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August 6, 2012

Baseball Therapy

So You Wanna Be a Manager

by Russell A. Carleton

We know. You could totally do it better than the pros. You'd have brought in a reliever for Pedro. You prove it most nights on your PlayStation. I bet you once played a whole season in MLB: The Show and went 102-60...or at least 35-15 in a shortened season.

I believe you. That's why I'm going to give you the chance to prove how awesome you are at managing a major-league team. Now, of course, you can't actually manage one right now, but I've drawn up a list of things that you'd have to do as a manager and some real-life equivalents.

Please accomplish all of them within the next 72 hours.

1) Welcome to Spring Training. See that guy over there? He's 28 and has never made it to the majors. He's one of those guys who didn't have amazing talent but loves the game of baseball, and he's hung around in the minors for seven years now. He actually listens to the coaches, puts in extra BP and fielding practice, and signs autographs for the kids. He knows that he'll never be a Hall of Famer, but he's hoping for that cup of coffee so he can say he played in the bigs. If anyone ever deserved a shot just on pure #want, it's this guy.

Your job is to tell him that he's being released. The dream is over.

While you're at it, do the same for the 35-year-old veteran guy who's been around for a while and stood up for you in the clubhouse when some of the young players were getting out of hand. He's being cut for a 23-year-old who thinks that he's God's gift to baseball.

When I was in grad school, I taught intro-level classes (mostly Intro to Psych and Intro to Stats) because the department highly suggested that we do so and because I needed the money. After my first quarter of teaching, I had a couple of students who had "earned" F's. For the most part, they had skipped a lot of classes and generally been surly to me when they were there. When I went to enter grades on the university website, I found myself actually hesitating. It's hard to be the one to say "You're a failure," even if the kid deserves it. Now imagine breaking the heart of a kid who's wanted this one thing all his life.

Your assignment: Find someone who has a dream and tell that person that it will never happen.

2) Your second baseman is homesick for the Dominican Republic and doesn't have a lot of friends on the team. Your left fielder has a drinking problem. Your LOOGY is having problems with his wife. You can see that it's affecting their play. Congrats. You just became a Spanish-speaking therapist, a substance abuse counselor, and a couples therapist.

I blame TV for this one. As fans, we see the three hours of actual game time. If we're lucky, we get a five-minute interview with a guy when he's in super-defensive, I'm-not-going-really-going-to-answer-much-of-anything mode. So, what does he do the other 20 hours and 55 minutes of the day? For some reason, there's this odd disconnect between the little blobs running around the TV screen and the fact that they are human beings.

I also blame the odd societal tendency to assume that just because someone has hit age 18, they have stopped growing as a person. (Think about what you were like when you were 18. Changed any?) When you get down to it, a baseball team is a collection of 20-and-30-something-year-old men, and there's a lot of development and a lot of life events that happen during that time. Guys get married, have kids, and wish that they were back home. They try to figure out what they want to be when they grow up and worry about how they'll get there. And yeah, some of them have problems.

Your assignment: Pick a co-worker/fellow student/neighbor who has a lot of problems. Tell that person that you'd really like to help. (Speaking as a former therapist, please, no one actually do this.)

3) What's your favorite type of movie? (Hey, get your mind out of the gutter!) Watch 18 consecutive hours of that type of movie from morning until night. I guarantee you that by the end of the day, you'll be wishing that the cable guy and the bored housewife would just have a nice conversation about the weather. And that's just one day.

I know that you could totally think about baseball all day (and get paid for it!) There's something interesting that happens when you do something that you love for your job. It becomes a job. And there are some days when your job, no matter how cool it is, isn't very interesting. You can walk away from your PlayStation team whenever you want. A manager doesn't have that luxury. Sometimes, guys have bad days, and the manager has to be prepared to help.

Your assignment: Get the DVD player ready.

4) Tonight, when you play your video game, I'll be sending over a couple of guys from BP who are good writers and know the game fairly well. (Colin Wyers also expressed some interest in going.) They will analyze every decision that you made during that game, show it on TV, and write about it. Tomorrow, a legion of guys who have never done your job will talk about what you did the night before on the radio.

Know how you hate performance review time at work? Now imagine that it happened every day. In public.

Your assignment: Invite your boss, several co-workers, and a few people who have no idea what you do for a living to follow you around at work/school/whatever you do. Ask them to occasionally point out all the things that you are doing wrong.

