Blue Jays manager, Charlie Montoyo- Credit: DaveMe Images

Montoyo Firing Should Not Come as a Surprise

The dismissal of Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo signals to fans-and players- that the same old beat could not play on without some fine tuning.


Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase


 


 

 

You weren’t really surprised when this team release came across your social media feed, were you?

 

After coming up one game short of a playoff birth in 2021 and failing to live up to heightened expectations in 2022, the Toronto Blue Jays brain trust fired their 4th year manager Charlie Montoyo shortly before noon on Wednesday. Oh I know the press release stated that “The Toronto Blue Jays have today relieved Charlie Montoyo of his duties as manager.” But make no mistake- the affable Montoyo was fired for failure to deliver wins with a team a majority of fans and experts had anointed as American League pennant contenders. Montoyo was given the keys to a luxury vehicle that stalled at green lights and never seemed to take advantage of the horsepower under the hood.

 

This is not to say all the blame for the Blue Jays underperformance should be heaped solely on Charlie’s shoulders. A manager does not fail to throw strikes or execute pitches. Nor does he game plan for extended batting slumps from key lineup pieces. But ultimately the mark of a successful major league manager is made by the decisions made in the heat of battle and the bravado they display under fire. Montoyo proved to be the most effective teacher ever to man a Blue Jays dugout. But there is a distinct difference between theories and results. Understanding how an analytical concept could produce results does not matter much in a tie ballgame. When a pitching change or a pinch hitter needs to be chosen to produce those results and variables need to be applied to ensure it happens.

 

Full disclosure requires me to let readers know I have been calling for the firing of Charlie Montoyo since I joined the JFtC staff in June of 2020. When he was the choice to replace John Gibbons in 2019, I vividly remember rolling my eyes and preparing myself for a longer turnaround on the field than Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins were proclaiming. Montoyo was widely hailed for his abilities to develop young players while applying analytical thought and practices in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Had the Blue Jays brought Montoyo in as a Minor League Coordinator or Baseball Operations guru, I would have applauded louder and longer than any Jays supporter.

 

I did not envision a scenario where Montoyo the Teacher could respond to the challenges of assembling and managing an emerging team through a Spring Training and 162 game schedule. Even recognizing the game planning edicts being passed down from Atkins and his expanding analytics department, multiple occasions arose during the 2019 and 2020 seasons that spawned questions about Montoyo’s game management tendencies and skills.

 

Charlie Montoyo patiently and joyfully repeated belief in the strategies being employed and in the players whose job it was to execute the game plans. Montoyo applied the skills he developed in the minors and and in his weekend salsa bands to repeat the rhythmic threads he knew were the backbones of winning traditions and memorable performances. The seemingly simplistic five beat rhythms that are the heartbeat of his percussive expressions were also at the heart of his messages for his players and during interviews. A classic salsa refrain has been “and the beat goes on and on”. That does work when Charlie played the guro, but became far less effective as he managed games that increased in importance over his 3 and a half year tenure as Blue Jays manager.

 

At the conclusion of this week’s On Fek Circle YouTube show, I compared the 3 seasons of drama and wasted opportunities during Jimy Williams’ tenure as Blue Jays manager to the current state of Blue Jays Baseball. In 1989, after 6 weeks of disappointments and mounting losses, Williams was fired and replaced by Cito Gaston. The move generated a huge sigh of relief in the clubhouse and in the Sky Dome, and the Jays immediately turned their season around and captured an AL East title. I came out and said the time was NOW to do the same with Charlie Montoyo. Toronto has lost 9 of their last 11 games, has continued its Dow Jones-like ups and downs, and has all but surrendered any hope of winning the division.

 

As managers of men, you could not have two more different personalities than Jimy Williams and Charlie Montoyo. Williams was reviled by the press corps and alienated beyond repair stars like Dave Stieb, Mike Flanagan and (most infamously) George Bell. Montoyo was embraced and loved by his players and his unwavering commitment to those players and the process established by management earned him praise in many circles. But a pattern of highly questionable in game decisions at key moments and an unwillingness to move away from what was failing doomed both managers hopes of leading their teams to playoff successes.

 

The move to dismiss Williams  proved beneficial for Pat Gillick in 1989, with equal credit due to Cito Gaston for a distinct change in managerial style and philosophy. John Schneider, who has managed many of the current Blue Jays to championships at various levels of the minor leagues, has yet to submit his first lineup card. So it is far too premature to state a similar result is possible in 2022. It is interesting to speculate however. Schneider has won the respect of stars like Guerrero , Bichette, and Kirk already and no doubt has a clear vision of how his decisions and strategies will crystallize in the win column immediately and down the stretch.

 

The presence of Casey Candaele next to him in the dugout will perhaps serve as an effective buffer for the 42 year-old Schneider as he implements the changes that he, the front office, and the fanbase realize are needed to salvage a playoff season. Candaele has a nearly 30-year history with Shapiro and Atkins, extending back to his playing days in Cleveland and through extended stints as a minor league instructor and manager in the now Guardians system for Atkins. If a balance is to be struck between analytics recommendations and in-game applications, Candaele may well be able to buy time for Schneider to find and strike that balance.

 

Ultimately it will all come down to the players on the field, on the mound, and in the clubhouse. The players know they have played a large role in how things played out for their manager. After the second players-only meeting of the season in the midst of a stressful road trip, comments from a pair of veterans may have shed some light on how the players viewed the current situation.  George Springer was quoted as saying  “everybody is trying to find out why the team is struggling,  instead of just going out there and playing.”  Veteran reliever David Phelps told reporters that “we just need to keep picking each other up, in all aspects of the game, just lifting each other up and pulling together 26 guys.” No one will refute the fact that Charlie Montoyo was loved and respected as a man and leader. But everything was obviously not in sync and ultimately the part that needed replaced was the manager.

 

The “buck stops here” attitude will need to be applied in the front office as well. Charlie Montoyo may have had a voice in the conversations, but it was Ross Atkins and his staff that assembled the current roster. Injuries have exposed the lack of major-league ready depth (quality?) to step into roles, especially on the pitching staff. There will be many articles written and opinions offered as to where and to what extent blame needs to placed and shared by Shapiro, Atkins and the players. The front office remains as it was this morning. Barring an unannounced roster move, the same players will dress in front of the same lockers as they did last night. But there is a new manager settling into the manager’s office and onto a decidedly hot seat at the Rogers Centre.

 

It was time for Charlie Montoyo to go. The time for this team to move forward and ahead in the standings is also now.

 

 

*Featured Images Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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