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Changing managers is rarely the solution

Changing managers is rarely the solution

The most comforting thing to believe about a losing baseball team is that the reason the team is losing is the manager.

This belief exonerates a whole host of other candidates for blame. It allows everybody involved to cling to the notion that the 25-man roster is much, much better than the record the roster has compiled.

This is the most comfortable thing for the fans to believe, the general manager to believe, the owner to believe. And this is why it is probably surprising that only two Major League managers have been dismissed this season. This job pays very well, but job security, in many cases, is right next to non-existent.

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Kansas City dismissed Trey Hillman in mid-May, and on Friday the Baltimore Orioles dismissed Dave Trembley. The Orioles have a record of 15-39, worst in the Major Leagues. Their relative situation is made worse by the fact that they are in the same division as the team with baseball's best record, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles are 21 games out of first in the AL East. Twenty-one games back after 54 played is not simply bad. It is scary.

Juan Samuel moves from being third base coach to replace Trombley, but only as the interim manager. But the way the Orioles have been playing, any manager could be considered interim.

The Orioles came to this season believing that 2010 would be Phase II of their rebuilding program. This would be the year in which progress would be seen in the standings. This hasn't happened. Given the circumstances, it is surprising that Trembley made it past Memorial Day.

But was baseball's worst record Dave Trembley's fault? Trembley, who got the Baltimore managing job in 2007 after Sam Perlozzo was dismissed, had an overall record of 187-283.

That's not good, but there have been mitigating factors. This once-proud Baltimore franchise has had 12 straight losing seasons, not counting this one. In that time, it has now had six managers. It is not as though Dave Trembley was breaking new ground by being a losing manager in Baltimore.

As to the 2010 Orioles, let's consider their position in the two basic team statistical categories that measure a club's relative worth -- runs scored and team ERA. The Orioles are 28th in the Majors in runs scored and dead last in the AL in that category. And they are 24th in the Majors in team ERA.

With those numbers you are supposed to be a losing team. We can argue about how far below .500 you might be, but you won't be particularly close to .500. This cannot all be placed at Trembley's doorstep.

The Orioles have the serious misfortune of playing in baseball's most difficult division, with baseball's most expensive team, the Yankees, and another payroll giant in the Boston Red Sox. Success in this crowd will never be easily attained. But finances cannot be an all-purpose excuse, because the Rays, a consummate small-market operation, reached the World Series in 2008, and are showing their organizational strength again this year.

The Orioles, to their credit, have assembled some impressive young talent. But for a team that is a rebuilding mode, they are also wasting their time with some retreads. "I've got it ... let's pick up Julio Lugo."

If you look at the team the Orioles put on the field every day, it is certifiably "young" in only a few positions. There have been some damaging injuries, but this is not a team whose rebuilding program has come to fruition. The Orioles have made a commendable start in their attempts to rebuild under president of baseball operations Andy McPhail. But if you compare their roster with, for instance, that of Tampa Bay, the news isn't good.

Under all of these circumstances, there was a fall to be taken here and the manager is so often the designated fall guy. Trembley took the news of his dismissal with dignity.

"While I am disappointed at the outcome, I feel it was a privilege to wear the Orioles uniform each day and I thank all the fans for their tremendous support," he said. "I hope the team will soon return to the winning tradition they enjoyed for so many years."

The recent model for a team turnaround with a managerial firing is the 2009 Colorado Rockies. After Clint Hurdle's dismissal they went 74-42 under Jim Tracy and became the NL Wild Card team. Tracy was a proven managerial commodity and he made some astute lineup decisions in this case. He was the 2009 NL Manager of the Year on merit. So a complete turnaround can occur with a change in managers. But the 2010 Orioles should not be confused with the 2009 Rockies.

Dave Trembley obviously did not succeed here, but many of the circumstances, internal and external, argued against success. The Orioles could very well perform better under Samuel, or his long-term successor. But that is easily said when the bar of performance has been set so low.

There are two former managers with substantial track records who are currently available. With either one, the Orioles could be assured that they were doing as much as they possibly could to give this team top-shelf managerial leadership. Those two would be Phil Garner, who led Houston to its only World Series appearance, in 2005, and Bob Melvin, who was the 2007 NL Manager of the Year with Arizona.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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