5) Oh by the way, on the video game, please put the difficulty on expert (there aren't any novices in MLB). Also, no spending five minutes getting a sandwich between innings or to think over a pinch-hitting decision in your head. Also, play with the "warmup pitchers" mode enabled.

Also, if you lose, none of that thing where you play another game to knock the taste of losing out of your mouth. Remember, in real baseball, if you lose, you have to go to bed knowing that, and you don't get to redeem yourself until the next day. (And don't do that thing where you're losing by five in the eighth inning, but the system freezes for a moment, and you hit the reset button because the system was obviously going to need it anyway. When you're winning, you wait it out. Cheater.)

Your assignment: Try to play your video game as realistically as the settings will allow. Real pitchers throw once every 20 seconds or so, not at the frenetic five-second pace that the video game pitchers do.

6) It's the ninth inning, and you're up by one. Your top two relievers are Smith and Jones, and both are fresh and available, which is great, because you're in the thick of a tight pennant race and need this game. Smith is generally better than Jones and usually gets the call here. But there's a complication today. Smith has a daughter who has a chronic medical issue. He's a private man and doesn't discuss this with the press, because he wants to keep his family out of the limelight. (Can you blame him?) He got some bad news about his daughter earlier and has been walking around with his head down all day. You've seen him like this before. He'll say he's okay, but he can't concentrate, and his performance suffers to the point where Jones would actually be the better pitcher tonight to nail down that lead.

It's easy to say that you'd go with Jones in this situation. But if you do, there will be 12 reporters in your office after the game. All of them will ask why it is that you didn't go with Smith. Is there a closer controversy? Is Smith injured? When you mumble some made-up BS about "better matchups," they'll go to Smith to ask him how he feels about losing his job as closer to Jones. And Smith definitely does not want to answer those questions tonight. If you tell the truth, but kindly ask the reporters to leave that out of the game story, some idiot will put it on Twitter anyway, because he... gets... to... break... a story! Because America has a right to know!

You could go with Smith, and hurt your team's chance of winning in the middle of a pennant race.  Maybe he blows the lead, you lose, and the team misses the playoffs by a single game. Great. You just sacrificed a great opportunity for the other 24 guys to protect one player from having to answer a couple of questions about his daughter. Maybe he gets the save anyway and you cheat death one more time.

So for whom do you ask on the bullpen phone?

Your assignment: There is no right answer. There's not even a good answer. You must live with this.

7) After the game, go to sleep knowing that one of your 25 charges might just go out, get drunk, and do something that will land him in jail. In the morning, you'll be awoken to those same 12 reporters who want to know all the details, despite the fact that you were sleeping at the time.

Your assignment: Try not to get an ulcer.

Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Russell's other articles. You can contact Russell by clicking here

Related Content:  Managers,  Clubhouse,  Intangibles,  Skippers,  Leadership,  Playstation

28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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saint09

Good piece Russell. Easy to forget about the human element. I'd still have taken Pedro out :-)

Aug 06, 2012 03:35 AM
rating: 3
 
Eddie Bajek

Great stuff!

Aug 06, 2012 04:34 AM
rating: 1
 
edwardarthur

Terrific piece!

Aug 06, 2012 06:03 AM
rating: 0
 
gbd314

This was absolutely hilarious and phenomenal

Aug 06, 2012 07:59 AM
rating: 3
 
Tarakas

Nice piece. But this seems pretty much like many other jobs in management, other than dealing with the press. Human problems are human problems, and if you have people reporting to you, this is what you deal with.

Aug 06, 2012 08:45 AM
rating: 0
 
Dodger300

What you say is true as far as it goes.

But you've neglected the author's point that a baseball manager does it all with 30,000+ in the stands, several million watching on televsion, and the national sports media critiquing his every move, all on a daily basis.

I don't care how difficult it might be to run a Subway franchise or even a Walmart, they never have to deal with that kind of scrutiny and second-guessing from the public.

Aug 06, 2012 09:59 AM
rating: 7
 
grandslam28

You also don't get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to run a Subway, and also get all winter off.

Aug 06, 2012 13:50 PM
rating: -3
 
Mike Schieve

I wouldn't say you have all winter off. You might receive a few weeks then you start prepping for spring by watching tape and reading reports.

