Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Diamondbacks need to move on from Kirk Gibson

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To say the Arizona Diamondbacks are “having a rough season” is putting it nicely.

The D’backs season has been a disaster. Arizona is 53-74 on August 21, and only two teams have worse records (the Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers). Injuries have been brutal to Arizona as well, losing promising young lefty Patrick Corbin to a torn UCL (and Tommy John surgery) and relief specialist David Hernandez to elbow injury before the season. Many of the team’s offseason moves haven’t panned out either, such as a three-team trade which netted the D’backs Mark Trumbo (in the midst of his worst season yet), or a two-year contract to Bronson Arroyo, who made 14 starts before tearing his UCL, and yep, undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Last year’s MVP runner-up, 1B Paul Goldschmidt, will miss the rest of the season with a broken hand, after being hit by a pitch. In retaliation, Arizona’s Randal Delgado intentionally hit Pittsburgh Pirates OF Andrew McCutchen in the back with a fastball the next game. Luckily, McCutchen didn’t need to go on the disabled list.

Aug 20, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) hits the ball against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s entirely possible (and likely) Ernesto Frieri had no intention of actually hitting Goldschmidt, Delgado was intentionally throwing at McCutchen, and it isn’t the first time this season Gibson or General Manager Kevin Towers has ordered an opposing batter hit. In a spring training game, Arizona starter Wade Miley was ordered to hit Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki, who like McCutchen, is an MLB star. MLB took no action. Which is kind of curious, as the Diamondbacks organization has been pretty public about its willingness to retaliate.

Don’t believe me? Per Jack Moore’s post, Towers said this on KTAR 620 AM in October 2013:

“But I think come Spring Training, it will be duly noted that it’s going to be an eye for an eye and we’re going to protect one another. If not, if you have options, there’s ways to get you out of here, and you don’t follow suit or you don’t feel comfortable doing it, you probably don’t belong in a Diamondbacks uniform.”

-Kevin Towers

And let’s be clear: firing manager Kirk Gibson won’t do much to change any of the injuries or losing that has already happened. And as you see, Towers isn’t close to blameless here, as the now-seemingly-lame-duck GM (thanks presumably to the hiring of Tony La Russa as chief baseball officer in May) has given away talented players (such as Justin Upton, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Bauer), for pennies on the dollar for no real reason other than the Diamondbacks seemingly don’t want to deal with certain types of player personalities. Also not blameless is team owner Ken Kendrick, who’s certainly said dumb things in the past and encourages this sort of culture, like when he called out Drew for not coming back from a devastating ankle injury soon enough.

Aug 13, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson (23) walks to the dugout after a visit to the mound in the tenth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

But, for a team that has eschewed talent in favor of playing the game “as it should be played,” Kirk Gibson is rightfully at the center of this storm of controversy, and at least partially to blame for this type of culture. Yes, the “girt” jokes have been overdone with Gibson, but they’re not inaccurate, either. If Gibson’s “gritty” playing career is the catalysis for this type of buffoonery, he’s taking things to an absurd level with his managerial career.

Which is why it should be encouraging to D’backs fans to hear La Russa say a report on Tuesday stating Arizona would bring Gibson back for 2015 was “inaccurate,” and no decision had been made:

“I just think that at this point, we’re at Aug. 18, I’ve been around three months, I’ve observed a lot, talked to and met with a lot of people in the organization. I have a much better idea. I just think the official comment is, we’re at Aug. 18, the season is a month and 10 days from being over. So it won’t be long until you have to trot out your plan officially.”

-Tony La Russa

The good news here is Gibson isn’t coming back for sure. The bad news is Gibson isn’t gone for sure. But even if you don’t have an issue with intentional beanballs to MLB stars (and, for the record, at least MLB should have an issue with this), Gibson simply isn’t a very good manager. Managerial win-loss records are fool’s arguments (Gibby is now 10 games under .500, with a record of 343-353 as of Wednesday afternoon), but Gibson’s outlaw style is going to get players hurt even more.

Nor am I saying team’s should not throw inside, which was oddly what La Russa claimed after Goldschmidt got hit. La Russa puts an odd spin on the claims that the Diamondbacks are dirty, but don’t be fooled by the numbers: the cited number of 32 hit batsmen isn’t the same as intentionally hit batsmen. Some pitchers are wild, and will occasionally lose a pitch. Some hitters will crowd the plate. These things happen, and are to be expected.

But Delgado threw at McCutchen intentionally, and all signs are pointing back to Gibson as the perpetrator. This is simply becoming a theme with Gibson, and it needs to stop. Gibson went on a rant about performance enhancing drugs, and Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger Ryan Braun’s use of them, last August. Then, in the middle of June this year, he orders a headhunting of Braun, and was supportive of Evan Marshall intentionally plunking Braun to load the bases. The next batter was Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who hit a grand slam to win the game. Regardless on your PED stance, that’s just simply an idiotic managerial decision, and likely lost his team the game.

It’s one example, yes. But there’s a clear pattern of  both “dirty” play and poor performance by Gibson. It’s one thing for Arizona to have Gibson finish out the season, as after all, it’s dumb to pay two managers for one job, but there really doesn’t need to be any sort of debate or consideration from Tony La Russa or the Arizona Diamondbacks. Kirk Gibson needs to be shown the door after the season, and Arizona needs to get its culture in order. Both Arizona fans, and baseball, deserve better.

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