's not the manager, it's just that the lineup is poorly conceived. I would further add that while no one could turn the Oriole bullpen into Lou Pinellia's Nasty Boys of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds, there was no excuse for the complete meltdowns this team has suffered repeatedly. Effective managers can find a way to mix and match and at least keep a halfway steady ship. The bullpen would be a liability no matter who managed, but it was not preordainted for it to be THIS bad.

There was one part of Rosenthal's column that hit it on the head. Mostly directed at the front office, it applies to the manager on the field as well. Stop making excuses. I know they don't have Yankee money. But in the late 1990s, when the O's reached the ALCS in 1996-97, they had the second-highest payroll in the game. That's right, higher than the Red Sox, higher than the Angels, higher than the Cubs, higher than the Mets, higher than the Dodgers. Baltimore's still a baseball town that wants to believe and Peter Angelos still has a lucrative TV deal with MASN. They have the resources to compete.

And whomever the new permanent on-field manager ends up being (Juan Samuel is the interim) has to drill that same can-do attitude into the players. That they have the talent to compete. Earlier this week I was out with my wife and mother-in-law, both huge fans as we talked about the team, and I said that the first thing the new skipper should do is get in Nick Markakis' face with a simple message--Yes, you're a good player. If you want to play in October, you need to be a great player. Start at the top and let that sort of uncompromising demand for excellence trickle down. These are young players--talented to be sure, but with no real concept of the accountability it takes to win games at the major league level.

Perhaps the best advice can be found in the movie Bull Durham. The minor league team struggling at 8-16. Veteran cast off catcher Kevin Costner arrived in the clubhouse. The manager lamented that he didn't know what to do with the kids. Costner calmly said, "Scare 'em. They're kids. Scare 'em." So the skipper threw the bats into the shower, chased the players in there and uncorked an ass-chewing. Whether the winning streak that inevitably follows in a Hollywood script will happen in Baltimore is another question. But it would be a good place to start. And that will be the first task of whomever the long-term manager is going to be.

Trembley is a nice guy. But, to paraphrase Philip Tattaglia talking about Don Vito Corleone, he was too modest. He's absolutely better off not being in a job that calls for something he doesn't have. But let's not pretend the team won't be better off as well.

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