Aug 06, 2012 19:23 PM
rating: 1
 
rgbauer

Many executives of large corporations get paid more than baseball managers, but barring some rare catastrophe, don't get anywhere near the scrutiny that baseball managers get. And the fact that a manager is well-paid doesn't mean that he isn't human.

Aug 07, 2012 12:17 PM
rating: 2
 
DanDaMan

Nice article Russell.

Aug 06, 2012 09:27 AM
rating: 0
 
buffum
(458)

This is well-written and food for thought, but it still doesn't adequately explain Eric Wedge Face.

Aug 06, 2012 10:51 AM
rating: 1
 
Hendo

Back in the early 1990s I watched the career of a high-A pitching prospect, well-liked by his farm team's fan base, go down in flames shortly after the parent organization implemented the Wonderful Idea of drastically lowering his arm slot.

Imagine what it must have been like to be that kid's minor-league manager or pitching coach.

For no added credit:
- Assume that the parent organization's Wonderful Idea really was the right thing to do in the circumstances.
- Explain all this to a poorly paid small-town sports reporter in the pre-sabermetrics era.

Aug 06, 2012 11:01 AM
rating: 3
 
eighteen

"Find someone who has a dream and tell that person that it will never happen."

I do that every day.

Or do you mean someone besides me?

Aug 06, 2012 11:39 AM
rating: 7
 
cuculi13

Great piece, Russell. BP really got better with you again on board...

Aug 06, 2012 13:14 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Great piece, but in all honesty, a baseball manager is little different from an IT manager. They have to go through the same stresses when firing people, etc.

Aug 06, 2012 13:40 PM
rating: -3
 
Behemoth

You really think that?

Aug 06, 2012 14:55 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Well, maybe not specifically an IT manager, but just a corporate manager in general if we're talking in terms of firing people and motivating employees. Corporate managers will say "We don't think you're a good fit for this company." or "We want to move in another direction." or "We are looking for someone more experienced for that role you wanted to be promoted to."

Or maybe, a baseball manager is closer to a sales manager with the constant pep talks. There's also a PR component too, which is probably the "biggest" difference.

But seriously, a manager's job is basically to manage egos and every so often call for a pitchout or pitching change. Baseball managers don't even have complete say over their roster construction. Wasn't it Bill James who said a good manager and a bad manager make a plus/minus difference of a few games a season? Each team has hitting and pitching coaches to help players develop their skills, and a GM who does the roster moves.

So, I look at the Rockies and yeah, Tracy's pretty bad. He's repeating the same mistake with Rosario that he did with Iannetta. However, part of the issue is O'Dowd for thinking that "major additions" Cuddyer, Guthrie and Jamie Moyer would make the Rockies contenders.

Aug 06, 2012 16:30 PM
rating: -1
 
sho044

I think the point of the article is that there arent hundreds or thousands of people taking to the airwaves and the internet each day wondering why the IT manager didnt upgrade the company's servers the day before. Or saying, I should be the IT manager for Big Joe's Widgets and Stuff, that guy there currently is a moron.

Aug 06, 2012 16:49 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

They actually do that for Apple, Blackberry/RIM, heck even Cricket (whom I work for). That's why phone companies and internet providers have customer service call centers... to take complaints about their service (which tends to be hosted on servers and/or switches).

Aug 06, 2012 20:57 PM
rating: 0
 
sandriola

First, all I initially thought was, "Wow." It just feels like you missed the spirit of the article completely. However, I felt like more needed to be said.

You said that O'Dowd's also at fault for the fact Tracy still has a job. Well, that's pretty much true in any industry. There are PLENTY of people in the world who don't deserve their jobs for a plethora of reasons. That's not what Russell's arguing, though. The main point, to me, is that the non-public aspects of being a major league manager deserve far more weight than are ever given by the public.

To say that anyone could play Manager and successfully run a bullpen and manage a clubhouse is a bold statement. I think you are vastly underestimating the role of the media in the job of today's major league manager. It's one thing to have upper management question decisions, but when random people who know very little about the whole of your job publicly question you, your job just became a lot harder.

No one said it was easy, and I would love the opportunity to manage a big league club, even for one day. However, I couldn't consider myself anywhere near qualified to do the job full-time, just like I'm not qualified for a large number of occupations.

You referenced Bill James. Well, as we all know, sabermetrics can't quantify everything. Being a manager in the 21 hours a day when the game isn't being played is not quantifiable in my book. In the end, I believe that's what Russell's saying the whole time.

