GREAT (OR NOT) EXPECTATIONS

By:  Holly Horning

Is a manager just a manager? Are all managers created equal? Can any manager be plugged into just about any team?

Or do they constitute a wide variety of types? Do some work better with different kinds of teams?

Many fans tend to think that managers are a singular breed. They don’t consider the different personalities, resumes, preferences or skill sets.

And it’s only getting more complex given the fast and significant changes happening in baseball during the past 5 years.

Baseball currently has some remnants of the older, crusty and traditional manager. Increasingly being replaced by the younger set that is modern and embraces analytics. And now, the rise of the non-manager manager. The guys who never ran a clubhouse and are chosen for their ability to create a positive working environment and successfully juggle different personalities while also ceding power to the directives of the Front Office and analytics departments.

Then you’ve got to consider the areas of expertise of each group. Those who can successfully handle the teams full of expensive and opinionated stars. Those who are more nurturing and best suited for teams with younger rosters. Some managers welcome the stress and expectations of teams considered worthy of winning it all while others prefer the process of teaching and building teams.

And let’s not forget those who have playoff and World Series experience on their resumes. It’s another level of expertise requiring a more-advanced skill set.

So when any team needs a new manager, they don’t simply select the most accomplished guy for the job or the one with the shiniest resume. He may not fit.

For teams rebuilding, you may need a teacher . For teams just existing or going nowhere, a caretaker or placeholder. And for teams in the mix, you need a savvy, motivational leader.

For example, you would never hire Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy when you are tearing down your team and rebuilding. And you shouldn’t hire someone who has never managed before to take over a team full of expensive veteran stars expected to get you that ring. (Rut roh….)

Except, a few teams have done that. Boy, have we Tiger fans experienced that painful history with the infamous and inexplicable hiring of Brad Ausmus. So far, that formula has failed miserably in this modern era of baseball.

But with each hiring, comes expectations. The more pressure to win, the higher the level. And the higher the level of analysis and criticism.

And when your team is expected to go nowhere, the expectations are almost non-existent. And critical analysis of their actions goes way down, too.

Take Jim Leyland for example. There were few expectations placed upon him in his first year as the Tigers manager. But when he took the team to the World Series in 2006, expectations skyrocketed going forward. He had already won a World Series and his first year showed that the Tigers were ready sooner than expected.

But that level of expectations created an unforgiving spotlight on him that unfortunately never went away. You are judged by the talent – and timeline – you are given. As a result, fans expected much more of Leyland than he was able to give.

The Ausmus era was a total mismatch of expectations created by one of the poorest decisions ever made by the Tigers organization. Hiring someone with no managerial experience whatsoever to take a team with a ticking championship clock to the World Series. And in his first year, no less.

Despite the media’s priority of concealing the problems going on in the clubhouse and in the dugout, instead of doing their jobs, we later learned just how disastrous this managerial stint was.

And unfortunately, most fans held Ausmus primarily accountable instead of the decision makers who hired him. Brad was forced into a position of the highest expectations. And when you are unable to deliver, you are on the receiving end of much criticism. You are the most visible symbol of the failure, not the ones hiding in offices within the confines of CoPa.

Now take the case of Ron Gardenhire. A different manager for a different roster in a different time with different goals. He was selected for a team entering the first phase of rebuilding with no stated timetable for completion.

He was selected for providing stability in an uncertain time. For a team expected to lose over 100 games. For a roster that was turning over into one primarily loaded with greenhorns.

He is, simply, the placeholder. The guy who will watch over the players until management decides that the team they’ve developed is ready to successfully compete. Hopefully.

And with his status, Gardy has almost no expectations placed upon him. Which is why I don’t put him under the same microscope as his predecessors. Quite frankly, there’s nothing much to grade or analyze in 2018.

His hands are, for the most part, tied. He can only work with what he is given. And he’s not being given a whole lot. The only thing that we can judge him on going forward, is whether he is finally able to overcome the long-time Tigers’ m.o. of ignoring fundamentals.

Which is why he garners little criticism right now. Why we all give him a break. It’s not fair to judge him on the same criteria, talent and standards of past teams. He has much, much less with which to work. And you can’t judge a performance when your Front Office is depleting your talent and has yet to publicly state its goals or timeline.

What fans really should do in this case, is to stop focusing on the evaluation of the manager, and start to focus on the executive ranks and ownership. For it is them, not the manager, who actually determines the course and goals of the team through their actions. Or lack of them.


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12 thoughts on “GREAT (OR NOT) EXPECTATIONS

  1. The point that almost everyone seems to miss is that they should have hired Gardenhire when Leyland called it a career. He managed some very good Twins teams that simply lacked pitching or he may have won it all there. They may have won a WS or even two (stretch) with an experienced man at the helm in ’14. Then, if it all ended as it ended…perhaps Ausmus would be a better fit in a rebuild.

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  2. Rookie ‘never-managed-before’ managers can do very well ..look at Cora w/the Red Sox and Boone w/the Yankees this year. But Brad was just a terrible manager. With experience ..Ausmus should have gotten better at managing ..but seemed to get worse each year. Maybe Brad was too ‘college-smart’ for his own good! Seemed quite the snob at times.

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    • Yes, rookie Managers can do well, but my question to Holly is this: Could the Tigers have done well with any rookie Manager at all , were the group of players we had able to handle it and respect the person, it seems to me that the answer would be no, so they needed someone experienced and pre-respected if you will when JL Left. Boston now with Cora is a completely different team and culture.

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  3. Holly, your synopsis of Gardy is probably some of the best commentary I have seen out of you since I jumped into TT several years ago. Just want to let you know I think you nailed it….Big time!!

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  4. Love the premise of focusing our criticisms on all levels of management responsible for this mess. My problem is that I don’t know who to pin down for our horrendous training/conditioning/med staffs, who to concentrate my displeasure regarding our drafting “strategies”. Who is responsible for our horrific media throttling marketing tactics? Holly recently posted the tenure of personnel but I could use bulls-eye targets for executives in charge of different departments.

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  5. Gotta disagree, Holly. Leyland had more talent than probably any other team in MLB while he was in Detroit. Other than a couple key decisions in the first 4 months (JV, and JZ), he did little to advance any other team he lead. Including the near total collapse of even that ’06 team and……

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    • Hi, Doug – I think you misread my comments about JL. We are in agreement about how much he had and how little he accomplished with it given the expectations. Thanks for continuing the dialog! – Holly

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  6. None of the major trends in baseball today are in anyway related to the managers.The shift, home run swings, strike outs are OK and SP’s only need to go 6 innings all originated with analytics. In Moneyball Billy Beane says what he looks for in a manager is a guy with a little gray hair that looks good on the dugout steps. I wonder how much manager’s even matter anymore.

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  7. The one thing that the Tigers needed in a manager was someone who created expectations of the young players, an insistence on standards, professionalism, and effort. In view of the fact that the Tigers’ defense seemed to deteriorate over the course of the year, I’m not sure that they got what they needed. Of course it may be moot, since there is almost nobody up with the big club yet who might reasonably be expected to be a factor in the next contending Tigers team.

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  8. Managers can make a difference, but not here..and not now.. My advice to all Tiger fans with regards to this current Ownership, and Avila the talking GM and his crackling well oiled Management team….just
    WALK AWAY’….

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      • Kurt, I am not speaking of wins and losses and a team fielded that looks many times like the Bad News Bears…I’m referring to an Owner who hides from public view and has no clue as to how to proceed. A Management team that borders on incompetency and fails repeatedly to address serious Organizational deficiencies..that cannot even protect it’s most vital currency..the health of it’s players properly..I could go on and on..

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