I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, which presents a novel solution for the woes of the Pittsburgh Pirates: the return of the player manager.
Although a month has passed since the Pittsburgh Pirates abruptly but unsurprisingly fired manager John Russell, no successor has been named.
Does this mean that the job of piloting the Pirates is so thankless that no one is intrepid enough to assume the challenge? Or does it mean that Pirates’ brass is in the process of such a through deliberation that no stone will be left unturned.
Last year, when it became obvious that Russell wouldn’t survive to manage a fourth season, I endorsed 90-year-old Ralph Houk as Bucco skipper.
Since Houk managed the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox for a total of twenty years, he had plenty of experience. Not only did Houk win two World Series and an American League championship, he served as an Army Ranger in World War II, participated in the Normandy invasion, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, won a Silver Star and retired as a major. Houk would have been just the right guy to kick some Pirates’ butt should the need arise, as it often does.
An added Houk bonus is that he had the smarts to forge non-Yankee championship teams. In 1986, Houk became the Minnesota Twins’ Vice President and put together the 1987 World Series champion.
Unfortunately, Houk died last July thus permanently eliminating himself.
To date, the Pirates’ have interviewed Eric Wedge, Bo Porter, Tony Pena, Carlos Tosca, Jeff Bannister and John Gibbons. Bannister and Clint Hurdle, the Texas Rangers hitting coach, are still in the running.
I took an informal poll among some lifelong Pirates’ fans to measure their enthusiasm for any of the above candidates. Each name that I ticked off was met with a colossal yawn.
What the Pirates’ administration should consider during their managerial search is that they need to create a buzz so that fans will have something exciting to talk about going into 2011.
Appointing an obscure major league bench coach or unheard of minor league manager and introducing him as “a sound fundamental baseball tactician” or “a proven leader whose strength is teaching young players” just won’t cut it.
In my July blog, I suggested that any of the Pirates’ broadcasters—Steve Blass, Bob Walk or Kent Tekulve—would make an excellent manager. They’re all former Pirates and beloved in the Pittsburgh community.
That idea went nowhere. Undaunted, today I offer another seemingly radical solution but also one that would energize fans. The Pirates should name pitcher Ross Ohlendorf the new manager.
Ohlendorf would become the fourth Pirates’ player-manager following Fred Clarke, Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor. In its history, baseball has had more than 225 player-managers, the last of which was Pete Rose twenty-five years ago.
Why would I pick Ohlendorf?
First, he’s an articulate Princeton University graduate who could interact effectively with the media, one of Russell’s shortcomings. Ohlendorf majored in Operations Research and Financial Management; his thesis analyzed the baseball draft in which he examined the top 100 picks from 1989 to 1993, then tracked the progress of each player for a 12-year period to determine the value of the picks. By weighing the original signing bonus against the financial return the player provided the team, Ohlendorf determined whether the team drafted wisely.
Ohlendorf’s paper was so impressive that Sigma XI, the Scientific Research Society, awarded him an associate membership.
Second, Ohlendorf is popular in the club house. Former Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson said that Ohlendorf takes the kidding about his intelligence in stride.
Third, despite a sorry (1-11, 4.07 ERA) 2010 season, Ohlendorf is a hard throwing pitcher who along with other young Buccos like Neil Walker, Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, could contribute to a Pirates turn around
Although Ohlendorf is only 27, his age doesn’t preclude success. In 1942, the Cleveland Indians’ picked 25-year-old Lou Boudreau as its manager. By 1948, under Boudreau’s direction, the Indians won the World Series over the Boston Braves.
Obviously, neither Boudreau nor Harris had any previous managerial experience.
I’m sure only a few readers will take my Ohlendorf suggestion seriously. Even I’m not totally convinced that’s it’s a good idea. What I know is this: desperate times call for drastic measures.
As the Pirates face its nineteenth consecutive losing season, the times in Pittsburgh are nothing if not desperate.
Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org