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Significant moment No. 4: Eckstein fired

Dec 28, 2013, 6:00 AM EST

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As we count down the final days of 2013, we are counting down the 10 most significant moments of the year for the Nationals. These aren’t necessarily positive (or negative) moments, and some didn’t even take place on the field. All, though, were significant in the big picture and defined the Nationals’ year. We continue today with significant moment No. 4: The midseason firing of hitting coach Rick Eckstein…

Rick Eckstein had no greater supporter than Davey Johnson, who first worked with the young hitting coach as a member of Johnson’s Team USA staff during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. And there was no more emphatic display of that support than Johnson’s public statement in early July when asked about Eckstein’s shaky job status.

“If you fired him,” the veteran manager said, “you might as well fire me.”

Two weeks later, with his club in a freefall in part due to a punch-less lineup, Mike Rizzo decided he had no choice but to make a change against Johnson’s wishes. After watching the Nationals score five total runs during a three-game sweep at the hands of the Dodgers, Rizzo fired Eckstein (who held the job since 2009) and replaced him with minor-league hitting coordinator Rick Schu.

“This was a general manager’s decision,” Rizzo said that afternoon. “I respect Davey to the point where I run everything that we do by him, but there’s certain things that we may not agree on and this was one of them. I felt we needed a change, so I made the change.”

Johnson didn’t hide his displeasure with Rizzo’s decision.

“I’ve experienced a lot of things in my career,” he said. “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. It hurts.”

How much did it hurt Johnson? So much that he suggested that Rizzo fire him instead. That, of course, didn’t happen. But the relationship between Johnson and Rizzo probably wasn’t the same after the incident, and some questioned if the Eckstein firing left Johnson unmotivated the rest of the season.

Nationals players voiced their support for Eckstein as well, insisting they were to blame for the team’s hitting woes and that a change of coaches was unlikely to change results in the batter’s box.

Whether the move made a direct difference or not, there’s no debating the Nationals’ improved offensive performance over the remainder of the season. In 98 games under Eckstein, they hit a collective .240 with a .300 on-base percentage and scored an average of 3.7 runs per game. In 64 games under Schu, they hit .267 with a .331 on-base percentage and scored 4.6 runs per game.

  1. sjm308 - Dec 28, 2013 at 8:02 AM

    Some of the posters have commented about certain events maybe not being significant but this one to me was, simply because Davey said one thing, Rizzo did another and it let the players know who was really in charge. It probably also opened their eyes just a little into the fact that Eckstein did not actually go up to the plate and swing the bat for them and yet he was fired and they still had their jobs. I am sure that Schu said pretty much the same things to them about hitting a baseball, but said it in a way they either understood or communicated it in a different manner. There is some truth to the fact that after so many years, a coaches words just don’t have the same impact. This is one reason I think college coaches struggle in the pros.

    Anyway, the results show that something worked and if they continue to score 4.6 a game this season I, for one, will be extremely pleased.

    Go Nats!

  2. JayB - Dec 28, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    “left Johnson unmotivated for the rest of the season”…..to have Mark even say it tells you a lot. I think Davey just got too old and tired. He did have the mental toughness anymore to make the moves that needed to be made. His quote about fire me not Eck tells you that.

    Nats lost me as a day to day fan last year by letting Davey and his relationships cost the team day after day. As a team this lost one of the few years of “window” they have earned. That was stupid and avoidable. If they have fired him on June 1 as I had called for then the team had a chance…..as it was they just left him to sleep through the first 6 innings and then wake up and put “his guys” in to strike out in the late innings.

    Rizzo lost a great deal of credibility waiting till it was too late on Danny, HROD, Tracy, Eck, Roger B, and that forgettable lefty who I have forgotten.

    Bottom line here is a whole year and $120 Million lost because an old man lost his edge and ownership and GM did not have the guts tell him…………even as Davey’s actions and words tell us he knew and was asking to be let out to pasture!

    • Section 222 - Dec 28, 2013 at 11:10 AM

      Zach Duke, JayB. Zach Duke. How could we ever forget him? :-)

      • JayB - Dec 28, 2013 at 11:22 AM

        yea…that guy….I hope our days of has been types like this and O. Perez, Wang and the like are done. We have much better options in the farm system or like this year….go out and trade for the player you need while still in their prime.

