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In-season managerial changes sometimes do work

Five other replacement skippers have anchored turnaround seasons
August 21, 2018

The Cardinals may look back at this season and see that their transformation into the National League's hottest team during the late summer began with a managerial change. What makes this unique is not that the Cards made a change, but that it worked. This seldom happens.In this case, the

The Cardinals may look back at this season and see that their transformation into the National League's hottest team during the late summer began with a managerial change. What makes this unique is not that the Cards made a change, but that it worked. This seldom happens.
In this case, the decision to dismiss Mike Matheny and promote bench coach Mike Shildt -- a career organization man -- has been stunning.
Since making the switch after losing to the Reds on July 14, St. Louis has the NL's best record at 22-11. Shildt's hiring didn't happen in a vacuum. At about the same time, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak made significant changes to his roster by loading it with the organization's best kids, especially 24-year-old outfielder Harrison Bader and a pitching staff with five members age 25 and under.
But it would be a mistake to discount Shildt's contribution. Some of that could be a change in voice, tone or whatever. 

Many current Cardinals played for Shildt in the Minor Leagues, and some of the things he has done -- for instance, daily meetings with his hitters to review games and simply talk baseball -- probably have been as much about team building as technical discussions.
Shildt's understated style, his constant reminders that "it's about the players," has been the right touch at the right time. The Cardinals had a tremendous run under Matheny, making four postseason appearances in six seasons.
Even now, the Cardinals' players refuse to criticize Matheny. Asked why the Cards, who were 47-46 at the time of the change, were having more fun, Matt Carpenter said: "When you're winning, you're always going to have more energy and look like you're having more fun."
Seeing what St. Louis has done is why teams make in-season managerial changes. Besides that, it has worked a few times through the years. Let's look at five others that worked:
1. 2003 Marlins
Original manager:
Jeff Torborg (16-22)
Replacement: Jack McKeon (75-49)
How it played out: Won World Series
As we said, sometimes in-season changes work better than anyone could have predicted. McKeon brought his folksy, cigar-smoking, wisecracking style to the dugout, and the Marlins took off. McKeon's style might be best summed up by the advice he gave center fielder Juan Pierre: "I wish you wouldn't work so hard. I think you should show up a little later and save some of it for the games." Josh Beckett's complete-game shutout at Yankee Stadium in Game 6 of the World Series completed a magical season.

2. 1988 Red Sox
Original manager:
John McNamara (43-42)
Replacement: Joe Morgan (46-31)
How it played out: Swept by A's in American League Championship Series
No managerial change could have been a more dramatic shift in style than dismissing the taciturn McNamara and replacing him with Morgan, a son of New England -- a lifelong resident of Walpole, Mass., and a baseball and hockey player at Boston College. Morgan's easygoing style resonated nicely with a club that had underperformed.

3. 2009 Rockies
Original manager:
Clint Hurdle (18-28)
Replacement: Jim Tracy (74-42)
How it played out: Lost to Phillies in NL Division Series
All these years later, the Rockies are not exactly sure why the change worked. Both Hurdle and Tracy were competent managers and sound baseball men. One player, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, said guilt was a factor in how badly the team had played, which cost Hurdle his job. Others did say the atmosphere become lighter under Tracy, but as Carpenter said of the Cardinals, that's almost always a result of success on the field. That year, Tracy won the NL Manager of the Year Award. 

4. 1978 Yankees
Original manager:
Billy Martin (52-42)
Replacement: Bob Lemon (48-20)
How it played out: Won World Series
Lemon was the perfect man to interrupt another summer of George Steinbrenner and Martin at each other's throats. His stoic demeanor brought calm to a clubhouse that needed it, and the Yankees rallied from 10 games back to overtake the Red Sox on Bucky Dent's home run in the tiebreaking Game 163. When asked to explain the difference between Martin and Lemon, Yanks outfielder Jay Johnstone said the following spring: "Lem's sort of like an Andy Griffith character. You know, 'Take it easy, don't panic, we'll think of something.'"

5. 2004 Astros
Original manager:
Jimy Williams (44-44)
Replacement: Phil Garner (48-26)
How it played out: Beat Braves in NLDS, lost to Cardinals in NL Championship Series
Garner lived in the Houston suburbs, and pretty much like the others on this list, he brought a laid-back approach that was a perfect contrast to Williams for a team flush with talent. Garner led the Astros to their first postseason series victory, then steered them to their first NL pennant the following season.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.