Geren firing is rock bottom for A's but change was necessary

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Apparently even the Oakland A's have a rock bottom. And they hit it on Thursday morning.

General manager Billy Beane fired his manager and good friend Bob Geren. The firing came amidst a nine-game losing streak that has dropped the A's to the bottom of the AL West standings, eight games behind Texas.

Former Mariners and Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin takes over Thursday in Chicago to try to change the team's direction.

Beane said that there was no magic number of losses he was waiting for. He said the decision was considered over the past few weeks and that the timing was right.

"In this job, you try to keep a finger on the pulse. You try not to react to everything," Beane said. "It felt like right now was the opportune time for a change."

Change, any change that will shake things up, is welcome news for the beleaguered A's. The team has been mired in mediocrity for years, management seemingly unconcerned about mounting losses and dwindling crowds, a lost era for a once proud franchise. Owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher seem oblivious, waiting for a magical solution that will get them a new stadium in San Jose and solve all their problems. Inertia and apathy have been the A's trademarks.

This was the year things were supposed to be different, with a hot young pitching staff that could lead the way. But from the start, the A's couldn't hit, they couldn't field, and in recent weeks, couldn't even pitch.

Geren was widely viewed as part of the organizational torpor, a figurehead manager for four-and-a-half years with few detectable skills and no authority. He was Beane's puppet.

When reliever Brian Fuentes publicly lashed out at Geren last month -- ripping the manager for his use of the bullpen and for his lack of communication -- he was voicing longtime clubhouse complaints. Geren's shortcomings were openly mocked by some team employees.

But he was viewed as safe because of his close friendship with Beane -- Geren had even served as Beane's best man at his wedding. He was protected by Beane's philosophy that undervalues the manager. Why fire a guy who doesn't really matter?

And Geren and Beane could always lean on the crutch of injuries. The A's have had a stunning run of injuries in recent years -- and so far this year the team has lost four different starting pitchers to the disabled list. Those maladies are largely a result of signing injury-prone players that come more cheaply.

But at some point even the injuries could no longer mask the A's nosedive.

"The focus was on the status of the manager on a daily basis and was no longer on the field," Beane said. "You need to shift the focus to what's really important."

So was losing lots of baseball games the problem? Or were the questions surrounding Geren creating a distraction? Did the media drive the firing?

Beane definitely seemed to be leaning toward the latter, saying, "it certainly starts in the media." And he refused to compare the tenures of Geren and Ken Macha, who also had a disconnect with his players. Beane fired Macha after the team made the 2006 ALCS.

Beane might not want to see the pattern that others see: When a manager is viewed as having no real authority and the players know that the general manager is calling the shots, the manager has a hard time earning the respect of his players.

Now it's Melvin's turn to try to gain authority in the A's clubhouse. Melvin had one good year in Seattle and one bad year in 2004 and was let go. He was hired by Arizona and was named the National League Manager of the Year in 2007, leading the Diamondbacks to a division title. Melvin was fired in May of 2009. He's a native of the Bay Area and played college ball at the University of California.

Melvin will carry the interim title, for now.

"Bob has the rest of the year to make an impact," said Beane.

And Beane clearly thinks the A's can still make a run.

"I don't think there's anyone in my position who ever wants to give up on anything in June," he said.

Beane used the words "credibility" and "well-respected" to describe Melvin, words never associated with Geren. Beane said that he and Melvin have maintained a close relationship for many years but declined to detail how their philosophies will merge.

Here's how: Melvin needs to adopt Beane's philosophy if he wants to keep the job beyond this October.

But it Beane has learned anything during this process, he will listen to Melvin's input. Beane, once the genius whiz kid of major league baseball, has been humbled. His team isn't good. His magic touch on trades has worn out. The players he's signed don't perform as expected. A manager he bypassed -- the Rangers' Ron Washington, a longtime Oakland coach -- took his team to World Series last year and threatens to dominate the A's division. And he just had to axe his best man.

There's been a lot of bad news for the A's.

The good news is they finally did something about it.