Friday, June 20, 2008

Knocking Down the Excuses, a continuing series: Marge Schott

After the persistent myth that Bowden's always been saddled with Kansas City salaries, probably the next most persistent myth is that all Bowden's failures in Cincinnati occurred because he had one of baseball's worst owners, Marge Schott.

I make no argument that Mrs. Schott was bad for baseball and for the Reds. She was a racist, homophobe, let her dog poop all over the stadium, thought scouts were a waste of money, and generally was a total buffoon who knew nothing whatsoever about baseball.

The point here isn't whether Schott was a help or a hindrance. The question is this: is it reasonable to conclude that it was impossible to succeed under Schott. Is it at all plausible that Bowden was a top-tier, winning GM all along, and that Schott just topedoed him all the way.

The answer has to be no, for two simple and pretty obvious reasons:
1. she sold the team in 1999 and therefore wasn't the owner for almost half Bowden's time there.
2. Marge Schott had four GMs in her time, and Bowden was by far the least successful. In fact, the team was pretty consistently successful for Schott's entire time as owner before Bowden.

Let's look closer at #2:

Bill Bergesch, GM from 1985-1987, had three winning seasons. Never made the playoffs, but the team was always in the mix, and in both 1985 and 1986 the Reds would have been the wild card team under the current alignment (although of course when the wild card came in, they also added the Marlins and the Rox, so we're being a touch generous). Ultimately he was fired by Schott, who unlike the people who run the Nationals, evidently wanted to do better than just seem respectable.

Murray Cook replaced Bill Bergesch in 1988. Another year, another would-be wild card appearance, as the Reds finished in the top 4 in the NL for the third time in four years. Would their respectable but not quite great ways continue? I wouldn't bet on it. Ha! What a joker I am.

After the Pete Rose gambling scandal broke and team cratered in 1989, enter Bob Quinn and Lou Piniella. Bingo: World Series winners in 1990, plus a 90-win team that again would have made the playoffs under the current alignment in1992, wrapped around one team the crapped the bed. He then left the Reds for the Giants while Marge Schott was making incendiary racist remarks about her "million dollar nigger" outfield and how great Hitler was at road-building.

Bowden arrived in 1993. The team faltered in '93, but returned to contention in 94-95, making the playoffs once and finishing the season in first place in the strike year. Then, for the first time in Schott's tenure, the team went into a prolonged decline, with just 2 winning seasons and no playoff appearances in the next 8 years. Schott sold her interest in the team in 1999, and the team saw a brief uptick, winning 93 games but missing the playoffs in 1999, before returning to below-.500 mediocrity from 2001-3. In 2003, Bowden compared the player's union to al Qaeda and was fired.

Is it possible that Schott made more bad decisions that hurt the team in the 90s than in the 80s? Maybe, and just judging by the way she cut payroll in the mid-to-late 90s that seems to be the case. Her famous threat to fire Davey Johnson after the 1994 season "no matter how well the team does" because he was living with his girlfriend was a major blunder.

But also, she was banned by MLB from involvement in baseball operations at the same time Bowden came in, so if he had less support from his owner, he also had more freedom. And remember--a big part of the GM's job is to massage the owner and get her to buy into his vision.

So even if you assume that all the worst things ever said about Schott are true, it's not reasonable to conclude that her presence alone precluded the possibility of a better performance than what Bowden was able to do.
  • A friend suggested I post the following basic numbers, to boil this long post into the basics:
    • Reds winning % under Schott before Bowden: .522
    • Reds winning % under Schott with Bowden: .463
    • Reds winning % under Bowden, after Schott: .486


Everyone said...

We don't care.

everyone else said...

Neither do we.

Marge Schott said...

This blog was good in the beginning.

Nationals Fan said...

Looks like we have some Bowden fans coming to say their piece. That's ok.

I hope that at some point Mr. Everyone will engage on the substance and we can have a conversation about it, but certainly it's all good if we get a wider audience to mix it up.

So welcome, Everyone! Keep coming, and tell all your Bowden-backing friends.

BRothbart said...

This is ridiculous. Why would you want to fire Jim Bowden. He has done a great job for what he has had to work with. He got Soriano for nothing and we recieved what so far looks like to great players in the draft for him. Bowden was able to get us Milledge and Dukes for nothing and if Dukes keeps his head straight he will be a GREAT player. He also picked up Young, Belliard, Loaiza, and Carrasco - all who had great years with the Nats. He was able to unload Vidro and his big salary. He make a good trade of getting rid of Livan. If the Kearns, Lopez, Wagner trade doesn't work out - who cares, we gave up nothing for them. I don't know what you would want him to have done with what he has had to work with. The Nats haven't had owners until the middle of the 2006 season. There was noone worth spending money on in the free agent market that would have made sense to go out and get. To fire him now would be assinine. He has done a great job building the farm system. The Nats' farm system that was ranked 30th is currently ranked 9th. Let's give hime a couple more years to see if the plan pans out. As for me I am onboard with the plan. Go JB.

Nationals Fan said...

brothbart--Thanks for your comment. I may address some of these points in future posts.

But the basic argument isn't that Bowden's never done anything smart ever. You mention some good decisions that he's made.

The questions is this: is he, based on his cumulative track record for 16 years, the best GM available, and is he the guy who will bring a WS champ to DC? Based on the available options and his track record, it's hard to argue that our position here at Fire Jim Bowden is "asinine."

BRothbart said...

You may want to look at a person's total record, but he is currenlty our GM and you should look at what he has done a GM for the Nats. I could care less what he did while he was with Cinn. Second, you have look at the overall structure of the organization a person was working for. For example, lots of people would argue that Brian Cashman has done a great job as GM of the Yankees, but has he really? The championship teams were built on decisions before he got there. Also, he has a boss who is willing to go out and spend any amount of money necessary to win. Bowden hasn't had that opportunity. I think Bowden should be given a couple of years to see if what he has done pays off.

No one works harder than Bowden and I don't see any reason he should be fired for what he has done with the Nats.

Nationals Fan said...

@broth--I disagree with your first thing that his record in Cincy is irrelevant to the extent that it's totally relevant to a fair and full evaluation of whether he's a good GM or not. I agree that I don't care about the fact that the Reds have sucked for the last decade under Bowden and his legacy, but I do care that the preponderance of the evidence shows that our GM stinks.

Then I completely agree that you have to look at the whole context of the situation. The payroll matters. The support system around him matters.

But, as I argued in my posts on the payroll and Schott, these excuses only go so far. And ultimately I'm not persuaded that, even factoring all the stuff you mention that you can conclude that he's better than a bottom-tier GM or that he's going to bring us a World Series title.

But I appreciate your perspective and hope you'll hang around. Maybe you'll be persuaded, or at least you'll help keep us honest!