In case you get your breaking baseball news from this blog (in which case, hello curious traveler - your priorities confuse me), Jeffrey Loria really out Jeffrey Loria'd himself yesterday, firing Marlins manager Mike Redmond and replacing him with general manager Dan Jennings. Moving your top front-office official into the dugout despite his complete lack of on-field experience isn't exactly normal, but then again, neither is having eight managers in ten seasons, so Loria can sort of consider himself a trendsetter.
The change got me thinking about our conversation with Hardball Talk's Craig Calcaterra from this week's episode, which touched on, among other things, baseball's deeply-ingrained corporate culture. In addition to the well-documented greed, deception, and general moral repugnance amongst team owners, who so reliably remind us that baseball is a capitalist oligarchy masquerading as a community cooperative, Craig's piece points out that breaking into the big leagues as a player is strikingly similar to climbing the corporate ladder at a large company. You start out at the lowest rung, toiling away for long hours at meager wages, and if you work hard, play by the rules, and don't complain, you'll eventually find yourself in the majors.
Loria's latest shake-up points at another facet of all this, though: the trend in modern business, particularly in the technology space, actually favors volatility and eccentricity amongst leadership. We love to read about the ice cream trucks at Zappos, Google's lack of hierarchy, and Bridgewater's policy of radical honesty. The environment at these and many other companies is fomented by zealous, ambitious CEO's who envision themselves as both corporate and cultural innovators. And it's hard to argue with them from a revenue standpoint - places like Zappos, Google, and Bridgewater have parlayed their branded weirdness into skyrocketing profits and scores of happy, productive employees.
The key to all of this, however, is that these attitudes are top-down. It's the head execs who set the tone for these oddball success stories - the Larry Pages, Ray Dalios, and Tony Hsiehs insure that the value of outside-the-box thinking is enshrined in their company's official corporate tenets, no matter how big they grow. It's hard to imagine a major league baseball team suddenly cultivating that kind of start-up mentality - baseball teams are all huge, multi-million dollar business already, and the idea of a shakeup from the roots would likely seem incredibly risky to fans and ownership group shareholders, not to mention MLB's corporate mothership, which is famously over-protective of its brand.
That's why Loria, who routinely sells off his team's best assets following successful seasons, fires managers and general managers with impunity, and fields his team in one of the strangest sports complexes on planet Earth, is generally viewed as a kook. It doesn't hurt that he also seems to be a somewhat clueless evaluator of talent, which is why the Marlins have mostly had their successes in spite of his eccentricities, not because of them.
But doesn't it seem like there's an opportunity for some wayward club to decide that the old-fashioned way of running a baseball team clearly isn't working, and instead replace it with some of this new-fangled wackiness? Personally, I think it should be the Rockies, because they are a) an abysmal baseball team with no clear path to contention in the near future, and b) they play in one of the few states where it's, um, legal to think outside the box.
The Athletics and Astros have famously embraced the technological innovations of Silicon Valley and Wall Street to convert their franchises from foundering money pits into alternative approach success stories, but the culture of those teams and other SABR-minded clubs hasn't exactly evolved to match. Imagine a mind capable of comprehending the value of both Ben Zobrist and the Marlins home-run statue. What kinds of innovations might an unholy hybrid of Billy Beane and Jeff Loria bring to bear in a place like Colorado?
Back in 2013, we called for the Orioles to move the left field fences in and raise the height of the wall to 500 feet. This move, we proposed, would resolve the team's lack of credible left-field defense (since the third baseman or shortstop could handle anything hit in the air on that side of the field), while also making our starting pitchers overwhelming propensity for throwing fly balls less of a clear and present danger.
Your move, Rockies owner Dick Monfort - we'll be waiting by the phone.