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Ranting about Managers

by Gregory Pratt, BaseballEvolution.com
June 16, 2008

I'm still "angry" with Asher for having once written that Ozzie Guillen was responsible for the disaster that was the 2007 Chicago White Sox and that "his" Sox were becoming "Baker's Cubs." I just think there's a great deal of foolish criticism of managers out there. Want to know why Bobby Cox is a great manager, what his "great secret" is? He's a great talent evaluator, and he knows how to use guys to the best of their abilities. It's simple. He knows how to tell whether a pitcher is capable of closing out a ballgame. He makes sure that his team doesn't get too high or too low on any given night. Most importantly, he is not afraid to tell his general manager what his team needs to compete if he knows that something is wrong with the ballclub (it helps that his general manager/partner was always willing to accept his feedback, which is something I'm sure still happens with Frank Wren as it did with John Schuerholz).

Know who's a lousy manager? Ned Yost. The amount of games that the Brewers lost when leading by three runs and when leading after the seventh inning last season is not strictly due to the bullpen; he often threw guys out there and left them out there even when it was clear that they had nothing left. He still isn't all that good at making adjustments with the bullpen, and if it weren't for Eric Gagne pulling himself from the closer's role, Yost might still be trotting him out there every time there's a save opportunity.

People forget that just one year ago the talk was all about Charlie Manuel getting fired in Philadelphia. What happened? The Phillies went on an incredible run, the Mets had an incredible fall, and now Manuel is in no trouble. Nothing changed: his team, which had consistently contended until the last couple of weeks of the season in the last few years, finally broke through with a little bit of help from their friends. (See this also) But now he's got job security, as Jayson Stark notes in this good article about what it's like to manage in the big leagues. I think the article demonstrates quite well that managers in the big leagues manage under extreme, often ridiculous knee-jerk circumstances.

The truth is, managers are very important, and they're not important at all. After an incredible seven-game winning streak that saw them rack up an average of eight runs per game, the Chicago White Sox offense went back to normal this week, and I am once again reminded that managers are often at the mercy of their team. Two Sundays ago, Ozzie Guillen said this to the media: "If we think we are going to win with the offense we have, we are full of [expletive deleted]. Iím just being honest." He's absolutely right, and it isn't complicated: If a team isn't very good, it isn't very good and there's nothing a manager can do about it except try and manage the pitching staff to the best of his ability. In the end, a manager's job is to keep his players focused, put them in the best position to succeed, and along with his coaching staff, keep a close eye on pitchers to make sure that they remain effective.  It is also their job to protect their players from becoming distracted. The AL Central is currently in a tight race, as the Detroit Tigers are catching up fast to the Chicago White Sox, who need their general manager to be creative in coming up with a solution to the offense's woes, because Guillen is right about the current roster. For my money, Guillen has done a great job managing the bullpen and his starters this season, but that's about all he can do. It isn't fair to make him out to be more or less than he is because of his team's performance. He can't be blamed for the fact that the middle of the order is old and in decline, or young and inconsistent (Quentin).

I feel a great deal of pity for Willie Randolph, whose idiot owner and general manager refuse to give the team a basic sense of security in either retaining Randolph for the rest of the season or giving him the axe now. It is not Randolph's fault that the team is old and middle-of-the-road by most statistical evaluations, and it certainly can't help his team to have this dark cloud media circus hovering over them. If Randolph's going to be fired, he should be fired immediately so that the team can focus on the field, and if not, that's it, let the man manage without babying him.

Joe Torre's another guy I've been interested in watching this season, as he is genuinely a great manager by any standard, from leading his team to the playoffs to having a great rapport with the players on his twenty five man roster and understanding who is capable of what. Now he's in LA, and the Dodgers aren't very good. It's not because Torre forgot how to manage or never knew how to manage and always skated by with a 200 million dollar payroll. It's because the Dodgers just aren't very good, and there's an old quote about chicken salad that fits here.

One of the more interesting things Ozzie Guillen has ever said was about Bobby Jenks' shape a few Spring Trainings ago: "When you're good, you're big. When you suck, you're fat." People perceive you by the success you have and will modify their adjectives accordingly. The problem with that is that judging a manager is not as simple as looking at the win-loss column.



Gregory Pratt is a political science and history double-major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His political commentary can be found at the Office of the Independent Blogger, and he can be reached at gregory@baseballevolution.com.

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