The Baltimore Orioles were one of the best stories in sports over the summer. However that title’s perhaps been taken over by the team a short drive up I-95. That being the Philadelphia Phillies.
Philadelphia fired Joe Girardi as the manager on June 3rd, with the season appearing to be in the tank. They then elevated bench coach Rob Thompson as the interim manager. (As of October 10th, the interim tag was removed, meaning Thompson is the new manager moving forward.) Had you asked me at the time, I would have said that they were throwing in the towel on their season. It sure seemed that way at the time.
I’ll be very honest; I generally take a very machinistic view of things. Common sense states that in sports when you fire your coach during the season you’re basically giving up. And this is true in every sport. Last season the University of Maryland parted ways with head basketball coach Mark Turgeon early in the year. (Technically it was a mutual separation, but the effect was the same.) I said at the time that the season was over. And I was right. That’s normally the way things go. Sometimes a team can rally slightly and win a few extra games, but you’re in essence admitting that you’re going to be an afterthought the rest of the way.
However what that common sense and yes machinistic view doesn’t take into account are the people and personalities involved. The Philadelphia players almost immediately bought into whatever it was that Rob Thompson was selling. They all but instantaneously gelled as a team, and begun winning games. And somehow they stumbled their way into representing the National League in the World Series.
I’m inclined not to like Philadelphia teams. (Not to mention the “phans.”) But you’re kidding yourself if you don’t recognize what an amazing story the Phillies are. They literally laughed in the face of common sense – which again, states that you’re punting the season when you fire your coach. They turned that on it’s head.
So in that regard this brings up an interesting question. Is changing managers/coaches mid-season actually a strategy for winning now? My answer is a resounding NO. Again, because I’m a simp to common sense and reason. You only get to a point to where you’re going to fire your manager when it’s too late (for that year). You do it only when you’ve crossed the threshold where you’d need a miracle to salvage a good season.
So the rule remains the same. I don’t think we’ll ever get to a spot in sports where changing coaches in the middle of the season is going to become a strategy for winning now. To me it signifies that you’re going to have to start over in some capacity. So then how do we justify in our minds what the Philadelphia Phillies are doing?
There are exceptions to every rule. And the Phillies are certainly one of them. The Orioles fired manager Dave Trembley in 2010, at roughly the same general time in the season that Philadelphia changed managers this year. That 2010 team wasn’t too different than the 2012 team which muscled into the playoffs under Buck Showalter. (There were a few guys added or subtracted in between, but the same general mix of players.) Could that 2010 Orioles team have made something of themselves also?
Obviously we don’t know the answer to that, other than the fact that it just didn’t happen. But I think that in Philadelphia you probably had the talent and the mindset within the players to make a run. And the results indicate that they simply needed a fresh message. Or messenger. Sometimes you just catch lightning in a bottle. (And on a much lower scale, the 2012 O’s did just that.) And yes, it’s the exeption to the rule, and it goes against the grain of common sense. But if you’re a Philadelphia fan, all you can really do is enjoy the ride while it lasts.