    • Sec 3, My Sofa - Dec 28, 2013 at 12:20 PM

      Actually, what Mark wrote was “and some questioned if the Eckstein firing left Johnson unmotivated the rest of the season.” Significant difference, or merely a more politic way of expressing it? Your call.

    • naterialguy - Dec 28, 2013 at 5:03 PM

      I hope the Nats manage to recover from the trauma of losing you as a day to day fan. ;-). Seriously though,I find it hard to believe that any that follows and participates on this blog is anything but an every day fan. Be that a curse or a blessing. We are all inn this together.
      Fundamentals or bust!

  3. JayB - Dec 28, 2013 at 9:26 AM

    On Eck, I liked him a lot. I recall walking the back fields in early Spring Training in 2010 and 2011. He was always there, always writing things down….talking to people, not players as much about swings and numbers. He spend a good 10 mins talking with my daughter and I about hitting. Good Guy is an understatement….still I was calling for him to be replaced in 2012…..he had lost the ear of the team.

  4. Doc - Dec 28, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    Zach Greinke was quoted during this year’s playoffs as saying that the hitters on the Cards were better than an other team at adjusting to pitchers.

    If the Nats go into a hitting funk again in ’14, it won’t be because of Rick Shu, ior any other hitting instructor.

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!

  5. JayB - Dec 28, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Certainly true that hitters bare the majority of blame for their production…..I think the part that helps with change in Manager and “his guy” hitting coach is a new accountability for that production. I do not expect to see Matt Williams put up with Danny E swinging from his heals with two strikes over and over again. I do not expect Williams to accept 3 month slumps of ALaR and Zim. I do not expect Williams to almost applaud taken called 3rd strikes like Davey did to “protect” the psyche of his players.

    • naterialguy - Dec 28, 2013 at 5:05 PM

      Zimmerman has never had a three month slump

      • sjm308 - Dec 28, 2013 at 7:44 PM

        That’s just JayB being JayB – believe me, when Eeyore gets warmed up, it will get worse.

      • JayB - Dec 28, 2013 at 8:03 PM

        You are correct…he had several one month slumps. Add them all up and you get a below average season. 26 HRs 85 RBIs .270 Avg…..that is not going to get it done. Mix in the errors and you get a guy who seems to be just collecting his money since signing the big life time deal. Does anyone think that was a good deal now?

        With Davey out and Williams in…I think things are going to go very well this year. If you are hurting the team you will not play. ALR will need to get hot in April or I think he will be sitting a lot.

  6. trom1 - Dec 28, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    I am not seeing the significance of this significant moment. Would actually need to show how Schu’s coaching improved things.

    • ArVAFan - Dec 28, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      Well, at least Denard Span publicly gave Schu credit for his hitting improvement. A 29-game hitting streak and a significantly improved second half of the season seems to give that some credence.

      • natsjackinfl - Dec 28, 2013 at 1:33 PM

        I thought it was Denards Mom that finally got through and fixed his hitting.

      • ArVAFan - Dec 28, 2013 at 1:37 PM

        True: his mom said something to him about not swinging at the first pitch often enough. But Schu helped him with an adjustment that allowed him to make contact. But absolutely give credit where credit is due.

  7. veejh - Dec 28, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    As significant as this move was, it happened too late. The season was already lost.

  8. Sonny G 10 - Dec 28, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    I hated the firing of Eckstein at the time, but life goes on. This really showed me Rizzo will do what he thinks best no matter whose toes it steps on.

  9. nats128 - Dec 28, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    I wonder how Eckstein would feel about getting the distinction of significant moment #4. Can’t wait to see #1-#3

  10. nats128 - Dec 28, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    The Span improvement was remarkable after Schu took over. Who gets the credit.

    • David Proctor - Dec 28, 2013 at 4:56 PM

      “Who gets the credit.”

      Span

      • naterialguy - Dec 28, 2013 at 5:09 PM

        I think the numbers above speak for themselves. I think it was a very significant moment. I only wish it had happened earlier. We might have made the post season.

      • naterialguy - Dec 28, 2013 at 5:10 PM

        +1

  11. naterialguy - Dec 28, 2013 at 5:11 PM

    damn no edit function. + was for the Edo gets credit

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