Dumping a winner often backfires
October 31, 2003
Grady Little managed Boston to the postseason this year, but he won't get a chance to repeat in 2004.
Fired by the Red Sox on Monday, Little became the 11th manager to be replaced - either by his choice or that of his club - after taking a major league team to the postseason.
And history isn't promising for the Red Sox.
Only four of the previous 10 teams that changed managers after a postseason appearance returned to the playoffs the next year. Five of the six teams that didn't return to the postseason didn't even compile a winning record.
Dusty Baker was pushed out in San Francisco a year ago after taking the Giants to the World Series. With Felipe Alou replacing Baker, the Giants won the National League West, improving from 95 to 100 wins, but this time they were knocked off in the first round by Florida.
Davey Johnson resigned as manager of the Baltimore Orioles only hours before the Nov. 7, 1997, announcement that he had been selected American League manager of the year. Club owner Peter Angelos had said Johnson would return in 1998, but after the Orioles were knocked off by Cleveland in the AL Championship Series, Angelos refused to give Johnson a vote of confidence, so the manager decided to take a hike. The Orioles have not compiled a winning record since and have finished in fourth place in the AL East six consecutive seasons.
Johnson had been let go in Cincinnati after the 1995 season despite producing two consecutive division titles. Then-Reds owner Marge Schott was aghast when she learned Johnson was living with his girlfriend, whom he later married. The Reds slipped to 81-81 in 1996 and haven't been to the postseason since.
Bobby Cox resigned in Toronto after leading the Blue Jays to their first postseason appearance in 1985. Cox wanted to return to Atlanta, where he previously had been manager, and Braves owner Ted Turner wanted him back. Turner made Cox the team's general manger.
Toronto slipped to a fourth-place finish in 1986 but won four division titles and two World Series (1992-93) during the next eight seasons.
Gene Mauch added to a career of frustration in 1982 when his California Angels lost the ALCS, then a best-of-five series, despite winning the first two games against Milwaukee. Denied once again the pennant he failed to win in 26 seasons as a big-league manager, Mauch resigned, but he returned two years later, after the Angels had failed to produce a winning record in successive seasons. He took the Angels back to the postseason in 1986, only to suffer another disappointment. The Angels built a three-games-to- one lead in the ALCS, now a best-of-seven series, and were within one strike of closing it out before David Henderson's home run sparked Boston to three consecutive wins and the AL title.
Dick Howser was the one manager who walked out on New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner. After Howser led the Yankees to 103 wins in 1980, Steinbrenner unloosed one of his postseason blowups when Kansas City swept the Yankees in the ALCS. Interestingly, in August 1981, Howser was hired to manage the Royals and guided them to a world championship in 1985. The Yankees, meanwhile, made the playoffs in 1981 but didn't return for 12 years.
Yogi Berra was fired after the Yankees lost a seven-game World Series to St. Louis in 1964. The Yankees replaced him with Cardinals manager Johnny Keane, which turned into a major misstep; the Yankees promptly embarked on a string of 11 years in which they failed to reach the postseason.
Ralph Houk had been replaced as Yankees manager the previous off-season. Despite winning 309 regular-season games and three AL pennants in three years, Houk was moved upstairs to replace general manager Roy Haney. When the Yankees lost 16 of their first 20 games in 1966, though, Houk dumped Keane and returned to the Yankees dugout.
Casey Stengel was let go by the Yankees after losing the 1960 World Series in Pittsburgh in seven games. Yankees ownership believed Stengel, then 70, had grown too old. Stengel resurfaced in 1962, though, as the first manager of the expansion New York Mets.
Chuck Dressen forced his own departure from Brooklyn after the 1953 season. After winning two successive NL pennants, Dressen challenged the refusal of Dodgers owner Walt O'Malley to give the manager more than a one-year contract. Dressen wound up managing in the minor leagues in Oakland in 1954, and O'Malley hired an unknown, Walter Alston, under whose guidance the Dodgers dropped from 105 wins in 1953 to 92 in his first season. But Alston became a fixture through 23 one-year contracts, winning seven NL pennants and two world championships