Thursday, October 14, 2010


There are, the joke goes, three things every man thinks he can do better than anyone else: build a fire, run a restaurant and manage a baseball team. I’m not sure about the truth of the first two of those, but the last is beyond dispute.

Just about all of us guys have played baseball at some point in our lives, and feel that the knowledge gleaned thereby transfers easily to the highest level of the game. Silly as that sounds, the repeated evidence of our senses makes it plausible. Again and again we sit before our TV screens, urging our team’s manager to do or not do something, then see him come to grief when he goes against our wishes.

That’s particularly true if you’re a Cubs’ fan, by the way.

Now, it seems, we might get our chance to prove our mettle. No less than 10 Major League teams have had managerial openings since the recent end of the regular season, and while three have been filled (by the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Braves), seven remain—with the Cubs, Mets, Brewers, Pirates, Mariners, Blue Jays and Marlins—and more could follow. That’s quite a help-wanted list in these job-tight days, and if the lineup of applicants is long it’s surely no longer than that for many less-interesting positions.

Go ahead and send in your application. It couldn’t hurt.

Don’t feel deterred by a lack of baseball smarts, because they’re more common that you might think. Plenty of people inside and outside the professional game know full well when to bunt, steal, hit and run, squeeze, pitch out, change pitchers and do all the other managerial stuff, even the super-difficult double-switch. Most of us easily can do what the ex-pitcher Bill Lee considered the job’s most-frequent duties, namely “sitting on your ass, spitting tobacco and nodding at stupid things.”

Managerial candidates need some positive attributes, of course. One is locker room “cred,” which is helpful in gaining players’ attention. A common way to get this is by having had a good Major League playing career. Two of the fellas who’ve landed managerial jobs of late—Kirk Gibson with the Diamondbacks and Don Mattingly with the Dodgers— qualify on that ground.

But there are other roads to the same destination. Baseball’s is a male society where physical strength and pugnacity are respected, and some of the best managers of yore could go nose-to-nose with players 30 years their junior and not come off second best. Walter Alston, Chuck Tanner, Ralph Houk and Frank Robinson were said to excel in that category, as does the Angels’ Mike Scioscia among present-day skippers.

Billy Martin was in a class by himself here. “A lot of people looked up to Billy. That’s because he’d just knocked them down,” noted Jim Bouton, the ex-Yankee pitcher and author.

If you’re a little guy, nastiness can fill the same purpose. “He cussed so awful last year I didn’t want to sit next to him,” Orioles’ pitcher Scott McGregor once said of his famously diminutive and cantankerous manager, Earl Weaver. “The Lord was going to strike him dead if he kept talking like that and I didn’t want to be there when it happened.”

Communications skills help, too, but not in the usual business way. A manager may have wisdom to impart but conveying it to players whose minds are likely to be elsewhere can be difficult. This was true back in The Great McGraw’s day. “One per cent of ballplayers are leaders of men,” he lamented. “The other 99 per cent are followers of women.” Decades later Mayo Smith averred, “Open up a ballplayer’s head and you know what you’d find? A lot of little broads and a jazz band.”

Substitute “rock band” and you’re right up to date.

One thing some players have no trouble concentrating on is their manager, and why they don’t like him. This requires manipulative skill on his part. “The secret to managing a club is to keep the five players who hate you away from the five who are undecided,” Casey Stengel said.

Like in any field, a manager has bosses who must be placated. “Me and my owners think exactly alike,” Jim Fregosi said. “Whatever they’re thinking, that’s what I’m thinking.” Support from your team’s fans can’t be expected; as the football coach Duffy Daugherty put it, “Coaches are responsible to an irresponsible public.”

You live or die not by your own efforts but by those of others. Job security hardly exists--“If you’re looking for job security, drive a mail truck,” said Alvin Dark—and even relative success is no guarantee of continued employment. “They get tired of seeing you. Really, that’s all it is,” said Sparky Anderson.

Still want the job? Sure you do, so you’d better hurry. The line forms on the left.

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