Written by Joe Kleinsasser Tuesday, 15 June 2010 17:15
Why should I care if another Kansas City Royals manager gets fired? It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.
Perhaps the Kansas City Royals, realizing they aren’t going to finish first this year, made sure they would at least finish first in something — firing the manager.
I don’t know if Trey Hillman is a good manager or a mediocre manager. Given the slow start this season, maybe it was inevitable. All I know is even though I don’t know Hillman, I’ll confess to feeling a little sad when hearing that he became the first managerial sacrificial lamb in 2010, less than two months into the season.
It’s no secret that it’s easier to fire the manager than 25 ballplayers. When things go badly, the manager is the first to go. When a change is needed, someone has to take the fall.
Still, some firings are more distasteful than others. And this one hurts on a couple of fronts.
For one, Hillman was a bold hire. He was a championship manager in Japan. He had been a successful minor league manager for the New York Yankees. He was considered a teacher and a winner, and a guy who would outwork his counterparts.
He never played Major League Baseball, but clearly he was someone who loved the game and learned a lot along the way. He became a manager the old-fashioned way — he earned it.
He was known as a man who related well to players and the community.
This is the kind of person that’s easy to root for. This is the kind of man you’d like to succeed.
So what went wrong? You could make a case that he was dealt a bad hand, and you would be right. To be honest, the Royals haven’t been very good in more than two decades.
Kansas City columnist Joe Posnanski wrote, “As the old line goes, Casey Stengel, Earl Weaver and Joe McCarthy combined weren’t winning with this team.”
In addition to losing too much, it was how the Royals lost that contributed to Hillman’s demise. They played clueless baseball at times, running the bases poorly and playing defense badly. Throw in erratic pitching and hitting and you have a recipe for a manager getting fired.
General manager Dayton Moore, the one responsible for hiring Hillman, informed Hillman that he was being let go after a late-night loss to Cleveland. Moore then made a rare, heartfelt gesture of giving Hillman the option of managing one last game.
According to an article in USA Today, telling no one but his wife, Hillman tucked his emotions inside and tried to treat the game just like any other while taking in the surroundings for one last time.
The Royals won the game, but it was too late for Hillman. He broke the news to a surprised team in a brief training-room meeting after the game.
Hillman wasn’t without faults, but as pitcher Brian Bannister said, “I know he gave 100 percent to us all the time. He was a man I was proud to play underneath. He was a man I looked up to.”
Hillman was gracious with the media even after being fired, taking questions from reporters and thanking nearly everyone in the organization for more than 30 minutes.
Posnanski wrote, “Hillman went out gracefully, as you might expect from a class person.”
Undoutedly, there’s life after being a big league manager. Certainly Hillman knew it would be no small task to turn around the Kansas City Royals.
The end of his tenure in Kansas City ended sooner than anyone wanted. At least he could walk out with his head held high.