I’ll never let a manager talk me into believing he can’t affect his team’s won-lost record either up or down.
Not since the Wrigley Field afternoon of Aug. 11, 1976, when the Cubs’ Jim Marshall blithely let sidearming right-handed reliever Joe Coleman – starting to tire in his third inning of toil – pitch to .332-hitting southpaw swinger Ken Griffey, Sr., representing the tying run in the top of the ninth. All the while, lefty reliever Darold Knowles continued heating up in the ‘pen with Joe Morgan in the hole behind Griffey. Without Knowles in to pitch and thus possibly triumph according to the percentages, Griffey belted a 440-foot, two-run homer to tie and The Big Red Machine went on to win in the 10th.
Not since Leo Durocher rode his Hall of Fame-laden Cubs lineup and pitching staff into the ground during the stretch in 1969, prompting Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to launch an investigation of The Lip, fearing he had a second Black Sox Scandal on his hands.
Not since Cubs players rebelled twice in 2001 against manager Don Baylor. They disdained too-rigorous pre-game workouts by martial-arts expert and Baylor chum Mack Newton, and Kerry Wood nearly refused to make a start when popular pitching coach Oscar Acosta – who clashed with Baylor – was fired with a few games to go.
And not since mid-1990s White Sox manager Terry Bevington signaled to the bullpen for a new pitcher — and nobody was warming up.
Well, Tony La Russa, with fresh Hall of Fame credentials to back him up, went halfway in describing a manager’s effect on a team when I queried him in Cooperstown a couple of weeks back.
“Our attitude as a coaching staff was, we were involved 162 games,” said La Russa. “And we felt that somewhere along the way — whether it was moving an outfielder or moving an infielder, the hitting coach tweaking hitters — we felt our job was putting people in a position to win. And if we did, we felt like we had contributed just like a left-handed reliever does. But I don’t know how you put a measure on that in number of games.
“There are really no numbers to quantify that. How do you quantify a utility guy? We’re a team.”
I gave you enough hot air. You want experts with baseball employment portfolios, so I contacted a longtime National League pro scout – one of the most respected in the business – along with an American League scout who used to play for a savvy manager who plied his trade in both leagues. They scout managers on their rounds, and they were asked to name the ones who can make a difference in their teams.
Both came up with the same name leading their lists: the Giants’ Bruce Bochy. The Giants may be losing some air lately, but two World Series titles since 2010 and amazing postseason comebacks in 2012 give Bochy the benefit of the doubt.
The NL scout’s take on Bochy:
“I think the manager with the best feel for the game and of all 30 managers has best shot to go to the Hall of Fame, quite a bit above everyone else, is Bochy … he does not over-manage himself. He very effectively uses his 25-man roster. Great feel for his bullpen. Never had a dominant closer. The barometer is using the bench and lining up the bullpen. Bruce has a calm demeanor. There were managers who were so tight (going into the playoffs) their team followed suit. Bruce is the same up 3-0 or down 0-3.
“His catcher talents definitely carried over to managing. I knew Bruce as a catcher in the Houston organization. He really learned the game as catcher. He was not an everyday catcher, but studied the game. He’s blessed by consistent ownership with the Giants. Bruce is one more World Series win away from making the Hall of Fame.”
Now the AL scout’s turn on Bochy:
“It seems he has the best demeanor of them all. He absolutely gets the best out of what he has … Great attitude, I can see that in him.”
The NL scout’s list then picked up with a manager who should finally get credit with his team lapping its league this year rather than overachieving and sneaking up on the field.
“Bob Melvin is a guy who really uses his staff well, and communicates with players,” he said of the Athletics skipper. “He gets a lot out of players. He’s articulate, but not boisterous. A more quiet leader does help. Billy Beane’s (actions) upfront will trump any manager who works for him, but Bob quietly helps.”
Several others who caught the NL scout’s attention:
*One guy who uses all the information at his disposal is Buck Showalter. He has a feel for the game and is decisive.
The AL scout’s Cliff Notes list:
*Joe Maddon seems to get it. Players relate to him, they relax. It’s a great atmosphere, and they can perform.”
*One of the most intelligent guys around is Mike Scioscia.”
*Ron Gardenhire did well, but poor teams lately have hurt his reputation. But a few years back he got a lot out of the Twins. He learned under ‘TK’ (Tom Kelly), who was really, really hard on young players. Gardy refined that. He’s a lot of ‘TK’ organizational-wise.
*I always liked Fredi Gonzalez in Atlanta.”
Leyland is no longer an active manager and actually looks nearly a decade younger with the stress removed from his life. But the AL scout recalled one of Leyland’s strengths:
“Good managers talk to their pitchers. One of the things Jim always did was very seldom put his arms on the cage and instead was out there talking to your pitchers. He surrounded himself with most intelligent people, who can teach people.”
The good managers, well, will endeavor to avoid over-managing. To the NL scout, that’s a trap into which a lot of present-day skippers fall.
“One thing that has changed a lot is extreme over-shifting,” he said. “Charting is subjective and pitchers who have good stuff don’t need the shifting. Managers can get over-analytical, and let data influence them. In a lot of cases we’ve lost the feel for the game these Hall of Fame managers (La Russa, Joe Torre and Bobby Cox) had.”