Torey Lovullo didn’t end up in the Pittsburgh dugout this season as many had speculated, but the 43-year-old graduate of UCLA remains one of the top candidates for a skippering job in the game. Currently in his third season at the helm of Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, Lovullo spent parts of eight seasons as a big league infielder before joining the Indians organization as a minor league manager in 2002. David talked to Lovullo about the statistical revolution, what he learned from Terry Francona, and whether a manager should be held accountable for wins and losses.
David Laurila: You were reportedly a leading candidate for the managerial position in Pittsburgh this past offseason. Was there anything to that rumor?
Torey Lovullo: That was a little bit out of control, and a little bit silly from my point of view, because I had never really been contacted by the Pirates. As far as journalists go, I guess that a lot of people were making an association between Neal Huntington and the Cleveland Indians–both me and other people working in the Indians system. It was certainly flattering to think that I would be considered, but nothing ever officially came of it. The only conversation I had with Neal came in the form of an email where I congratulated him on getting the position, with him shooting back an email saying that they have a lot of plans laid out and that it’s going to be a fun thing to watch grow. I was never contacted about an interview.
DL: You did interview for the Dodgers job a few years ago.
TL: That was after the 2005 season, and Mark Shapiro, our general manager, called me. I had just gotten home, and was actually on my way to go bowling with my children when Mark said that the Dodgers had asked permission to contact me. He said that in the next couple of days their general manager, who at the time was Paul DePodesta, would be calling. True to form, he did, and we set up an interview. I guess that there were five men they were considering, and I was honored to be one of them. I grew up a Dodgers fan, so at times it was a bit surreal because I was interviewed in a stadium that I had watched hundreds of games in. When it was all said and done, I felt like I was the right man for the position, but obviously they went in another direction. [Ed. note: The Dodgers hired Grady Little.]
DL: What was the interview process like?
TL: They wanted to know mostly about my core values as a human being and my standards as a manager. They wanted to see what my thoughts were–what my plan was if I were running a big league team. Internally, I knew what I was all about, but to pull that out from the back of my head and verbalize it was kind of challenging. But really, it was mostly about me as a person and how I could lead the Dodgers. It was a very relaxed atmosphere. DePodesta was there, as was Kim Ng, the assistant GM, and Roy Smith, who was their farm director. It was the four of us sitting there for about five hours talking about my philosophies as a baseball manager.
DL: How much of an interest did the Dodgers have, in your view, of statistical analysis?
TL: That’s the new thing now; all managers have to have the ability to analyze statistics. It’s a new philosophy, one that managers have to understand today. You have to be able to go out there and understand certain matchups. It’s not strictly a subjective point of view any more where you just go by feel. There’s a lot of merit with what’s going on with that analysis, and you have to understand how to utilize it.
DL: Did you get the impression that it was a priority for the Dodgers?
TL: I think it was going to be DePodesta’s third year, and it was my gut feel that he was going more with a straight, objective point of view. During the course of that interview he was mostly asking me questions about communication and more of the subjective thoughts that go into running a baseball team, but I felt that maybe he was migrating to the other side as well. I think that a good fit for a manager-general manager relationship is to trust one another to know that both can handle the objective and subjective sides. The bottom line is that it has to be a friendship where you have communication and the same beliefs. I understood what Paul was saying, and I thought it would have been a very good fit.
DL: Are there both good and bad fits for a manager?
TL: Yes, because a manager and general manager have to have an exclusive relationship. I think it’s vital that they have the same philosophy of running a baseball team. The general manager is obviously in a position to make the greater decisions–he’s considered the boss and is entitled to make those tougher decisions–but it’s also a give-and-take relationship. It’s one where you have to always be able to say that you’re on the same page and running the organization with one common theme, and you can’t come off of that. You can kind of look at it like you’re starting a new business. If you have that relationship you can watch the business grow and it almost runs itself. So yes, it can be a bad fit, and that’s what the whole process of interviewing is for.
DL: From your perspective as a Triple-A manager, how much does the Cleveland organization emphasize statistical analysis?
TL: That’s why I thought I’d be a good fit for the Dodgers. I see how it operates between Mark (Shapiro), Chris Antonetti, Eric Wedge, and Carl Willis. I see the operation in full swing, from the tremendous job that Eric and Carl do in analyzing everything–every part of a game. They’ve migrated into the objectiveness of the game, and Mark and Chris have done the same; it’s a great combination. It takes a unique blend, and it is fun to watch when it works because it’s not by hunch anymore. There aren’t any more coaching cowboys who just go out there like Earl Weaver–actually, that’s a bad example, because Weaver was a pioneer who used a lot of stuff before anyone else–because there’s a lot that goes into running a baseball team in today’s game.
DL: What about at the Triple-A level?
