A baseball Hail Mary

The Brewers, tied for a playoff spot, fire manager Ned Yost with 12 games left in the season.


King Kaufman
September 16, 2008 3:00PM (UTC)

The firing of manager Ned Yost Monday by the Milwaukee Brewers was a shocking move by a desperate team, though one still tied for a playoff spot.

You'd be hard-pressed to find managers or coaches fired so deep in the season by teams that had a good chance to make the playoffs. There are just 12 games left in a 162-game season. The closest recent parallel would seem to be the 1999-2000 New Jersey Devils, who fired coach Robbie Ftorek 74 games into an 82-game season, then went on to win the Stanley Cup with Larry Robinson behind the bench.

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But eight games to go in the NHL season, which is no more than a prelude to the playoffs, is nowhere near as close to the end as 12 games to go in the National League season, where it's harder to make the playoffs and the playoffs are more of a crapshoot.

A better comparison might be Bill Frieder, fired as coach of the Michigan Wolverines men's basketball team on the eve of the 1989 Tournament by athletic director Bo Schembechler because he'd agreed to coach at Arizona State the next season. That's the comparison Brewers fans want to make: Interim coach Steve Fisher led the Wolverines to the championship.

Interim manager Dale Sveum will try to do that, which would require getting the Brewers out of free fall, which they've been in for two weeks, having gone 3-11 and blown all of a five and a half-game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies in the wild-card race.

You need look no further than to the obvious destination FireNedYost.com for the reasons why Yost got the ax. They've been patiently explained over the last few years.

And entertainingly explained. This column's on record as a fan of FireJoeMorgan.com and is thinking that just putting the word "Fire" before someone's name in a URL makes everything on that site funny, which is why starting immediately this column will appear at FireKingKaufman.com.

The short version: Yost is the kind of easygoing player's manager who's good at nurturing young kids as they find their way to the big leagues, but who then becomes an enabler as they turn into entitled millionaires. His Brewers teams are thought of as soft, if not blasé or even downright uninterested. This is the second straight September collapse.

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And, far more frustrating for the average fan, he's a strategic dunderhead who torpedoes his team's best chances at winning with loopy decision-making, particularly when it comes to management of the pitching staff.

FireNedYost describes this with the shorthand "Chasing the Hard Eight," which means "Ned's entire approach to managing is based on the big play. Pitchers need to get the big strikeout or double play, and batters need to hit the home run. There's no room for game strategy that does not involve a spectacular result against the odds."

Yost's bumbling as a strategist was thrown into sharp relief, pardon the expression, Sunday in the first game of a doubleheader in Philadelphia. With the score tied in the eighth inning, the Phillies had a man on second, one out and Ryan Howard at the plate. The Brewers had reliever Brian Shouse on the mound. He's a lefty who's murder on left-handed hitters, and otherwise useless. Howard, a left-handed slugger, for all his fame, is terrible against lefties.

Yost's next two moves were a double mind-boggler. He had Shouse intentionally walk Howard, then left him in to face right-handed slugger Pat Burrell. As Joe Sheehan wrote in Baseball Prospectus, "Yost had a 481 OPS [by opposing batters] pitcher facing a 697 OPS hitter. He elected to issue an intentional walk in that situation to allow an 817 OPS pitcher to face a 905 OPS hitter with an additional runner on base."

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Exactly what you think might happen next happened next, and the Phillies won the game going away. They won the nightcap to tie the Brewers for the wild-card lead, and meanwhile, just to rub salt in, a crowd was going crazy at the Brewers' home field, Miller Park, because Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs was throwing a no-hitter at the Houston Astros in a game that had been moved because of the damage caused by Hurricane Ike.

That was that for Yost.

But wait a minute. Any of Yost's detractors could have told you at any time over the last six years that that's the kind of manager Yost is. Why fire him now?

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Exactly, say detractors of his boss, general manager Doug Melvin, who are even as we speak no doubt coding up FireDougMelvin.com.

The order may have come from Melvin or from the owner, Mark Attanasio. Melvin spoke diplomatically about Yost and was cagey with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about who ordered the hit.

It's kind of a Hail Mary, or a Sarah Palin, a desperate attempt to shake things up before they go down the drain.

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"We were just trying to do something to see if we can get something going in these last 12 games," Melvin told the newspaper. "We're not hitting and you always look bad when you're not hitting."

Of course, the manager doesn't hit. But it looks like they're doing something, Melvin and/or Attanasio. If the team starts winning, they look like geniuses, although who knows if the team would have started hitting anyway. If not and the season goes down the drain, hey, they tried. It was Yost's fault.

First baseball borrowed instant replay from football. Now it's the Hail Mary. What's next, halftime?


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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