Melvin's rehire is echo of the past
PHOENIX -- If you cover baseball long enough you see almost everything. The ridiculous to the sublime. Tuesday at Chase Field wasn't exactly a Billy Martin moment, but in the short history of the Arizona Diamondbacks, it had a very similar impact.
Almost precisely two years after the D-backs dismissed Bob Melvin as manager, they brought him back as a special assistant to president Derrick Hall. Kirk Gibson, the team's second manager since then, was the bench coach under Melvin. He didn't immediately get the top job.
The media conference before Tuesday night's game against the Padres had all the trappings of the D-backs admitting they made an error, letting Melvin go. Now they've brought him back, albeit in a completely different role, for the third time.
"No, the organization went through changes when [Melvin was dismissed] that we felt needed to be made, and there have been changes since then, as well," Hall said. "I'm all about surrounding us with the right people, and about culture. This is somebody who's been here, and deserves to be here."
The fact that the franchise is 49 games under .500 since May 7, 2009, the day Melvin was swept out for the untried A.J. Hinch, can't be overlooked. After Tuesday night's 6-1 victory over the Padres, Gibson is 52-72 since taking over for Hinch last July 1.
If he's insecure about having the winningest manager in the 14-year history of the franchise now back in the fold, Gibson didn't show it. There were hugs and good feelings all around.
"It's outstanding, I'm glad to have him back," said Gibson, who's signed through the 2012 season. "I can't speak about how much I respect the guy. He's been a friend of mine since 1985. It's been a very tough time for him from the day he got let go here. He needed to get back into the game. What a better place [is there] to be? They asked me about it. Couldn't have a better guy come back."
Martin was hired and fired by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner five times, and probably would've been brought back for a sixth had Martin not died in a car accident on Christmas Day 1989. The most famous of the returns was the first in midseason of 1978.
In a feud with Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson, Martin dropped this famous line about the two: "One of them is a liar, and the other is convicted."
The Boss immediately dropped the hammer, replacing Martin with Bob Lemon, and almost as immediately began feeling bad about it. Martin broke down in tears and apologized. On Old Timer's Day shortly thereafter, Martin was back in his famous No. 1 pinstriped uniform, and the crowd was told he'd return as manager for the 1980 season.
There was nothing so dramatic on Tuesday at Chase Field. Just a little bridge building to the D-backs' past. Melvin was the bench coach under Bob Brenly in 2001 when Arizona defeated the Yankees in seven thrilling games to win the World Series. He left for an unsuccessful two-year stint managing the Mariners. In 2004, Melvin was fired only months after Brenly. Despite a few fits and starts, Ken Kendrick, the new D-backs managing general partner, brought Melvin back.
With 337 wins, Melvin edges out Brenly's 303 for the most in franchise history. His 2007 team was 90-72 and won the National League West by a game. Those D-backs were eventually swept by the Rockies in the NL Championship Series. Melvin's relationship with then general manager Josh Byrnes began to sour in 2008 as the D-backs lost the division by two games. When the club began the '09 season at 12-17, Kendrick decided that the tension between the two had become detrimental to the organization.
"When there's a little bit of a disconnect between the manager and the general manager, it's difficult," said Melvin. "You want to do the best for the organization, and I understand the way things turned out."
They let Melvin go and sided with Byrnes, who slid Hinch down from the front office to the dugout, using the phrase "organization advocacy" to describe his differences with Melvin. A little more than a year later, those two were also gone. Byrnes and Hinch are now with the Padres. And in an odd confluence of events, Hinch, their vice president of professional scouting, was back in the building the last two nights for the first time since the D-backs let him go.
Melvin scouted for the Mets last year and was a finalist for their managerial job that ultimately went to Terry Collins, but he called his two years separated from the D-backs "difficult."
"I couldn't even watch the games," he said. "I watched two of them, and that was excruciating for me. "When you lose a job, you're not the biggest supporter of the organization you're no longer part of, and that hurt."
Now Melvin is back where he belongs, in what he calls "my baseball home." With Kendrick, Hall, general manager Kevin Towers, and of course, Gibson. Melvin said he'd still like to manage again, and he has Hall's blessings to look outside the organization after this season, but he's no Billy Martin in waiting. Gibson is safe.
"I'm a good friend of [Gibson's] and I'll always be supportive of him," Melvin said. "It might have been a little different if he took my job, but there was a little bit of separation there. I'm a huge Gibby supporter. He's doing a great job. I'm a big fan."
By bringing Melvin back, Hall didn't actually come out and say that the D-backs rectified a big mistake. But sometimes actions speak much louder than words.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.