Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Do Managers Really Matter?

Casey Stengel
The Mets hired a new manager, Terry Collins.  Will it matter?  George Carlin, in one of his classic routines, riffs on the differences between baseball and football, and points out that "only in baseball does the manager wear the same clothing as the players do."  While Carlin speculates this is because you wouldn't want to see (then-Oakland Raiders coach) John Madden in a football uniform, it is really because only in baseball is the manager permitted onto the field of play.  I wonder, though, whether the manager is less important in baseball then in football or in basketball, where the coaches are far more involved in play-calling throughout the game.  In baseball, the manager fills out the lineup and pretty much lets the players play.

Indeed, other than flashing the occasional sign for a player to steal or bunt, the manager does not really seem to do much during the game until the later innings, when he must decide such things as whether to take out a pitcher or bring in a pinch hitter.  Even these decisions are usually dictated by the mythical "book," the unwritten code of baseball tenets.  This includes baseball's collected conventional wisdom on when to intentionally walk a batter (don't put the tying run on base), when to bunt late in the game (play for a tie on the road and a win at home) and when to lift a batter for a pinch hitter (right-handed batters should face left-handed pitchers).

The same managers can be brilliantly successful with some teams and dismal failures with others.  Casey Stengel and Joe Torre won many World Championships when they managed the Yankees but could not win at all with the hapless Mets.

After Endy Chavez's miraculous catch in the 2006 playoffs, followed by a devastating loss, the Mets have been in a downward spiral.  Neither Willie Randolph, who managed the 2006 team and was fired halfway through the 2008 season, or Jerry Manuel, who replaced him and was not re-signed after last season, were able to salvage what have been a pretty dismal few years.  I am glad Manuel's gone.  In my opinion he was a terrible manager.  He stayed with lousy players way too long, bunted way too much, and handled the bullpen atrociously.  But frankly, while a better manager probably could have squeezed a few more wins out of the team, I'm not sure it would have made a difference.  Bottom line is that success in baseball comes down to the quality of the players and the ability of management to obtain quality players.  So, good luck, Terry, you're going to need it.


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