Pena Reaches The Boiling Point
So, what do you get when a Royals fan stops paying attention to his team one night, and instead watches a bad movie and a disappointing Final Four edition of American Idol? A polka-dotted dinosaur? Christopher Walken in another “I need more cowbell!” sketch? No … apparently, you get a very surprised and stunned Royals fan after learning of his team’s manager suddenly resigning. (Okay, so I’m no Gary Gulman or Robin Williams, but that doesn’t mean my attempt at humor was without effort.)
Anyway, the abrupt halt that Tony Pena’s reign as Royals manager took on Tuesday night is easily the most shocking bit of news Major League Baseball has run across its wire in 2005. After all, despite the dreaded vote of confidence given to him by team owner David Glass, there was absolutely no indication that Pena’s job was in jeopardy or that he was beginning to reach his breaking point with the club’s failure to execute. Miscues like dropped fly balls, botched rundown plays, failed attempts at sacrifice bunts, and lapses in concentration on the mound would be enough to drive an ordinary manager insane, but that stuff never seemed to get to the laid-back Pena, who instead chose to always look at the sunny side of things – that there’s always tomorrow.
But perhaps we should’ve seen this coming after the usually giddy skipper’s temper boiled over in a post-game screaming match a week ago today. Pena used to do things like turn up the stereo and joke around with his players after tough losses, being nothing but patient with young players and those aforementioned mistakes young players make, meaning his sudden change of attitude should’ve been taken more seriously than it was. He was the antithesis of all that was Tony Muser until that day, when we likely saw the beginning of the end of the Pena era.
However, because of the attitude and enthusiasm he showed in 99 percent of his three years at the helm, I have to believe that all of the reasons behind his resignation aren’t being made public. He’s reportedly been subpoenaed to testify in an unspecified civil trial in Kansas City, which may or may not be an extremely serious manner. Regardless of how important that is, it’s pretty clear that something such as dealing with the legal system can affect the way anyone does his or her job.
Unfortunately in Pena’s case, the effectiveness of his first big-time managing gig left much to be desired:
The list goes on and on. However, the one positive Pena contributed was his outstanding work in protecting the arms of his young pitchers. Rare was the time when precious commodities like Zack Greinke, Denny Bautista, Runelvys Hernandez, or (at the time) Jimmy Gobble threw more than 110 pitches in a single start. It was quite the change of pace from Muser, who single-handedly ruined the careers of Chad Durbin and Jose Rosado. Through all the negatives and in-game tactical managing errors, the Royals will be better off because their young pitching will likely remain healthy for the next several seasons as a result of Pena’s watchful eye.
Where do the Royals go from here? Well, it’s too early to say right now. They’ve hired bench coach Bob Schaefer to be the interim manager until a permanent replacement is found. But no matter which man Allard Baird pegs for the job – to name a couple, Larry Bowa or my personal choice Carlos Tosca – the trait this manager MUST possess is a willingness to think along sabermetric lines with Baird. That isn’t a preference towards new thinking; it’s a preference towards the general manager and the manager being on the same page. In other words, the new guy needs to utilize his pitching staff better, treat his bench players like bench players, and DEFINITELY not order first-inning sacrifice bunts. It’s all about synergy, and it’s a vital aspect of the Royals taking the next step towards contention.
I’ll be tracking the managerial hiring process very closely, so stay tuned to this blog for more information and insight into the hunt.