November 28, 2012
How to Think Like a Major-League Manager
I’ve got a power pitcher who can’t throw enough strikes because his mechanics are unrepeatable and I doubt he’ll ever be able to fix them. I have a DH with prodigious power but chronic and severe plantar fasciitis, so I can’t really use him in the outfield at all, which I had planned to do a few dozen times because I’ve got two guys out there who can’t hit righties. Now I’ve got to hope that they manage to hit them anyway, and also that they don’t break down under a 150-plus-game load since I can’t use my DH to spell them.
We’ve got what appears to be a viable second baseman just up from Triple-A, but you never know how kids will adapt and adjust up here. My solid no. 2 gap hitter has a great compact swing, never gets hurt, and shows up to play every day—but doesn’t get on base enough to take advantage of his speed (and isn’t a good bunter). My no. 1 starter is a superb control artist who’s finicky and will get surly if left alone during practice, which affects his performance. The season gets underway in three days and I still don’t know whether my slow-starting center- and left fielders will be ready for big-league action. They’re just skipping to their lou through spring training. The front office is supposed to be acquiring a lefty groundball specialist for me to use situationally, but I haven’t heard from the GM whether that deal has been green-lighted by ownership, and in any case we’re not even sure if his current club even wants to deal him.
What do managers do, and how do they use their personnel? This is a question of increasing interest lately, with more wood added to the fire here at BP recently by C. J. Nitkowski, who argued that people like you and me, non-players, don’t and can’t appreciate the value of coaching. At the top of the coaching pyramid is managing.
It’s too late for me to be a ballplayer, but I could theoretically manage a game, or come pretty close. I do think non-baseball people can learn about how baseball works through our own analogous experiences.
I’m co-directing this play that opens in two days as I write this, and we’re all kinds of unready, although I think we have a good show on our hands. The first paragraph of this piece was all metaphor and analogy, but it pretty accurately described the strengths and weaknesses of our cast and crew. Theater is pretty near to baseball—especially this particular piece of theater, Seventy Scenes of Halloween, which is structured a bit like a baseball game is: lots of repetition with slight variations, resulting in a narrative that develops by accumulation and differentiation rather than linear build and climax. The play is a game.
Directing a play is quite a bit like managing a ballclub, as I imagine it—or anyway, I feel like I appreciate what managers do a little more while I’ve been directing the play. I want the production to be good as much as the players do, but I’m not going to say a single line, or even really do one thing during the course of the performance other than watch and take notes. A baseball manager is more involved than I am, of course, in that he calls some plays and makes substitution decisions; things like that.