Though baseball’s Winter Meetings seem like the playground of the front office executive, there is one other baseball man who’s ubiquitous: the manager. Semi-required to attend media events and an annual luncheon, most of the sport’s managers descend on the meetings to make their mark.
For the most part, they field questions about next year’s lineup, and try to deflect queries about front-office moves. They’ll do a little reminiscing about last year, and a little looking forward to next year. It’s a bit of a dance, since most of the reporters are looking to find out how the roster is going to look on paper, and the person in front of them is mostly in charge of putting that roster on the field.
Still, it’s a great moment to get access to many managers at once. This past August, I asked a collection of players and writers how Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon — managers with distinctly different approaches and pasts — could both find great success. I thought it would make sense to ask the managers gathered here about their craft, as well.
What has changed about managing? How are the demands on the modern manager different than they once were?
Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers: Yeah, I think it’s definitely — it’s still managing people. I think at the core that’s what managing is in any leadership role. But the game definitely has evolved. I think that obviously with social media, media, players change, people change.
So I think that, for me, having the background as a player and doing a lot of different things from media to the front office to now being a coach for six years and having that, kind of seeing that progression and seeing it from a different lens, has helped me. But I think at the end of the day it’s about trying to make players better and communicating. I don’t think that’s changed.
Andy Green, San Diego: I think it always comes back to communication, meaning connecting with the guys. As the players evolve and generations change, the way a manager connects is different. It’s always been about understanding how to communicate a message and draw out what’s inside a player, and create an environment that gives them the best opportunity to succeed.
I think what data we choose to look at has evolved. I’ve always been analytically inclined. In my background in the minor league, I paid attention to every manager that was at the forefront of the game. Like Tony La Russa looking at platoon splits, and matching up in the bullpen, and now we are looking at spin rates and bat paths and grouping matchups. It’s evolved, but every manager that is worth his salt is looking for whatever edge he can find. The edges have changed, and it takes more people now to run a team as well as you can, because there’s so much more information now than there used to be.
Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs: Oh, yeah. Well, there’s so much more to think about. The managers in the day, they did their lineup, their bullpen, but they didn’t have all the information at their fingertips to utilize as accurately as we can right now, whether it’s offense, pitching, or defense. It wasn’t as specific.
There’s many more things today that permit you to be more specific and, I think, more confident in your decision-making, because it’s really rooted in some good, hard facts that you can prove. So there’s more to consider. There’s more to consider just in game-planning, I think, and beyond that, again, just this.
I used to watch Gene and all the dudes and Johnny Mac and Cookie and Marcel, but it was never like this. Just the accessibility, the information getting out so quickly, social media. There’s dramatic difference in all of that that was obviously not there back in the day. So there was less to have to contend with on a daily basis.
But primarily for me, I like information, and I like the fact that the information is accurate. And then beyond that, I’m very grateful that I’ve had the chance to work as long as I have because I do believe there’s still a feel involved beyond just numbers. It’s not — people want to treat it like fantasy baseball a lot, and it’s actually really baseball with real people.
If you’re able to handle the new information age and combine that with some good, old-fashioned scouting techniques or scouting abilities or teaching abilities, coaching abilities, recognizing trends, whatever’s going on quickly, that’s the way to go about it.
Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants: I think the biggest change probably is, I mean, you look out here and you see all of you, the social media, the information that’s out there for everybody, analytics, metrics. We have a baseball channel now, MLB.
There’s probably more for a manager today than when I first came up because of the information we get. We have tremendous baseball operations, and it stacks up on the desk, the stuff that you get.
That’s probably where the game has changed a little bit. You have to process all this to have your team prepared, whether it’s defensively with the shifts or offensively, all the info that we get. It’s not quite as simple as it used to be.
But, you know, that’s the fun part. That’s why hopefully I’ve done a better job at working or using my coaches more, because it’s not something that you can do on your own anymore.
Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers: Well, I think the evolution of the relationship between front office, field, and then the player relationship is probably evolved in the sense that it is — I believe that it’s necessary, that partnership, straight line of communication, the ability to help each other with the decision-making processes, and then also — which I believe breeds trust on the players side. It creates a culture where guys can — they can just go out and compete and play, and they don’t have to worry about anything else.
Brian Price, Cincinnati Reds: A lot of changes. Great changes. I think we just change with the generations. I know that when I was a young professional player that the generation ahead of me were talking about how they played the game harder and smarter and better and spent more time doing fundamentals and things of that nature. And I know that I’m of the generation that complains about the younger group, about them needing to focus more on doing X, Y, and Z, and it will continue on down the line.
I think that it’s way more communicative now. I just think that with all the social networks and things that you can do to stay in touch with your players — unfortunately I don’t think people talk as much anymore. I don’t think there’s many personal conversations. I don’t think there’s as many phone calls. I think we react quite often through text messaging and things of that nature, and I don’t think that’s for the better.
However, I just think it’s the environment, and if you don’t learn how to communicate with young people in the way that they are most comfortable, then you’re going to lose them.
There’s a ton of changes. It’s a completely different game and you can’t expect young people with tons of money to show the same maturity that you would have from a young person or a veteran player that was making $12,000 a year and working at JCPenney’s selling slacks in the off-season and making ends meet. It’s just a different environment.
Brad Ausmus, Detroit Tigers: Yeah, there’s definitely been a change. I think a lot of it is media-driven. Social media has changed a lot of it. So I think there’s a lot more focus I think because of that media environment and I’m the manager. So I would say yes, the answer, is it’s changed.
Robin Ventura, Chicago White Sox: Yeah, the more technology, the more you’re dealing with that. I think you have video. Guys get video. You’re dealing with just the suddenness and the impact of a social media that creates a different element for a player.
For me, it doesn’t — that part doesn’t matter as much, but players care about that stuff. They’re younger players, and they’re coming up at a different age of how technology was created in their lifetime. At a younger age, it’s all about they want instant gratification or instant news or instant feedback. It becomes a little bit different.
Mike Scioscia, Anaheim Angels: I hope not. I think a manager is a manager.
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.