It Ain't Love, but It Ain't Bad
Dueling interior narratives centered around the election, the baseball playoffs and the new Camper van Beethoven album have taken up most of my brain space for the last few weeks, leaving little room left for the Phillies managerial search. This might be because I have trouble believing that anything really good can come of a team still led by chronically clueless GM Ed Wade; it might have to do with the fact that the three potential candidates I was most geeked up about--Davey Johnson, Larry Dierker and Marc Bombard--haven't even been asked to interview; or it just might be because I haven't gotten over the disappointment of this recently ended season quite yet. (Give it six weeks.)
But with Wade's Managerial Cattle Call '04 evidently nearing its end, I guess it's time to offer some thoughts. First, I'm not sure that any new manager won't represent an improvement over Larry Bowa, who failed as both an in-game strategist (paging Roberto Hernandez! Mike Williams, report to the Green Room!) and as a clubhouse presence. Just by offering a new take, the next skipper probably improves the club by four games or so. (Well, maybe not Don Baylor, who ran a talented Cubs team into the ground during his last shot at the helm.)
Second, the cast of characters assembled shows Wade's characteristic caution and lack of imagination. All the serious contenders have managed before--Baylor, Grady Little, Charlie Manuel, Jim Fregosi... Buddy Bell? It's frightening when Fregosi, the man who made Mitch Williams a dark legend, is probably the most accomplished of the bunch. (You can look it up.) The two guys interviewing today and tomorrow, former Phils prospect bust turned star minor-league manager John Russell and Braves hitting coach and onetime MVP Terry Pendleton, are the most intriguing options, and I don't think either of them has a prayer. (Pendleton would be my choice, for what that's worth: his tutelage produced a lot of career-best seasons in Atlanta, and he just seems like a good baseball leader.)
Of course, there's a late entrant into the race who seems to have the blessing of the Philly mediots: former Pirates and Marlins skipper Jim Leyland. Leyland has shredded his share of arms, particularly in Florida, but he does seem to have all the traits Wade is looking for: track record, broadly acceptable to media and fan base, difficult to criticize or second-guess, and prominent enough to take attention from the general manager's office. If he wants it, the job is probably his.