The Arizona Diamondbacks fired their GM today, Kevin Towers. During his tenure with the D-Backs, Towers developed a rep for insisting on grind-it-out Willie Bloomquist type players at the expense of more talented ones. He was, like his manager Kirk Gibson, a person who appeared to embody all of the old-school red-ass baseball clichés.
And despite all the fire and brimstone and hustle, the Diamondbacks were pretty terrible during the Towers era. They traded Justin Upton for Martin Prado. They fought Yasiel Puig and lost. They lost and lost and lost. You can't win without players, and the Diamondbacks have been short on talent-Paul Goldschmidt notwithstanding—for some years now.
Earlier this season, Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick brought in Tony La Russa to run the team's baseball operations as "Chief Baseball Officer." It was always just a matter of time until La Russa canned Towers, and he will presumably bring in his own man for the job. But it's worth wondering: Despite the title, is Tony La Russa really in charge?
After all, in a baseball front office, General Managers are still just middle managers—and so are Chief Baseball Officers. And in Kendrick, the Diamondbacks have an owner who is the definition of meddlesome. Last season, he famously demanded that a couple of Dodgers fans actually change their shirts during a game at Chase Field. He also has a history of publicly shaming his star players, with all the grace and subtlety of a sports-talk radio caller.
This is a man who first gained notoriety nationally for using his owner's suite at the stadium to fete and fundraise for conservative politicians who supported Arizona's controversial SB 1070 bill. Kendrick later said he was personally opposed to the bill, but his actions speak louder.
Which brings us back to Towers, who was still fairly well regarded when the Padres let him go in 2009, and who remains a thoughtful guy, despite some of the wrongheaded things he's said to the media and done in the service of his boss. As is the case with all sports executives, we'll never know how much of Towers' decision-making was his own, and how much of it was informed by Kendrick—it seems like a lot of it was.
But we do know this: fire-breather extraordinaire Kirk Gibson still has a job. Ken Kendrick does, too. And whoever succeeds Towers will still be stuck in the middle.