Managers on Learning on the Job

At the winter meetings, I asked a small collection of managers about the evolution of the role, and all of them — save perhaps Mike Scioscia — spoke to the importance of communicating with the media and with their players.

But that story had a longer scope, and a more universal one. I also asked them about a smaller more immediate thing — I asked many of them what they had learned this year, on the job. And for those just coming to the job, what they have tried to learn before they first manage a game.

Of particular note was what former position players did to learn about pitching, and vice versa. Managers have to communicate with all sorts of different players, and yet they came from one tradition within the game. And each has spent time developing themselves in their present role.

Andy Green, Padres: As a player, I was head down and do your business and take care what you can take care of. I’ve thought about it a tremendous amount since, though. I have in San Diego one of the longest-tenured pitching coaches in the National League in Darren Balsley, who has a wealth of experience. Managing in the minor leagues, like I did for four years, you have to handle pitchers, that’s a large percentage of the game. I’ve had personal touches with guys since I’ve gotten the job — I’ve sat down face to face with Tyson [Ross], and James [Shields], and talked to Andrew Cashner on the phone. Any time I can spend time with players and build those relationships.

Walt Weiss, Rockies: I felt my second year that I just knew my club a lot better. That first year was a year of assessment, really, in a lot of ways for me. But that second-year action, I felt like we knew who we were and what we needed to do to get better and to be more competitive. I think that was probably the biggest change from one year to the next. You get to know your league, it seems like you’re in your division all year, or it seems that way. So you get familiar with the division very quickly.

I love information. The more, the better. And then you got to discern what’s usable and what’s effective, and that’s what we do.

We have some great people in our analytics department that are taking on more and more of a load. For example, we went from the team that shifted the least in baseball to, I think, the most in the National League in one year. It’s obvious there’s an impact there, and I’m using that information, and I’m open to that information. Yeah, like I said, it’s just more information than we had when I played. Decide what’s usable and what’s effective.

Dave Roberts, Dodgers: I think that, obviously, from a position-player background, I never pitched, and so I think that, once I became a coach, a major league coach, and realized that I wanted to manage, if the opportunity presented itself, I think that’s something that I really try to pay extra attention to. So having the opportunity to be alongside Bud Black and Darren Balsley, who I speak very highly of both those men, and I think the industry will echo. We’ve had lengthy, lengthy conversations, and I credit those guys a lot for their openness to teach me about pitching.

Bryan Price, Reds: Not as much for the everyday player. More so for the bench player. Had a really good conversation with Miguel Cairo, who was an everyday player earlier in his career, but the bulk of the last five or six years of his career was as a bench player. And he was invaluable as a guy that would offer up the mindset and the importance of Spring Training and regular Spring Training at-bats and how to keep — how to have a sense of value as a bench player. That was an extremely important conversation.

It’s like anything. It was a big step going from being a minor-league pitching coach to being a major-league pitching coach. I felt like I knew a lot about pitching. But when you go from an environment where you’re developing pitchers to an environment where you’re expected to win games, it’s a big difference. There were definitely some things that I needed to learn through the experience and through conversations with players, but a lot of it was just going out there and managing the games.

Dusty Baker, Nationals: I would probably say the biggest adjustment — because when I left two years ago, they hadn’t enacted the replay rules yet. That’s probably the biggest adjustment. You’ve got to know when to go out to argue because it looks like — I didn’t argue a whole bunch, anyway, unless I thought I was right. This will eliminate even more arguments, make less arguments now. That’s probably the biggest adjustment, I think. Learning about the replay situation.

Scott Servais, Mariners: I spent plenty of time in the minors. I don’t know if you’re aware, but that’s where I’ve been the last ten years. I have not managed in the minor leagues. I have not been a bench coach in the big leagues. And I’m not the first. Lucky for me, there’s been many guys, and I could go through the list, talking to them earlier today. Mike Matheny and Brad Ausmus, guys with different paths.

Mine may be more what A.J. Hinch has gone through, just coming from the front office. I think there’s tremendous value in understanding… how to put teams together and how front offices look at that. I will use that to my benefit.

The one thing I’ve not done is I have not managed a major league team, but I’ve managed people. I think, when you look at the game and how the game’s evolved, it is about managing people and creating an environment that they feel good about coming to work every day and a certain culture along with that. That’s what I think I can bring to the Mariners.

Again, it’s about the players and putting them in a position to win. So, again, it’s been a different path, I’ve said it all along, that I’ve taken to get here. I feel fortunate, and I’m really excited about getting started.

Jeff Banister, Rangers: I’ll say this, that the time consumption is really what’s the most — you can’t prepare for. There’s absolutely no way you can prepare for it. And everybody says you’ve got to find a way to reach a certain balance. Well, look, there is no balance. What you have to do is be disciplined and strict as what’s important in your daily preparation and also just I believe that the interest in the development of everybody around you is necessary because, look, we’re all trying to advance and move forward with the idea of developing and creating a culture of championship.

