The Nationals announced today that they have fired hitting coach Rick Eckstein. Eckstein has overseen a Nationals offense that is 27th in baseball in runs scored after being 10th last season.
Davey Johnson, a longtime friend and supporter of Eckstein’s, was clearly upset about the move. “It was a shocker. I’ve experienced a lot of things in my career. I’ve been traded, I’ve been released, I’ve been sold, I’ve been fired. But today is arguably the toughest day I’ve had in baseball. I respect Rick Eckstein, I think he’s a great coach. I think he’s one of, if not the best hitting instructor in baseball. He’s just a great gentleman and a great man. So it hurts.” He even went so far as to suggest that Rizzo fire him instead.
Despite his emotions, Davey seemed to understand the need for a move, even if he felt that Eckstein was the wrong man to sacrifice. “Obviously I’m not in agreement with it. But I live by the adage that when you’re successful as a team, even the lowliest bird dog scout should get a lot of credit for the success. Everybody should share in the success. And I’m a firm believer that when you aren’t successful, everybody is in on the blame, too.”
Rizzo was very utilitarian about the move, and was nowhere near blaming Eckstein for the team’s troubles. “Rick Eckstein is a fine hitting coach. He’s a major league caliber hitting coach. A lot of this falls on the players. This is a players’ league. The players are paid to perform, and they haven’t. The voice of that, and the guy in charge of that, I thought we needed a different perspective and a different way of doing things.” Rizzo appears to have fired Eckstein simply for being in charge of an offense that has tanked, whether it is his fault or not. He cannot be blamed for wanting to change something, but firing people for the sake of firing someone can be dangerous.
The move may reek of desperation, as any move in which someone is fired for the sake of firing someone. However, Washington Post sports copy editor Greg Schimmel had a very interesting and relevant fact. On July 22nd, 2010, the Philadelphia Phillies trailed the Braves by seven games in the standings and fired their hitting coach. They would go on to win the division by six games.