One size does not fit all.
Teams have to pick their managers for the immediate – and sometimes long-term – task. You aren’t going to hire the same manager for a team that is tearing down that you would for a team that is contending for a title.
There are perfect picks for teams that are building and need someone who can nurture players. There are others who work better with younger millennials while some are more adept at handling strong and expensive personalities. And yet, another handful who know when to push and offer tough love.
And also, those who don’t get easily depressed and can offer a smile, humor and triage to their players – and fans – because the team is in dumpster fire mode.
Someone like, say, Ron Gardenhire.
The role of the manager is changing greatly these days due to, in part, three major factors.
The first because of the importance of analytics within an organization.
Managers used to be the sole agent in determining a game’s strategy. But no more.
Analytic departments are now within the clubhouse and dugout determining which moves should be made. And their reps in the dugouts are often called “quality control coaches” or something else that tends to sound too long and very nebulous. These are the men who are tasked with relaying info from analytics to the manager, coaches and players.
Managers now are evolving. No longer are teams requiring them to have minor league experience. And with each passing year, more and more of them are coming from the coaching ranks – and colleges. Most of whom haven’t seen the minor leagues other than being a player there. A few who never even played the game.
And they’re coming from tv.
One-third of all current managers have worked regularly on tv. It’s important for the communication skills they’ve mastered.
Managers now are really middle managers. They have limited decision-making power.
And increasingly, they must have a resume that shows they have the skills to be credible in the clubhouse, communicate effectively and motivate.
They also have to be excellent in front of the cameras twice a day with the media. TV, not the minor leagues, is the new training ground. It’s really the best way to be comfortable in front of large audiences while you are also breaking down the analytics so viewers (and players) can understand them.
Which is one reason why we are seeing more and more teams firing their managers even though they had solid contending years. Owners and GMs are seeing what’s missing and how they can do better.
This past year, we saw an astounding 8 managers get the heave ho. Many of them having really good years that, in the past, would have usually merited contract extensions, not termination papers.
In the past couple of years, we’ve seen a parade of managers in Washington, DC who got their teams to the playoffs – but with early eliminations, were ousted. The Yankees who decided not to extend Joe Girardi’s contract even though he got them into the World Series because their younger players had a hard time connecting with him.
We also saw a GM get fired 8 months after he successfully took his team to the World Series – and a parade. Spending too much money and wasting human capital, without a long-term strategy, can also shorten one’s life span, especially when you can’t repeat the last year’s success.
The bar has been raised.
It’s the reason why Theo Epstein decided not to extend Joe Maddon’s contract. While heaping praise on Joe (and the two remain great friends), Epstein said the team needed a new “culture of accountability” in the clubhouse while that window was still open.
But the new role and skill set of the manager aren’t the only reasons teams are more likely to pull the trigger and fire their managers.
It also has to do with money and the increasing shrinkage of that contending window. Teams need to utilize their top players more quickly while they are young and not yet ready to earn those monster contracts.
Teams now have a greater sense of urgency.
We definitely didn’t see that in Detroit. Jim Leyland had 5 straight years in Detroit, where titles weren’t earned – and included a last-place finish, a .500 season and 3 years in which the team finished well out of the mix. This with one of baseball’s highest payrolls and some of the game’s greatest players.
But he stayed.
As we know, he was followed by Brad Ausmus who had zero experience as either a coach or manager. Or without any tv experience, as we are all painfully aware.
Brad stayed for all 4 years despite the knowledge (learned later) that he had started losing the clubhouse during his very first year.
Under him, the Tigers’ payroll continued to rise and the team collected even more top talent. But the Front Office made the fatal mistake of pairing a contending team with a rookie manager who didn’t communicate well at all. They failed to pull the trigger at least twice despite all the warning signs.
It should come as no wonder that there is no flag flying over Comerica.
Angels owner, Arte Moreno, however, appeared to have been paying attention. He started to express concern about Ausmus’ ability to manage during his first year back in June. It took all of 3 months for Brad to be sitting in the hot seat.
And by early August, the rumor mill that Brad would be gone had started in earnest. The team struggled all year and players underperformed. A team that had its worst record in 20 years.
And that is another major reason why teams make a change.
Just months earlier, the Angels had extended Justin Verlander’s contract, errr, no…….Miguel Cabrera’s contract, err, nooo…. Whoops! Got it! Mike Trout’s contract. And it fueled the continued discussion that baseball’s best player may be one who ironically wouldn’t again taste the post-season or get that ring.
We know that Moreno and his GM hired Joe Maddon several weeks after the season ended. But they also interviewed 5 other experienced managers as they looked for the right fit. They spent a lot of time thinking about who would be the best one for their needs and goals. And you just know that Mike Trout’s name came up in a lot of those discussions.
And it wasn’t going to be a rookie manager. They saw what happened in Detroit.
Within the past couple of weeks, we’re seeing the full-out drive to serious contention as the Angels continue to sign some of baseball’s best players to complement Trout – and Maddon.
In Philadelphia, the same thing happened. With signing of Bryce Harper last year, a .500 season wasn’t enough for Gabe Kapler to hang onto his job. There was simply too much money attached to this team.
The Phillies decided to match their goals with their manager and hired Joe Girardi, a proven winner, to now manage a team expected to contend.
And what about the Tigers? Who will they hire if Ron Gardenhire’s statement about “driving an RV full-time” in 2021 is serious?
It’s highly unlikely that it will be a top talent, a proven winner. It doesn’t match what the team is and where it is going.
Will Don Kelly be lured back to get his trial run at managing? Or will it be Lloyd McClendon, yet once again the bench coach, who may finally get his wish at running the Tigers?
If Chris Ilitch still owns the team in a year, it just may be. He’d be the perfect manager for a team going nowhere and sitting in limbo, taking up space and waiting to be sold. If you don’t plan on keeping your team, you’re not going to waste time and expense hiring someone new and capable.
But if it’s a new owner? Let’s hope he does a better job than the Ilitch/Dombrowski/Avila administration did.
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