The Pirates officially announced today that John Russell has been relieved of his duties as manager. It’s not exactly unexpected news after Dejan Kovacevic’s report yesterday, but it’s now official that the Pirates will be conducting another managerial search in the next couple weeks.
I’m not exactly sure that I’d call myself a John Russell fan, but I’m far from the guy’s biggest critic. Yes, I thought he bunted too much. Yes, I thought his lineups left something to be desired from time to time. But almost every manager in baseball bunts too much and almost every manager in baseball adheres to what I’d consider old, bad ideas about lineup construction. Just because John Russell has been fired doesn’t mean that kind of stuff is going to stop. In the long run, neither one of those things costs a team a ton of runs over the course of the season and the impact that a manager’s strategy makes just doesn’t make that much of a difference. The Pirates are a 105-loss team because they’re bad, not because John Russell was a bad manager.
That’s the great injustice in this whole thing that I see. Russell was hired three years ago by Huntington and Coonelly as Huntington prepared to rip the team apart. Huntington didn’t have any real plans to contend in any of these three years and now Russell’s been fired just as the young talent starts to arrive. The last three years aren’t Russell’s fault any more than they’re Huntington’s fault; rebuilding teams are bad teams and they rack up losses. Now, someone has to be fired for it and it’s always the manager that gets the axe first. That’s not to criticize Huntington, who’s doing what needs done; Russell knew what he signed up for in 2008. And like I said, this really is how things are done.
From what I could tell, the players still had a lot of respect for Russell (unlike, say, a hypothetical manager named Tim Jracy who may have managed the Pirates before Russell did) and I think that’s much more important than whether or not the guy showed any emotion in the dugout during the games. It’s a tough time to be a manager; sports columnists and people like me are waiting to jump on every single word and it’s hard to blame the guy for being reserved. But it’s impossible to have three years like the Pirates have had under Huntington and Russell and not fire someone. That’s just how it works.
Like I said, if I were starting a franchise I don’t think that JR would be the guy I’d hire to manage my team. But he’d also be pretty far from the bottom of the list. I hope someone gives him another chance somewhere with a team he stands a chance with, which is more than I said when either Tracy or Lloyd McClendon (two guys who I disliked more than Russell by a considerable amount) were fired.