Aug 06, 2012 18:54 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Actually, I don't think I'm really underestimating it.

Whether it's a major league manager or a little league coach, you can be one without a degree.

Toss degrees aside and there have been many major league managers who had no experience managing and even some didn't have experience coaching. In fact, it seems the best qualification to be a manager is to be a baseball player, even if you never made the majors. Nowhere in "failed minor league baseball player" do you get experience dealing with the media. If you're a "failed minor league position player" you get no experience handling a bullpen. Also, if you're a "failed minor league player" your clubhouse street cred for "managing a clubhouse" can also be lacking.

Look at the recent hires just from the last year. Neither Ventura, Matheny or Sveum had major league _or_ minor league managing experience. Now, Ventura was a clubhouse rep and as the face of the White Sox, he had experience dealing with the media. Matheny also had a dash of it. Sveum? He probably didn't speak much to the media in the last decade. In fact, even with the number of recent openings, the last player I can think of who had minor league managing experience but no major league managing experience was Quade.

Now, I'm not saying it's an easy job. It is a tough job. Then again, there are many tough jobs in the world. But I also think that pretty much anyone can do it. The reason "pretty much anyone" doesn't do it is because teams tend to pick people with previous major league playing or managing experience, no matter how bad. Also, there's a limited number of major league slots available so an average Joe Schmoe off the street would not get the job.

But c'mon. Jim Tracy was considered a great Dodgers manager but barely treaded water in Pittsburgh and hasn't done anything in Colorado in the last three years though he has had the same core set of players who previously went to the playoffs. Valentine, who was even an ESPN analyst and managed overseas, should be a master of the media but seems to commit blunder after blunder... and the Red Sox aren't responding well to his experienced manager-ness in the W-L column either.

However, you seem to want it both ways. You can't say a manager's job can't be quantified while, at the same time, disqualifying who could actually do the job.

The only measurable trait/skill which could be handy in a manager is whether they are multilingual.

Other than that, no one can seem to identify a good manager from a bad manager or what makes a manager good and why a manager is good one year and not good another year. No one knows why Francona was considered a good manager and then became considered a bad manager. No one knows why Hurdle is rallying the Pirates but lost touch with the Rockies. It's all a crap shoot.

Aug 06, 2012 21:13 PM
rating: -1
 
Dodger300

Let's reserve the title "Great Dodger Manager" for Tommy Lasorda and Walter Alston, okay?

Aug 07, 2012 09:08 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I wasn't giving it a title in All Caps. But if you want to call him a "good dodger manager", that's fine.

Tracy had a winning record for the Dodgers (427-383). He has a losing record since (135-189 with Pirates, (269-278).

Do we have any idea why he was good at one place, or bad at another? Do we know why he went from Manager of the Year in 2009 to missing the playoffs in 2010? Nope, "no quantifiable reason"... all we know is he is mysteriously qualified to be a manager.

Aug 07, 2012 09:39 AM
rating: -1
 
rcrary

I don't have a horse in this, but I want to suggest that Valentine's experience working as an ESPN analyst, in which role he was simply terrible, should have given us plenty of evidence he'd be horrible working with the media.

Aug 07, 2012 09:54 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

As fans, we're really only able to dissect in-game tactics and observe a manager dealing with the press. There is so much that goes on under the surface that, I'm sure, is waaaaaaaay more important to a team winning thanthose two more observable aspects.

I mean, Ron washington made a hash out of the world series with his in-game tactics, but let's see how each of us handles the odd many many people-issues that comes along with the players on that team.

Aug 06, 2012 15:49 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Give "each of us" a brilliant farm system, a perennial MVP candidate (Hamilton), good pitching, good defense and good offense, and can you argue that "one of us" wouldn't have done better than Washington?

Aug 06, 2012 16:32 PM
rating: -4
 
ScottyB

Yes, that is what I'm saying.

And, are you really saying managing Josh Hamilton is EASY?

Aug 07, 2012 08:49 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Are you saying Ron Washington is the only one managing Josh Hamilton?

He has a personal assistant, a plethora of psychiatrists and counselors, physical trainers, a pastor. And yes, some of those are provided by the Rangers.

My overall point is if you give an average Joe Schmoe a team with good pitching, good offense and good defense, they'll most likely win.

Aug 07, 2012 09:35 AM
rating: 0
 
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