Who are the Braves kidding?

Hiring Russ Nixon to replace Chuck Tanner is like replacing a green M&M with a yellow M&M. They look different, but they taste the same.In 18 years of managing big-league baseball teams, Tanner had finished first once. His average finish was fourth. Nixon managed Cincinnati for a season and a half in 1982-83, and finished in last place both seasons.

Why do baseball teams keep recycling managers who lose? Why did the Orioles bring Frank Robinson out of managerial mothballs, when in seven previous seasons as a manager he had a .491 winning percentage and an average finish halfway between fourth and fifth?

The fact is, if managers are going to be good, it almost always shows up early in their big-league managerial careers. Of 14 managers listed in the 1988 Baseball Register who had better than .500 lifetime winning percentages, 10 of them had won division titles within their first five years as skipper. Of 10 managers with losing records, only two had done so - Jim Fregosi and Roger Craig.

And most of the winning managers' teams showed improvement in the first year of the new skipper's reign, while losing managers typically showed no improvement. Gene Mauch, for instance, took over as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1960 and lost 94 games, four more than his predecessor. And Mauch didn't win a division title until the 23rd of his 26 years as a big-league skipper.