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October 19, 2004
Job Candidates, Beltran and Bowling
Have you ever been in a situation where you were handed a big stack of resumes to look for suitable job candidates? One time, I had to go through 140 for one open position. When you see this, the first thing you want to do is cut the pile in half somehow. You do this by establishing a threshold qualification just to thin the ranks. In the case of this 140, I went with a four-year college degree as a requirement. It's not that I think a degree is the be all and end all, but the large majority of the people who have succeeded in this position have one, so that's what I used.
I was thinking about this recently while following the hiring process for the Arizona Diamondbacks' new manager. They have now interviewed eight men for the opening. It's nice to have options, but I think eight is a lot of people to see, don't you? So, how to narrow it down? Of the eight, only two have previous major league managerial experience. Bob Melvin was the man left holding the bag when the Mariners decided second-line free agents were the answer and Al Pedrique took over a fading Arizona team and made sure that fade faded properly.
Pedrique did what few men in baseball history have managed to accomplish: he inherited a team with a .367 winning percentage and managed to drop it another 50 points. True, this Brenly-to-Pedrique hand-off didn't turn out quite as poorly as the Lave Cross to Joe Quinn baton pass on the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, but did Pedrique really earn a shot at coming back in 2005?
Getting back to the dividing threshold, mine would be previous managerial experience. If you have it, you make the maybe pile. If you don't, you're in the 'no' pile. Of course, I wouldn't be interviewing people like Mark Grace in the first place. If Mr. Grace wanted to abandon the exciting and glamorous field of television broadcasting for the even more exciting and glamorous field of big league baseball management, I would find room for him to take over one of my minor league teams for a few years. If he shows well there, then I'd invited him back to Phoenix for an interview.
Can you think of any other profession where so many novices are handed such important tasks? I suppose I could see it in one regard: if an organization had what we might call a very strong philosophical bent, like, say, the A's, then a novice skipper might be the sort of puppet upper management needs to do its bidding. Of course, that still leaves out a lot of factors. Yes, the novice--especially a youngish guy steeped in the organizational crock pot--would follow orders, but how would he be around people?
I would bet that most of you out there have had the experience of seeing a productive and/or loyal employee awarded with a management position only to have it all fall apart when it is quickly discovered that the person has no concept of how to properly interact with people. Yes, they could produce and follow orders, but when it came down to communicating and dealing with the nuances of humans, they had no clue.
I don't think this sort of thing--either as a strength or weakness--shows up in the interview process. There are a lot of you out there who could handle in-game strategy better than some of the men who hold big league managerial positions. You'll never get the chance, though, because you would have no credibility in the eyes of your charges. There's only one way for those inside the game to find out if a man can handle people or not and that is by seeing if he has done so in past management experiences. If he has no past management experiences, then you, the employer, are paying him big money to get on-the-job training while managing your very best employees.
The great thing about baseball is that there are 29 other competitors out there training future managerial candidates that you can call upon as needed. Teams rarely stand in the way of their minor league managers or coaches getting their shot at the big time. With 150-plus experienced managers out there at any given time, why would a team try an untested commodity?
Melvin got his Mariners job without any previous experience. Pedrique, at least, did some time in the minors, as has Wally Backman and DeMarco Hale. Of course, I was not in on the interviews, so I don't pretend to know who showed well in that part of the process. I know this much, though: I've personally seen what handing a department of a multi-million dollar operation to a novice can do, and it isn't pretty. It can work in baseball, but why take the risk?
Sometimes, due to conflicts, it's hard to turn on the television before a game starts. In the case of an Astros playoff game in 2004, if you tune in late and they have a run or two, just assume it's via a Carlos Beltran home run and you'll be pretty safe.
Before anointing Mr. Beltran the greatest human since Albert Schweitzer, however, we should probably try to keep what he is doing in perspective. Beltran is a very good player having one of the great postseason runs of all time. In the opposite dugout is one of the greatest players of all-time having an excellent but not insane postseason. One thing that's good to hear in the cascade of praise for Beltran being behind only Barry Bonds and so forth: his best EqA is not as good as Albert Pujols' lowest.
Let's first compare them by age and EqA:
Age: Beltran - Pujols
21: .279 - .328
Now, let's do it by season:
Year: Beltran - Pujols
2001: .297 - .328
This is by no means meant to rain on Mr. Beltran's parade. (In fact, before the season started, I wrote that he had an excellent shot at an MVP Award. If I had been a little vaguer with my prediction, I could be touting my brilliant pick right now as he heads toward an NLCS MVP.) No, just trying to keep it real in the face of the hype that, naturally, attends a bravura performance like he's having.
I've been perusing the Hacking Mass standings and noticed a few things. First of all, I want to say what a cool idea HM is. I'm reminded of a time a couple of friends and I went bowling at the college center and discovered early on that the lanes were warped like the decking of a Spanish Galleon sunk by a squall in 1648. When we realized that no matter how well-aimed our balls were, they were not going to hit the pocket, we decided to see who could bowl the lowest score--without throwing the ball in the gutter. The best frames were the ones where you picked the seven-pin off with your first bowl and the 10-pin off with your second. Boy, that was some fun. It drew quite a crowd and started a campus fad which eventually spread to colleges across the country. OK, those last two parts never happened, but you see why I'm making the comparison.
Anyway, back to HM. Two things I'd like to see next year:
1. The judges at BP reserve the right to excise anyone who intentionally submits a good team just to have the distinction of coming in last.
2. Nobody can submit more than one Colorado Rockies starting pitcher.
One gets the impression that the Yankee bench players forgot Boss's Day on Friday and their punishment is to sit and contemplate their oversight for now and always.