I remember reading an article on SFGate last summer concerning the shared complexities, triumphs and failures of Mike Gallego and Tim Flannery, respectively the third base coaches for the A’s and Giants at the time. Gallego shared an anecdote where he had told Coco Crisp to “go, go, go!” and Crisp stopped at third because he thought he had heard “no, no, no!” It was a nice laugh then because the A’s were on their way to a third-successive playoff appearance. Well, Gallego was fired by the A’s this week, and nobody is laughing.
The jobs of first base and third base coach couldn’t be more different in terms of responsibility. A first base coach will say “nice hit”, and remind the runner not to get doubled-up on a line drive. He will yell “back!” on a pick-off attempt and will also hold the runner’s shin or arm guard. He might fly into a rage over a runner being unjustly called out. But for the most part, he’s baseball furniture. He can never mess up. Ever.
A third base coach will rarely receive any praise for properly gauging the instantaneous judging of a runner’s speed vs. the accuracy of a throw to the plate. He has to be less bold with less than two outs and more bold with two outs. It’s not a job for the squeamish or timid. I recall when Tony DeFrancesco, the highly successful AAA manager in the A’s system was rewarded by being promoted to big league third base coach in 2008. He lasted only one season. The problem with Tony was that he never sent anyone home. I mean, like, never. I remarked on my radio show at the time that a stop sign with an A’s helmet on top of it would have the same effect. Tony was just too cautious, bless him.
In stepped Mike Gallego in 2009. He had been the third base coach with the Rockies before being let go by Clint Hurdle. But Gallego was not just another guy — he was family. A draft pick by the A’s out of UCLA and a valuable infield glove during the Bash Brothers era, “Gags” looked at home in the Green & Gold. He survived the transitions between the two Bobs as managers, and except for a blip here or there, he mostly escaped the derision of the Oakland fanbase. In fact, he even had a wind-up toy in his likeness as a giveaway item earlier this month. There was only one problem: he was a lame duck as soon as Billy Beane brought back Ron Washington.
Marcus Semien was well on his way to 50 errors until the sweetheart scorers at the Coliseum (the same ones who turned a blind eye to at least 15 errors by Josh Donaldson last year) recently decided that Semien would get special breaks. Why the change in attitude in the press box? Maybe they simply felt sorry for Semien or maybe it’s because they either consciously or subconsciously know that Washington is helping him with his defense. “Wash” worked wonders with guys like Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez in his previous stint with Oakland, and he now has his hands full with Semien.
The return of Washington as a special infield coach immediately undermined Gallego’s power, since it technically was Gag’s job to begin with and he was being told in a less-than-tacit way that he had failed with Semien. Gallego even joked about his “next job,” as he could plainly see the writing on the wall.
Washington should have become the A’s manager when Ken Macha was fired. Macha had just taken the A’s to the ALCS, by the way. Instead it went to Beane’s close friend (and Best Man at his wedding) Bob Geren. Washington went on to become the winningest manager in Texas Rangers history, taking two American League pennants. Texas lost to the Giants in the World Series in 2010 when the Rangers were just glad to be there. But the next season they suffered one of the cruelest of losses in the Fall Classic, as they were several times one pitch away from a world title before St. Louis pulled a championship out of the fire. Washington then was self-destructive, and ruined things for himself in Texas with a couple of bad personal decisions.
Meanwhile, as Wash was being welcomed back to Oakland this May as the return of the Prodigal Son, Gallego kept sending runners to their doom, a total of 19 times this season. As former CNN sports anchor Van Earl Wright would say, “he’s meat at the dish” — and the A’s were that guy nearly 20 times. The clown show last Sunday, culminating with Brett Lawrie running to within three steps of the plate and then returning to third base like a squirrel on the freeway, was apparently the last straw for Beane. And if you believe Bob Melvin made the call, you don’t understand how the A’s work.
Could Oakland have waited five weeks and made the change during the offseason? Of course, and that would have been a much classier move. But I was reminded of something Astros GM Jeff Lunhow told me last year when he was my guest on the A’s pregame show on 95.7 The Game. When I asked him why he didn’t wait until the end of that season to fire manager Bo Porter (which happened last August 31st), Lunhow replied to me, “well, when a decision has been made, there’s no reason to delay implementing it.” For me, I can’t feel sorry for any professional athlete or coach, and I never will. But I do appreciate all the years that Gags has given to the A’s and I wish him the best of luck in his next job. It’s not his fault that the A’s stink this year.