Why are managers in the NL East suddenly going all Johnny Paycheck, Richard Nixon and Roberto Duran on us? If there are only 30 big league managing jobs, why are they being treated like flipping burgers? It doesn't get much weirder than this: two NL East managers quit within four days. First Edwin Rodriguez skedaddles from Florida before he could be fired and then Jim Riggleman bolts Washington because he doesn't have a contract for next year.
"Geez, I hope my manager doesn't quit," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro joked about Charlie Manuel, the only manager left in the five-team division who has been at it since . . . last year! "I just signed him to an extension."
Fear not, the managing gigs aren't all bad. The exits of Rodriguez and Riggleman got me thinking: What's the best managing job in baseball? Where is the best place to work when it comes to ownership, stability, fan support, resources, tradition and the chance to succeed? Here is my completely subjective list of the 10 best managing jobs in baseball:
10. Chicago Cubs. Actually, there's a lot not to like: cramped, outdated home facilities, day baseball that saps a team in the second half, cranky fans and a history of instability (24 managers in 40 years). But you have to put the Cubs on the list for one reason: there is no championship bigger in sports than the Cubs winning the World Series.
9. Atlanta Braves. Management stability became a franchise tradition under GM John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox. The player development system has been outstanding and the emphasis on youth baseball in the area is strong. Attendance isn't great (ninth or 10th in the league eight straight years) and neither is payroll (never more than $106 million), but tradition and stability here are the big draws.
8. Colorado Rockies. Payroll is a problem here. (Never greater than $84 million.) But you get a vibrant downtown ballpark, a big homefield advantage, the best spring training facility in baseball, a strong regional fan base, a family atmosphere and amazing stability. Clint Hurdle lasted all or parts of eight seasons with the Rockies despite posting a winning record in only one of them.
7. New York Yankees. It's like New York itself: both the upside and the downside are extreme. You can't deny the prestige, the resources and the off-field opportunities that come with the exposure. But the mandate to win nothing less than the World Series leaves little room for joy.
6. Boston Red Sox. Terrific front office, huge resources, loyal, knowledgeable national fan base, a national treasure of a ballpark that has been somewhat modernized and cultural significance to a region that is unsurpassed. But the job is also is so draining. The fish bowl of Boston, the rivalry with the Yankees, the confining physical nature of Fenway, the early and late season weather, the demand to win nothing short of 95 games every year . . . it exacts a toll.
5. St. Louis Cardinals. Baseball remains a civic treasure in St. Louis, something valued and protected by its citizens. The only downside is limited resources; the Cardinals' payroll has remained between $88 million and $109 million for seven straight years.
4. San Francisco Giants. The best front office stability in baseball, beautiful ballpark, an organizational commitment to develop pitching and fans that are passionate without the East Coast edge.
3. Philadelphia Phillies. You get the highest payroll in the NL and sellouts every night -- the game day atmosphere is second to none -- and a front office bound to deliver the best pitching in baseball.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This is a well-run organization with a terrific owner (Arte Moreno) and good farm system and a team that plays in a beautiful stadium in front of great crowds in great weather and with a $141 million payroll in a division with only three other teams. So what's not to like? The Angels' current skipper, Mike Scioscia, has the most job security in baseball: He is working on a 10-year contract that pays him through 2018.
1. Minnesota Twins. Do you realize the Twins haven't fired a manager in a quarter of a century? (Ray Miller, 1986). The franchise engenders more loyalty than any other in baseball -- from minor league coaches to scouts to secretaries. It also enjoys a beautiful new ballpark, great fan support, rich tradition, no natural rival, a $113 million payroll and an easy division. (World Series titles by the four other AL Central teams over their past 100 combined seasons: 1)
Under manager Ron Gardenhire, the Twins have been knocked out in the first round of the playoffs five straight times while going 2-15 -- and Twins fans go right on enjoying their walleye on a stick with the same happy attitude. There's one major down side to the job: long underwear required two to three months out of the season.
Most managing jobs fall somewhere in the middle on the "quality of managing life" scale. But these five stands out as the worst managing jobs:
30. Florida Marlins. They have too much turnover in the position (nine managers in 11 years, including interim and repeat choices), the worst attendance in the league six years running and a payroll that never has exceeded $60 million. Florida, despite two World Series titles, never has won 93 games or finished in first place.
29. Los Angeles Dodgers. Poor Don Mattingly. No manager should have to deal with the ownership crisis of Frank McCourt, let alone a good guy on his first gig.
28. Oakland Athletics. Lousy ballpark, uncertain future, poor performance (one postseason series win in the past 20 years), limited funds and a general manager who de-emphasizes the position. Since Tony La Russa left, Billy Beane's managers have been classic middle managers: Art Howe, Ken Macha, Bob Geren and Bob Melvin.
27. New York Mets. There is a tremendous upside here, but for now too many ownership questions remain in play as the attendance and payroll continue to shrink.
26. Houston Astros. Attendance is down for a fifth straight year. The biggest problem, however, is a shortage of talent on hand and in the system.
Back before the internet gave us so much information so easily about so many teams, if you wanted to learn something about teams outside of your home market -- next level stuff, from minor league prospects to potential trades -- you read Rod Beaton, one of the original staff members of USA Today when it began in 1982. And if you wanted to be around a thoroughly decent man with a great sense of humor and a quick smile, you sought the company and kindness of Rod.
In a business in which travel, competition, deadlines and rude subjects can grind the optimism out of a person, Rod maintained an impressive, even boyish enthusiasm and charm about his work. He never stopped delighting in the small details of the job -- a new acquaintance, a nugget about a prospect, a restaurant discovery, a turn of a phrase.
He laughed at himself and he laughed at the perceived higher ground of the superstar athlete. He once famously got in the grill of Barry Bonds when Bonds chided him for clubhouse loitering, telling the Giants' slugger, "Barry, you're not my social director." When Bonds reacted by extending his arm toward Rod's chest to push him away, Beaton hit Bonds' arm to move it away. Beaton didn't make a big deal out of the incident; he laughed at that, too.
Rod Beaton died this week at age 59. He leaves behind a wife and two sons. His body and mind endured a long downward spiral from Parkinson's Disease and Lewy body dementia, which is as horrible as it sounds. For years we have missed him and that puckish smile around the press boxes and clubhouses of baseball, but all of us are enriched for having known his kindness.