What Makes a Manager?
The WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL tour goes on! I’m in Atlanta tonight, 7:30 first pitch, super-excited about this one, as I’ll be sharing the evening with Adam Lazarus, author of The Wingmen: The Unlikely, Unusual, Unbreakable Friendship between JOHN GLENN and TED WILLIAMS. These events have been so much fun, so personal — it has been so awesome to see all of you.
There are two more events after tonight: A dinner in Toledo on Sunday and a nearly-sold-out event with Astros broadcaster Julia Morales in Houston on Nov. 14. Then, maybe, I get to rest for a little while* before picking it up again with a bunch of events starting up when spring training gets rolling.
*No rest, of course, since my book WHY WE LOVE FOOTBALL will be published in the Fall of 2024, meaning, you know, I need to write that thing.
One other bit of book news, and I’m SO excited about this: WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL will be published in the UK next year! In fact, it will be published right around the London Series, June 8-9, between the Mets and Phillies. In fact, we are working on plans for me to be in London for the Series, doing some cool stuff. And, in fact, my plan is to update the book just a bit to give it a little European feel. I’ll give you lots more funny and fun stuff about this later.
Lots and lots of managerial things are happening around baseball right now, but two things in particular caught my attention.
One, I read some stuff musing whether or not four-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy is, in fact, the greatest manager ever.
Two, the ultimate Milwaukee guy, Craig Counsell, left the Brewers for a $40 million windfall with the Chicago Cubs, making him, by far, the highest-paid manager ever.
I’m not sure these two things are related, but for some reason, they connected in my mind. Here’s why: I’ve come to believe that the baseball manager job is the most mysterious of all coaching jobs in sports. It’s the only one of our major American sports where you don’t really design plays, and you can’t really set things up to put the game in the hands of your best players, and timeouts don’t play an important role in the game’s action, and, as often as not, the less you do during the game, the better off your team will be.
Andy Reid or Gregg Popovich or Jon Cooper or Jurgen Klopp can transform their teams, game by game, have them play different styles depending on the opponent. Bruce Bochy or Craig Counsell, mostly, cannot. They are, in so many ways, prisoners of the moment, dependent on how their starting pitcher pitches, how the bottom of their lineup fares, how reliable the bullpen happens to be on a given day, how well the ball happens to be carrying, the dice-rolling randomness of their best hitters coming up at exactly the right times.
I’m speaking a bit more definitively here than I feel in order to make the point: The things that separate the best baseball managers in 2023 are not easily observed or seen. Sure, every now and again, a hit-and-run will work perfectly or a pitching change will backfire or a lineup shift will seem to spark the whole team.
Still, for the most part, baseball managers these days follow the same game principles. Torey Lovullo’s Diamondbacks bunted a little bit more than some other teams, and Terry Francona’s Guardians intentionally walked a few more batters than some others, and David Bell’s Reds stole a few more bases than some others, and Gabe Kapler’s Giants had one more complete game (4!) than any other team … but all of this is on the margins.
You could recognize a Marty Schottenheimer football team.
You can recognize an Erik Spoelstra basketball team.
I don’t know that you could watch any team in baseball play and recognize the particular style of that team’s manager.
This is not to downplay the importance of baseball managers, but to say, instead, that it isn’t easy to understand what makes them succeed or fail. Almost exactly one year ago, Buck Showalter won Manager of the Year and was the toast of New York. Today, Buck Showalter doesn’t have a job and would probably have to buy his own beer in New York.
What I’m saying is:
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