The San Diego Padres fired Bud Black, their manager since 2007, on Monday. This caused all sorts of backlash around baseball, partly because general manager A.J. Preller made such a flurry of moves this offseason with little effect on the Padres' record (and little regard for how his roster and defense would actually be constructed), and mostly because Bud Black is universally considered one of the nicest men in baseball.
As Rob Neyer noted, the one thing everyone could agree on Monday, usually said through an anti-Preller growl, is that Black Wouldn't Be Out Of Work For Long. The firing is seen as a young general manager making a scapegoat out of a veteran manager as a way of attempting to disguise his own mistakes.
But for what it's worth: Bud Black has been the manager of the Padres for more than eight seasons now, and he has never made a single postseason game. In October 2006, the Padres let Bruce Bochy -- who had just led the team to the playoffs two straight years -- leave their team to manage the San Francisco Giants, and they hired Black. The total number of playoff games each man has managed since:
Bud Black might be a very nice man, and the job of a manager is probably a bit overrated anyway. But if you don't make the playoffs for more than seven years, you probably can't be too shocked when you get fired. This is baseball, after all: Managers exist to get fired, often for circumstances completely out of their control.
Which brings us to 20 years ago today.
Twenty years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals, one of baseball's most proud and storied franchises suffering through one of its worst periods, fired their manager, a man named Joe Torre. Torre had some success with the Cardinals, notching winning records in his first three seasons, but he never reached the playoffs, and the Cardinals, at the time of his firing, hadn't made the postseason since 1987.
The firing had many similarities to Black's. The Cardinals were off to a disappointing 20-27 start, and they had a new general manager, Walt Jocketty, who came into town promising big sweeping changes. As documented by essential Cardinals history blog Retrosimba, the firing was a surprise to no one, least of all Torre. ("It didn't surprise me," he said.) Like Black, the firing was seen as a general manager taking out a beloved veteran manager for his own shortcomings and the shortcomings of his bosses.
The Cardinals were owned by the Anheuser-Busch family at the time, but since the death of Gussie Busch six years earlier, it had become clear the new people in charge were more interested in selling the team and getting everybody paid than they were with putting a winning team on the field. St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, who's still one of the best sports columnists on the planet 20 years later, said back then that the Cardinals "dumped a classy guy, Torre, to feed the wolfpack. … All I see is a cheap PR move. All I see is a twitch reflex from a panic attack."
But like Black, you had to wonder whether or not the firing was maybe overdue. Even more overdue than Black's, even. As beloved as Torre was, he had been a manager for 14 years, with three teams: The Mets (1977-81), Braves (1982-84) and Cardinals (1990-95). Over those 15 years, he didn't win a single postseason game, making only one series, a three-game sweep by the Braves (to the Cardinals, actually) in 1982. Now, Joe Torre may have been beloved, but if you go 14 years without winning a single postseason game, you're going to get fired. You're sort of lucky to have any job at that point at all.
The question, of course, is if Black's firing will end up being as much of a pivot moment as Torre's firing was. Because Torre's firing basically changed baseball history. A few months after the Cardinals fired Torre, the Yankees hired him, to much consternation in in the New York press. Then baseball was never the same.
Torre went to New York and thus ensued:
Derek Jeter, the Core Four, Mariano Rivera, six pennants, four World Series titles, Ronan Tynan, the two Alex Rodriguez contracts, Roger Clemens drama, a new Yankee Stadium, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, the YES Network, baseball teams owning their own channels and changing the very foundation of the sport's financial structure, the luxury tax, the Yankees reasserting themselves as the most dominant sports brand in the country and perhaps the world.
After finishing out the rest of the 1995 season with Mike Jorgensen as interim manager, Jocketty and the Cardinals replaced Torre with Tony La Russa. Thus ensued:
Mark McGwire, the 1998 home run chase, the subsequent PED hysteria, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, a new Busch Stadium, pitchers batting eighth, constant bean ball battle with managers staring at each other from each dugout, the specifically La Russian "Play The Game The Right Way" unwritten rules obsession that continues to threaten to take the fun out of the game, John Mozeliak, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, Jeff Luhnow, "the Cardinal Way," the Cardinals reasserting themselves as the best franchise in the National League and the Midwestern equivalent of the loathsome Yankees.
All that happens in the wake of that one move in June 1995. Joe Torre hadn't won a playoff game his whole career before the firing; he would win 84 afterward. The Cardinals hadn't made an NLCS in seven years and only three in the 26 years that the NLCS had existed; since then, they have made 10. Seriously: There have been 20 NLCS since Torre was fired, and the Cardinals have played in half of them.
These were two franchises at their lowest point in decades when Joe Torre was fired, and since then, for 20 years, these have been the two most successful franchises in the sport. (And, perhaps not unrelatedly, the most despised by opposing team's fans.) And they have both changed the game of baseball in almost unfathomable ways. The planet is different because of one move, 20 years ago Tuesday. Sometimes a firing is just a firing. But sometimes it is so much more.