Exactly a third of MLB clubs changed field bosses in the recent, unprecedented game of musical managers. Imagine the new guys, squaring off in 162-game prize fights…
Rookie of the Year Division -- Ken Macha vs. Bob Melvin
This one might go the distance; both are supposed to make the playoffs. Baseball’s best division has three great teams and only one returning manager – the fellow with the ring. Will the Angels catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row? If not, there’s a chance for both these freshmen to succeed. If either inherits a collapse, they’ll also get the blame, and the boot. Macha should benefit from his existing relationship with the players and Billy Beane; Pat Gillick might be yesterday’s genius. Split decision, Macha.
Past Their Prime Division -- Felipe Alou vs. Dusty Baker
If the Giants fail to repeat their NL title, it will obviously be the manager’s fault; the game passed him by. Tough assignment for a kindly old gentleman, with the likes of Neifi Perez on his roster. Dusty has to play Patterson, Gonzalez, Karros and Grudz – how smart will that make him? Both men should have quit while they were legends. Neither team makes the playoffs, both are disqualified because their GMs dropped the ball; the match is declared no contest.
Mission: Impossible Division -- Art Howe vs. Buck Showalter
It won’t be easy for Howe to adjust to the Big Apple, especially since the poor guy has to carry Mo Vaughn on his back. The Mets are an expensive mistake, and Steve Phillips can only fire so many managers before taking the fall. Buck's Rangers should improve on last year’s catastrophe, so he’ll get some of the credit. Watch for Showalter to keep a lower profile than his reputation suggests, allowing Grady Fuson to pick up the pieces after Tom Hicks tires of John Hart. Unanimous decision Showalter.
Not Right Now Division -- Eric Wedge vs. Ned Yost
Pity Ned Yost. He might be the greatest manager since John McGraw, but he’s got Bud Selig at arm’s length as owner, and the Brewers feature Exhibits A and B against hiring a Canadian to run your team: Doug Melvin and Gord Ash. Eric Wedge is the hand-picked choice of a GM who has quietly done a great job retooling the Indians, and isn’t all that upset about “losing” Jim Thome. Ignore the upcoming horrible season; the game's youngest skipper could guide Shapiro's phenoms to a renaissance. If the kids don’t all stub their toes, TKO Wedge.
Home Sweet Home Division -- Lou Piniella vs. Alan Trammell
Clever moves on the part of two horrible teams. The new manager as star, detracting from the lack of talent on the field. Trammell will end up a scapegoat; it will be a long time before his team is competitive. Lou's experience and savvy can only improve D-Rays management, and his team has some exciting young talent ready to blossom. Piniella could become the 21st-century Casey Stengel and own his home town if he turns this franchise around; Trammell is hung out to dry. Sweet Lou in a first-round knockout.
Of course, if I'm wrong about their teams, Baker and/or Alou would be canonized. Macha and Melvin have opportunities to become instant stars, but either could stumble, and for Wedge, success will take time. Piniella inherits an ideal situation, deserves it, and won't screw it up. Showalter also landed in a cozy spot. Along with the AL West survivor -- Macha? -- Lou and Buck win this year's elaborate Dugout Dance.