So you don’t have enough hours in the day to be able to do all that and still play a baseball game. So what’s real is you still have a baseball game — at the end of the day, you have a baseball game to be played, and that’s ultimately what’s important.

Paul Molitor, Twins: I think it’s always going to be a little different year to year. I can’t specifically tell you mistakes that I made, but I know I made them.

A lot of it just has to do with the fact that these guys do like to have a feel of when and how often and what role and all those type of things. Whether it was injury or people stepping up or having to make changes along the way, we kind of moved it around a lot this year. Like I say, I don’t know if I had a lot of options to do that, but maybe if I make sure they understand my thinking and try to keep them on board would be something I could get better at.

I think it’s kind of like the question related to a starter who only should go twice through the lineup. I think some guys are more suited to be able to go back out there for the next inning and other guys — you’re continuing to find out that one-and-done is the best philosophy.

Sometimes it was a matter of, okay, this guy has already pitched, he had a nine-pitch inning and I don’t want to get this guy in the game if I don’t have to, so I’m going to run him back out there. A lot of times there’s different components to why you might do that. But it’s nice, especially from five to seven, to have guys that can maybe give you a couple.

Kevin Cash, Rays: Definitely more at ease. I mean, last year, I was walking around and didn’t really know where I was going. Didn’t know who I was talking to. A lot of introductory conversations. So there’s much more comfort… even though this is a pretty big place and you can get lost a little bit.

But the comfort, we were talking about it earlier this morning up in the suite, it’s just a different tone, I guess, for me personally. For everybody else, I think it’s status quo, business as usual.

More knowing our players and the relationships there. And then also I think the decision-making.

I mean, last year there wasn’t much that we could fall back on or I could personally fall back on and say, “Well, you know, ten ballgames ago, this happened, this scenario played out.” I didn’t really have that.

This upcoming year, I will have experiences built up that I can maybe fall back on, and when we’re making decisions in game with Tom Foley and I and discussing things as it’s playing out, we’ll have a little history to fall back on.

Ultimately we are in a better place as far as our relationships with the players. There were a lot of unknowns. I think we all did a really good job of kind of coming together. But it’s going to be exciting to get back in there come Spring Training and see everybody and much more high-fiving and hugging and seeing how everybody is, how they did, their families, rather than shaking your hand and introducing yourself.

A lot of times, the season is a little bit of a roller coaster. There were certain guys that would get as hot as they could be, and then the next month, they are not that hot. I don’t think you can say, “Oh, I know this guy and when that is going to happen.” But maybe you might know their mentality and how they are able to handle it when they do have those ups and downs.

Bob Melvin, Athletics: I’ve had some tough years before as a manager. I’ve had good years. I’ve been around doing this for a little while. But I think more so because of the fact that we’ve had as much success the previous three years, that that was probably the toughest year that I’ve had.

Did I learn anything? You know, you’re always trying to get better as a manager. You’re always trying to find ways to reach players a little bit differently to either motivate them or be a resource for them to get him better and make him feel more confident.

So, yeah, I think every year you’re looking to how you can reach players a little bit more. The roster you have is the roster you have. And for the most part, most rosters set up a certain way, and you make adjustments along the way, and we had to do that, especially in the bullpen last year. As a manager, I’m always trying to get better daily, if not every year.

Joe Maddon, Cubs: I think there’s a higher level of awareness. That’s really ambiguous. Generally speaking, whether it’s more aware of how to deal with your people, to interact with your guys. More aware, if we want to talk about the minutiae of the day, like your lineup construction, how are you going to utilize your bullpen. You just become more aware. You get a better feel for what’s going on around you, I think. Just doing this, you become more aware.

I think there’s a level of awareness that becomes more comfortable. I think, as you become more aware, you become — and I had this conversation with T.B. — less fearful of things. You really become more absorbed in the process of the day.

I know, like I said, it’s ambiguous, but it’s an awareness factor. You just feel what’s going on around you in a better way and able to react to it better.

Mike Matheny, Cardinals: I mean, I would hope I’ve learned something. I mean, every time you go through a season and you watch how the different pieces come together and you see it missing one particular piece, what does that mean to the overall product, I think you’d have to be wearing blinders not to pick that stuff up.

Then you start putting importance about, wow, I never really knew that that particular spot was such an important part for us, or this is something we really struggled with, if we had that piece. I think that comes maybe more with time. And then listening to guys who have been in this position, guys who have been coaching for a while, and taking what they deem is important and trying to put it into practice, whether it’s important for us right now.

I think that question also changes every year, and I think the game changes somewhat with the demands and then the talent, whatever kind of talent is coming through the game at any particular time.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

I love this but I’m going to have to save it to read on the weekend, just not enough time for savoring / tea-leaf-parsing right now.