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Diamondbacks History: Fixing Things

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Buck Showalter #11
Do the Diamondbacks need another Showalter?

The 2016 Diamondbacks are bad. Except that they aren’t. Except that they are.

The talent on the team is good. The individual pieces, even with some injuries, are still pretty good (certainly better than a borderline 100 loss team, anyway) but the product is dismal. The 2016 Diamondbacks are like a guy that bought a Mercedes, stripped all the parts, and built a Yugo out of them. Or, more accurately, the 2016 Diamondbacks are a Yugo that an insanely rich owner decided to have gold plated, with genuine calfskin seats. Sure, it looks nice, but it isn’t going anywhere.

This is not the first time the Diamondbacks have been in a similar situation. In fact, since Ken Kendrick took over in 2004, it has been very much the order of the day. The 2004 team was underperforming, and Bob Brenly was replaced by Al Pedrique, who was replaced the following year by Bob Melvin. Melvin oversaw a roster that was certainly not devoid of talent, and captured one NL West title, narrowly missing out on some others. Since then, a parade of managers has come through the dugout, with Melvin being replaced by Hinch midseason, and Hinch being replaced by Gibson midseason. With the 2016 team’s struggles, fans (myself included) have called for the firing of Chip Hale. However, the problem isn’t so much with the firing of the managers, but in the hiring of replacements.

Think back to 2000. The Diamondbacks were coming off of a 100 win season. They had many of the same players they would have in 2001. Just before the trade deadline they found themselves tied with the Giants for first place in the division, and acquired Curt Schilling. However, the team finished woefully, going 29-32 the rest of the way (which was the worst in the NL West over that span) and finishing third, 12 games back.

In response, Buck Showalter was fired. Given Showalter’s managerial record, this was both the best and the worst decision. He is one of the most successful managers of the last 20 years. He does a great job getting the best out of younger talent. However, at the time he was young himself, had a thick rulebook, and was clashing with the numerous veterans in the clubhouse, who didn’t need a rulebook to keep them in line. Bob Brenly, very much a player’s manager, was hired, the Diamondbacks won the World Series, and Brenly continued having success while he had a veteran club.

What I am NOT saying here is that the Diamondbacks need to hire someone like Brenly. In fact, I would argue that Brenly’s success is at least partially attributable to the foundation that Showalter had laid. Showalter had been hired to manage the Diamondbacks before there was a stadium. But what is most notable about this hire, compared to every hire since, is that Showalter came in with previous management experience. He was, in essence, the best person that was available at the time to build a team from scratch. The decision to spend and build using veterans instead changed the role he had to play, and essentially made him no longer the right person for the job. But in ever hire since, Kendrick has stuck to a pattern: he’s hired a bench coach with Diamondback connections who has never held a management job before. This organizational inbreeding has not solved anything; the Diamondbacks have had some random success, but have generally underperformed expectations throughout the twelve long years Kendrick has been running the show.

If Kendrick wants to fix the mess, he needs to go back to the playbook used in the 2000 offseason. Don’t hire another manager just like the previous one (or the previous five, if we count Alan Trammell’s three games in charge.) This pattern is clearly not working. Hire someone different, preferably an experienced manager, a disciplinarian who won’t take any crap, who won’t play players who are out of shape simply because the front office wasted millions on them, and who won’t bow down before the top-heavy front office leadership.

The chances of that happening are roughly equivalent to the chances of one of us winning the lottery, buying out Kendrick, and firing the whole bunch to start over. Not very good. But if Kendrick is interested in winning in places other than ESPN rankings, he needs to change course. Doing more of the same and expecting to get different results would be insane.