Summer of 2015 I wrote a post (Culture of Narrowness) about how nepotism and insider-bias hiring practices and player evaluation were producing serial failure for the Reds. That article was prompted by a report that Barry Larkin had been talking to friends about joining his coaching staff with the Reds. My post wasn’t about Barry Larkin, but about how hiring Larkin could fit a troubling pattern:
When the season comes to its merciful conclusion, odds are that Bob Castellini will fire Bryan Price and keep Walt Jocketty. Jocketty will announce Larkin’s hiring (surprise!). Castellini will express warm, manly feelings about bringing back a hometown hero. Jocketty will say a real hiring process wasn’t necessary because, you know, the obvious guy is obvious.
Sound familiar? Hiring Barry Larkin as the next Reds manager, without seriously and formally considering other candidates, will fit a long pattern – a culture – of insular decision-making by the baseball side of Bob Castellini’s organization.
As we now know, bottom-feeding expectations have permitted Bryan Price to wriggle under the lowest of bars. Not once, but twice. As I wrote in 2015, the concern wasn’t Price per se, it was the flawed process that led to Price’s hiring and the prospect of repeating it:
But the take-away isn’t about Bryan Price; the real lesson is about their myopic process two years ago.
As one of the most respected coaches in the game and one who was familiar with the roster, maybe Bryan Price was the right choice for the Reds in 2014. Other teams seemed eager to hire Price as their manager if the Reds didn’t.
But the Reds front office didn’t come anywhere close to finding out if Bryan Price was the best choice. They talked to one person and hired him on the spot. They didn’t take seriously the possibility an outsider could impress them more.
That old post was written before the Reds replaced Walt Jocketty with Dick Williams.
On the one hand, Williams’ meteoric rise with the Reds itself was the ultimate example of favoring relatives and friends in hiring — a scion of generations of Reds ownership, promoted from within having never worked in another baseball organization. Casebook nepotism.
On the other hand, Dick Williams’s tenure has, in a short time, presented a much welcome contrast to the creaky leadership of Walt Jocketty. Williams is more modern and open. He has taken a holistic view of what it takes to win. Most important, Williams has pioneered a paradigm-flipping expansion of the organization’s analytics department.
That brings us to today and #11.
Zach Buchanan’s terrific article about Barry Larkin includes the nugget that Larkin has a strong interest in managing the Reds. There’s now a near mortal lock the Reds will face this choice. Bryan Price isn’t going to manage here forever. The Reds will need to hire his replacement at some point, maybe sooner rather than later. Maybe not.
We now know, thanks to Buchanan’s reporting, that Larkin will throw his Hall of Fame Reds cap in the ring. The question is whether the Reds will conduct a hiring process with integrity. Sure, look at Larkin, but also give an honest examination to a range of outsiders. As I wrote in 2015:
But while hiring new people might be necessary to fix the problem, it’s not enough. There’s a difference between changing employees and changing culture. If the Reds fire Price and hire Larkin, or even fire Jocketty and hire another old-school GM, nothing meaningful will change. If underlying norms and procedures aren’t modernized, new faces won’t address the problems that have produced a poor record of performance.
I still believe what I wrote then. Barry Larkin may end up being the best available manager for the Reds. If so, then hire him. But I agree with Chad, that the Reds need to conduct a thorough, open-minded process, one befitting a billion-dollar organization.
Let’s not oversell the value of interviews in determining who should get the job. High-class research, which I’m sure Dick Williams has seen, outlines the shortcomings of interviews. But this front office, loaded with insularity, could benefit from a broad search that includes multiple interviews. Listening to smart outside candidates analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the Reds organization would have significant value. So would hearing new best practices of winning clubs.
In short-sighted contrast, when the Reds chose Price, the organization patted themselves on the back about the brevity of the process.
The good news is that under Dick Williams, nostalgia for St. Louis, circa 2005, is no longer the organization’s Polaris. Dan Straily-for-Luis Castillo is Exhibit A. But was that deal one-off Marlins Madness or can Williams repeat its wisdom? There’s a ways to go before we’ll have a good idea if the Reds’ new leader will bring meaningful improvement to the way they operate.
The hiring process for the club’s next manager, whenever that happens, will tell us a lot.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.