Spheroid hire on steroids: ‘Are you crazy?’

Human capital, crucially important, is either a well used or a misused investment in both business and government.

Baseball, a favorite tableau of mine for assessing life’s ups and downs along these lines, again provides an opportunity for some insights over the balance of the current season. But don’t go away, non-sports fans; this isn’t a commentary on sport so much as a look into life’s foibles and the value of craft, tradition, apprenticeship. It may take a couple of columns and weeks to do it, but stay tuned. First a quote to get going:

“Are you crazy; have you lost your mind?” That came from Dan Jennings, until last week Miami Marlins general manager, who was quoting his own mother’s response when he told her he was leaving Miami’s front office to become the team’s field manager. Even though Jennings is a 30-year baseball organization man, he never played much professionally, moving up through scouting into the business office.

He spent no time in a professional baseball dugout as coach or manager. In the 1980s, he did coach a high school baseball team briefly in Alabama.

Now he’s field manager for a team stocked with a fine offense, at least on paper, but questionable pitching. It was mired in last place in the National League east division going into this weekend.

Jennings was named manager not long after the firing of Mike Redmond a week ago. When the news broke, Chipper Jones, former star Atlanta third baseman, tweeted about the Marlins’ owner: “Jeffrey Loria makes me laugh.”

Loria’s impatience with field managers is well known. Perhaps that’s why Jennings’ mother asked the pertinent question she did. Face it, Jennings gets a demotion and a chance to succeed or find out just how impatient his owner is. It’s the rare baseball field manager who survives a career intact with one team to retire in glory. If Jennings succeeds, fine. Loria will be vindicated.

Much has changed in the modern game, and it may be possible for someone bereft of field experience to run this entertainment business as shop foreman. But odds are long, to say the least.

On a baseball diamond, respect is necessary. Nuanced decisions are required daily regarding personnel and game situations. Finding or managing people from a front office is much different from doing it where cleats meet dirt.

To someone from Northern Nevada, choosing Jennings smacks of idiocy because a topflight former player, an insightful student of the game with dugout experience, and a potential major league manager with a real apprenticeship behind him is already with the Marlins. He’s Brett Butler, former outfielder and leadoff hitter extraordinaire, who was Reno Aces’ field manager from 2008 to 2013. He’s now a Marlins coach.

In 2012, Butler led the Aces to the Pacific Coast League championship and the top of AAA baseball. The Aces parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, let him get away to Miami despite second rate Arizona field management back then.

If this column isn’t about baseball, what’s it about? Ownership, management, training, personnel, elevating the right person for a job with precision. Such insight eludes most businesses or government entities all too often.

It’s also about venerating tradition when necessary or, if you’re going to think outside the box understanding there will be a price to pay for spitting in tradition’s eye. Say, the Jennings’ learning curve?

Stay tuned for related thoughts next week. And by the way, don’t be surprised if Butler eventually winds up elsewhere when someone with baseball brains notices Loria’s blinders-inspired oversight.


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