By Mike Harrington
So we’ve started the march through October, complete with the first two of Bud Selig’s newfangled wild-card showdowns. There are eight teams still playing – which means there are 22 trying to pick up the pieces from 2012 and already planning for 2013. Here’s some news from around the bigs from teams who didn’t make the postseason party:
Phillies: They’re out for the first time since 2006 and went 81-81, failing to finish above .500 for the first time since 2002. So for starters, they’ve reworked their coaching staff and potentially set things up for 2014. Added to the staff is Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, who will take over as third-base coach after spending the last two years leading the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
There’s plenty of chatter the Phillies were worried Sandberg would leave for another organization so they promoted him. And there’s also talk he may have already been told there’s a good chance he could take over for Charlie Manuel in 2014. As for who takes over in Lehigh Valley running one of the Bisons’ North Division rivals, a candidate could be former Buffalo catcher Dusty Wathan. He led Double-A Reading to a 76-66 record and Eastern League playoff berth this season.
Red Sox: Columnist Dan Shaugnessy in the Boston Globe after Wednesday’s 14-2 loss in the Bronx mercifully ended the Bobby Valentine era: “This must be what it felt like when Richard Nixon was walking around a near-empty White House, holding a tumbler of scotch and talking to the portraits of former presidents that line the hallways of the residence on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Bobby Valentine’s final hours as Red Sox manager Wednesday were a little sad. His Boston bowsers rolled over one last time in the Bronx, finishing the season with another pathetic loss (14-2) against the American League East champions.”
Any more need to be said? This time, General Manager Ben Cherington will make the choice of manager after one of the most disastrous one-year dugout runs in history.
Pirates: They had the look of a playoff team in early August, when they were 63-47 and pushing the Reds to reclaim the NL Central lead they held at the all-star break. And then? Holy Loser, Batman. They finished 16-36, with a 79-83 mark giving them a 20th straight losing season.
“I’m not happy with the finish at all,” said manager Clint Hurdle.
Still, Hurdle said he felt the Pirates were gaining what he termed “street cred.”
“We’re striving for excellence, not looking for external acceptance,” Hurdle said. “But the conversations I’ve had with opposing players and managers ... in their perception, we’re gaining traction.”
Chicago: Wrigley is still a huge meeting place for locals and a magnet for tourists. The Cubs drew nearly 2.9 million and averaged 35,589 a game this year for a 100-loss team — and it’s the first time since 2003 they haven’t hit three million. Meanwhile, the White Sox were in the race until the final three days but didn’t draw 2 million for the first time since 1994 (finishing at 1,965,955). The Sox drew 30,000 just twice in their final 28 home games and the answers why are obvious: U.S. Cellular Field is a sterile place and the South Side is a much tougher neighborhood than Wrigley’s North Side locale.
Cubs GM Theo Epstein warned fans to expect a long building process but to also realize that a 101-loss season as a necessary building block.
“Despite being a losing club — and we can’t get away from that, we were a losing club — there was a real professionalism, a real spirit of unity, a real effort to play hard every day, to have each other’s back, to prepare,” Epstein said.
Mets: The biggest news coming out of the final days aside from R.A. Dickey pitching most of the year with a torn abdominal muscle was that Terry Collins’ coaching staff is going to remain intact for next year. That means Wally Backman, who spent September with the big club after finishing the Bisons’ season, has no chance for a job in Queens next year. Backman is known to not be interested in managing in the travel-burdened Pacific Coast League so returning to Triple-A (Las Vegas, remember) is not an option. Backman interviewed last year with mentor Davey Johnson for a spot with the Nationals and it was Johnson who recommended he come to Buffalo to add a Triple-A slot to his resume.
With third-base coach Bo Porter leaving the Nats to manage the Astros, Johnson will have at least one spot open that Backman could slide into. Wonder if the Phillies would be interested in Backman too; Sandberg told me a couple of times during the season it was fun to reconnect with Backman when the Bisons met Lehigh Valley, after the former National League East rivals had not been on the field together in 20 years.
Indians: What does new manager Terry Francona do with bombastic closer Chris Perez? He crushed Manny Acta on the fired skipper’s way out the door last week.
Said Perez: “It sounds like a cliche, but a team does follow its manager, good or bad,” he said. “If a manager has no activity on the field. If he doesn’t argue calls or get upset, why would his team?”
Perez also said he felt Acta — and not pitching coach Scott Radinsky — should have been fired Aug. 8, when the Indians were on an 11-game losing streak.
“The easiest way to get out of the kind of losing streak we were in is to get a new manager,” said Perez.
Around & About
• In talking about affiliation changes at all levels, MLB.com’s first “Minoring in Baseball” column of the offseason said “the one that made the biggest splash” was the new agreement between the Bisons and Blue Jays. Pretty easy call.
• The rebranding of the Bisons started quietly last week as the circular, Mets-centric logo was taken down from the marquee sign at the corner of Washington and Swan and from the entrance to the Batter’s Box gift shop on Swan. The Herd is expected to unveil a new logo next month.
• Speaking of the Blue Jays, they get big kudos for the way they sent veteran Omar Vizquel off to retirement in his final game Wednesday night. Vizquel threw the ceremonial first pitch, got a hit in his final at-bat and a rousing standing ovation from the Rogers Centre crowd when he was pulled from the game with two outs in the top of the ninth. Doffing his cap, Vizquel tapped his heart in appreciation.
• In addition to Lehigh Valley, the Rochester Red Wings are in the market for a new manager after the parent Minnesota Twins promoted Gene Glynn to the big-league staff. Also gone from Rochester to the Twin Cities is Red Wings hitting coach and ex-Twin Tom Brunansky.
• Tweet from actor Jonah Hill, who played Billy Beane’s assistant “Peter Brand” in Moneyball: “If the Oakland A’s go all the way this year [Brad]Pitt and I better get rings.” The Brand character was actually based on Paul DePodesta, then an Indians front office stat geek who eventually became GM of the Dodgers and is now working with the Mets.