TL: We get what we can. We try to get our hands on as much information as possible, and it’s always a challenge. I have a stack of paperwork in my office that goes back a couple of years and I’ll go in and dig for information on any player that I can. I spit it out onto a sheet of paper that I’ll keep with me throughout a series. I use what I can, how I can, because I’m a firm believer that information will help you to win baseball games.
DL: How much thought have you put into what will change if you get a managerial job in the big leagues?
TL: You know what, it’s a constant juggle that I have right now. I think to myself that who I am as a manger is who I am as a person. It’s about my beliefs and I’m a firm believer in knowing that it works. I’m not going to change my basic standards of running a baseball team. Obviously, I’d make some slight changes here and there from some of the experience I’ve gained and from some of the people I’ve talked to. I have a whole baseball family beside me that’s teaching me. I’m still learning and evolving, but the basic idea of running a baseball game and my basic philosophies won’t change.
DL: You played for a number of managers over the course of your big league career. Which of them most influenced the way you manage?
TL: That’s a great question. I probably took a combination of every manager I played for and put them into one package. I can tell you that Buck Showalter paid attention to every little detail on a baseball field, and I pride myself in watching the little things. Terry Francona taught me that communication is vital, and he’s easily the best communicator I ever had as a manager. Because of Tito, I don’t miss a day from calling a player aside and just shooting the breeze with him. I learned how to trust my instincts from Lou Piniella, who has a tremendous gut feel for what is going on. I’ve also learned what not to do. Some managers would do certain things, and it was a constant juggling act for me watching a game while I was on a big league bench, trying to figure out things that work and don’t work. Now, 10 years later, I’m running things the way I’ve always wanted to.
DL: Do you consider yourself a players’ manager?
TL: Yes. I consider myself a guy who genuinely cares for each and every individual player. I try to split myself up 25 different ways–actually, 29 different ways, when you include the staff. I want to be accessible to everybody at any time. I know that there’s a general thought that once the game starts there’s a lot of intensity and a passion to go out and execute to win baseball games. In the meantime, it’s about me caring about each guy every night.
DL: Thinking back to your time as a player, what misconceptions did you have about what goes into the job of managing a baseball team?
TL: I always thought that managing would be getting in the driver’s seat, putting it into automatic, and enjoying the ride. But there are so many things that go into running a baseball game that people who don’t know the game would never understand. I love the challenges of watching the opposing manager and how his team is responding to him. I love the challenge of talking to the pitching coach and two seconds later trying to figure out a pitching move, then talking to my bench coach to try to figure out how they’re going to counter that move. I enjoy the chess game that goes on with every pitch, and those of us who are inside the game understand that it’s a chess game. The common fan really has no idea what happens from pitch to pitch. As a player, I thought that we’d just go out and play a baseball game, and the manager probably didn’t have any idea what was going on. But a good manager is in complete charge of what’s going on in every situation.
DL: Managers get too much credit when their team succeeds and too much blame when it doesn’t. True or false?
TL: I live by the adage that it’s my fault when there’s failure, and it’s the players’ success. They deserve all the credit when things are going right, and I’ll accept the blame when they’re not. I’ll accept no credit when it’s going well. Managers are in the hot seat because they need to make decisions to put their players in the right position to be successful. If a manager isn’t doing that, then he has to take a good look at himself and understand that he’s not doing his job. And fans are going to be fans. Fans want winners, and it’s easy to blame the head of the house, so to speak. In this case I think they have a legitimate gripe, because if the job isn’t getting done it’s probably the manager’s fault.
DL: What do you most value about what you’re doing now, and what will you most value as a big league manager?
TL: It’s kind of a corny answer, and you could take it 100 different ways, but I’ll try to summarize it. Baseball chose me. It sucked me into its life, and I value the idea of going out there and watching the game that I love. I got a chance to play it, and I loved it while I was playing it. Now I’m watching and enjoying learning about the game; I’m enjoying watching players improving and getting to the big league level and having success. That’s really what motivates me each and every day. The one common theme I go to when I think about having an opportunity to manage in the big leagues is running onto the field and saying, “We’re world champions.” That’s a tremendous amount of motivation for me. I want to be able to say that I was the leader of a team that was the best for that given year, because a lot of work goes into winning a championship. It’s not done by accident. It starts in the offseason and lasts until the final out is made in your last game. There would be no greater thrill.
DL: Looking around the clubhouse, I see hitting prospects and pitching prospects. Is Torey Lovullo a managerial prospect?
TL: I’m not the one to ask. Whether you’re a prospect or not a prospect, it’s really all in the eye of the beholder. If I ever get an opportunity to manage in the big leagues, that time will come because somebody feels that I’m good and ready, and until that happens I’m very content with where I’m at. Right now I’m having so much fun learning, and enjoying this ride, and thinking about getting to the big leagues, that I don’t think about anything else. I’m in it for as long as I’m having a good time, and I’m having the time of my life.