Most of us probably learned about ageism in the episode of The Office when a young, power-hungry Ryan comes in from the corporate office and starts implementing changes that have the older employees feeling threatened. Creed dyes his hair black with copier toner and Michael Scott drives his car into a “f***ing lake.” Throughout the episode’s shenanigans, Michael maintains that the old ways are the best ways, though most of it is driven by his reticence to accept his former protégé as his new boss.
The MLB currently faces a similar situation. The game is becoming more technologically and analytically-driven, and the shift is edging out the old guard. At the end of last season, numerous Major League teams fired or parted ways with their managers and hired much-younger men in their place. The explanation in almost every case was something along the lines of the team needing someone more familiar with this new age of baseball analytics and that they also wanted younger managers who could better connect with their players.
Those explanations might be accurate, the decisions may pay off. But in this shift, many stalwart, longstanding employees are getting shafted. The Yankees replaced Joe Girardi, 53, with Aaron Boone, 44. Terry Collins, 68, resigned at the end of the Mets’ season; his successor, Mickey Callaway, 42, will be one of the youngest managers in the MLB. The Red Sox fired John Farrell, 60, and poached former Boston utility infielder Alex Cora, 45, from the Houston Astros coaching staff. After only two seasons, the Nationals said goodbye to Dusty Baker, 68, and welcomed Dave Martinez, 53.
Ron Gardenhire, 60, is the only manager let go this year to have landed on his feet. The Minnesota Twins cut him loose in 2014, followed by the Diamondbacks this season, but in a weird twist, the Detroit Tigers fired their young manager Brad Ausmus (48) and hired the man who looks like if Santa coached your baseball team. Maybe they’re trying to buck the trend, though no one has high hopes for the Tigers this season.
In this new age of analytics, technology, and pandering to the players, franchises are desperate to win, no matter what it takes. Even if it means firing managers like Girardi, who, in 10 years running the Yankees, never finished a season with fewer than 84 wins. His team won three division titles and were World Series champions in 2009. In 2013, his first year managing the Red Sox, John Farrell managed to pull off a World Series win with an unlikely band of free-agent acquisitions. But after abysmal seasons in 2014 and 2015 followed by back-to-back ALDS losses in 2016 and 2017, he got the boot a day after the last season ended. His overall managing stats weren’t terrible, but they sure as hell weren’t up to Boston fans’ standards for their team.
Some teams are keeping their former managers around in front office jobs to assist in advisory capacities. The Red Sox hired Tony LaRussa as VP and Special Assistant to Dave Dombrowski, but really so the veteran former manager can be the Murtaugh to Alex Cora’s Riggs. It’s a gamble; the two will undoubtedly have very different ideas about how to run this team, and will inevitably clash. Cora can benefit from LaRussa’s experience, but LaRussa probably won’t be able to relate to Cora’s new ways of running the team. Their working relationship will probably end up distracting from the team’s playing, much like the PR disasters of last season with Farrell, Price, and Dennis Eckersley.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, each team wants to win. And of course, in any situation where you have a winner, there has to be a loser as well. In this case, the losers are old men who literally couldn’t win games. The question is what to do with them, because in a way, they are simply victims of time. John Farrell wasn’t going to learn to speak fluent Spanish so that he could converse with Rafael Devers; he probably has a hard enough time using his iPhone. Meanwhile, Alex Cora and Devers will be able to talk baseball in their shared first language all season long. The MLB is moving into a new era, and the Red Sox don’t want to be left behind. They can’t afford to be left behind; Red Sox Nation will be waiting for them like the hyenas devouring Scar in The Lion King.
The tolerance for failure is lower than ever, the stakes, higher than high. In this new era of baseball, it’s all about numbers, including age.