John Russell was hired before the 2007 season and 299 losses later he is left looking for work.
Pittsburgh could not be happier.
A head scratching move from the beginning Russell was never seen as a quality big league manager.
He was at one time a 3rd base coach for the Bucs but was let go when the previous coaching regime under Lloyd McClendon was cleared out.
He lingered around in the minors and actually won a minor league manager of teh year award with the Philie’s AAA club.
My question: How?
Russell was a lame duck at the helm providing very little support to his team. He never
showed an ounce of emotion and was never one to rally the troops. It’s not to say he didn’t have the talent to win, because he did not. Russell was handed a team in turmoil.
Part of me thinks that was the plan. 2007 was also the time when the framework was laid for the future. frank Coonelly and Neil Huntington started their time in the front office. Something tells me they did not think the first three years of their set in Pittsburgh were going to be very, well, good. Evident by the fire sale of veteran players and many losses. I think the pair wanted to hire a guy that could just oversee the on field operations until a new wave of younger players were reaching the big league level.
Next year a core is in place. Talented rookies Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata are cemented in the starting lineup alongside Andrew McCutchen. There are still plenty of holes but they have the ability to be filled with players with hefty major league experience.
Now, who will be the lucky candidates for the open managerial position. Many names have been floating around for years now but here is my top five.
1. Andy Van Slyke
The former Bucco’s jersey can still be seen littered around PNC Park. He has always been a fan favorite since he left the team in the early 1990’s. He was a hitting and first base coach for the Tigers for three years and since being retired from the game Van Slyke has continued to showcase his baseball knowledge. He is the author of several books centered around baseball. After running into him at a Pirates game this summer it is evident the he still has an itch to return to the field. Nothing would be a better public relations move than to bring back a favorite son as the fearless leader.
2. Bobby Valentine
3. Larry Bowa
A brash contrast to what the Pirates have been used to for the past three years, Bowa will provide that much needed fire. Ousted as first base coach in Los Angeles when Joe Torre retired he will be looking for work. Giving his age it is more than likely time for Bowa to hang up the cleats permanently and return to a spot in the broadcast booth. But, there is no doubt he will not accept losing.
4. Ken Macha
There has never been a champagne shower in PNC Park, nor do i think it has ever been popped in the facility. A Pittsburgh native and former Pirate, Macha knows the area. The kicker is he has experience leading young, small market teams to success. Oakland and Milwaukee have both reached the postseason under his watch.
5. Tony Pena
It is hard to tell how much of that is wishful thinking. I’d be happy with those five and I know it would send a need message to fans that the front office is serious about moving forward. John Russell was no doubt a cheap option, those five coaches are not. In order to win the checkbooks have to be opened and some precious cash must be ponied up.
Even though it has just been a day since the announced firing of Russell the biggest name out there for the shot at becoming manager is former Indians manager Eric Wedge. Gm Huntington has experience with Wedge and he is notorious for being a homer with his former Cleveland colleagues. It is not my dream pick, but he has reached the postseason. Talking with my Tribe fan friends they say for the sake of the Bucs, that should not happen. They would feel sorry for me if Wedge was named manager.
Quite frankly, I’d be sorry too.