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November 5, 2013

Overthinking It

Brad Ausmus and Cementing the New Model for Managers

by Ben Lindbergh


Early in the World Series, my girlfriend wondered aloud why FOX was showing so many reaction shots of the same St. Louis player. “Which player?”, I asked. “That one,” she answered, the next time the broadcast cut to the dugout camera. She meant Mike Matheny.

It was an understandable mistake. Matheny can pass for a player because he’s not that far removed from being one. His playing days were done after 2006, his age-35 season, and he’d been retired officially for only five seasons when he was hired to take over for Tony La Russa. Given 25 years and approximately 20,000 packs of cigarettes, a fresh-faced manager like Matheny could come to look like Jim Leyland. (Okay, maybe not Leyland, who looked like this at Matheny’s age.) But that’s a long way away, and Matheny doesn’t smoke.

We’ve seen a lot of Matheny-like managers lately. Of the 12 managers hired since the end of the 2011 season, nine have still had that new-skipper smell. And there might be more first-timers on the way: three of the four candidates interviewed by the Mariners would be filling out their first lineup cards in Seattle. (The Cubs have been connected to a more even mix.)

“We’re seeing a changing of the guard,” says Chris Jaffe, author of Evaluating Baseball’s Managers. “A TON of older managers have left the ranks in the last 2-3 years. Gotta find some new managers somewhere, so [teams are] going to new guys.”

With Leyland and Davey Johnson calling it quits this year, and other old-timers like Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Jack McKeon walking away over the past few seasons, the sudden lack of long-tenured skippers is almost startling. “There are only two managers left that there were in the 1994 strike,” Jaffe says, referring to Buck Showalter and Terry Collins. “A few years ago, we had four guys left from the 1970s.”

To some extent, this is just cyclical. Every so often, a group of long-tenured managers reaches retirement age around the same time, and teams are forced to bring in new blood instead of recycling experienced candidates. “There are other big managerial departures in history,” Jaffe says. “1920, 1950-51, and 1976. But nothing like this.”

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Premium Article Prospect Debate: Corre... (11/05)
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