Major league managers listen up. This is your last chance. This is it.
The 60-game season that is about to hatch is your last chance to prove your real worth. You can’t continue to be puppets. Front office power-brokers have taken everything away from you. Your ability to make the lineup. Your in-game decision-making. Your individuality. Your gut instincts.
Your managerial dignity.
In many ways you are just a figurehead now. You are a facilitator. But you already know that and so does the rest of the world. Still, there are only 30 of these jobs – major league manager – so you will give up most of your power to be able to be hold onto the position and be referred to as a manager when the truth is that the only thing you manage are orders from above.
Can you imagine someone like Billy Martin trying to manage in today’s game? That thought crossed my mind as I began to read the new book Billy Ball: Billy Martin and the Resurrection of the Oakland A’s by Dale Tafoya.
Baseball is so different now. We all know that. I did not say better, I said different. It’s all about numbers. Big swings and launch angles, exit velo and max pitching effort. Nuances of the game have been all but eliminated.
The nerds call the shots based on information that has been collected and studied. Why am saying this is the last chance for managers? Because in a 60-game season, all bets are off.
You cannot put your total trust in information that is based on a 162-game schedule this year. This season in a sprint, not a marathon, there is no room for error or counting on players to come around and do their usual numbers thing with the usual high number of strikeouts.
You can’t wait.
This year, more than any other, gut decisions will be needed. Will they be made? Will teams have the courage to actually let their managers manage?
Put pressure on the opponent. Get back to playing baseball, not another weekend showcase. Do the little things. Execute. Take advantage of your surroundings. Get out of the box once in a while and bust a triple. And with no fans in the stands you have to create your own team energy.
Taking the temperature in this Covid Era is not just about physically taking a player’s temperature.
No, there will have to be all kinds of information weighed to make a decision and a manager who is close to the situation, who knows exactly where his players are at mentally and trusts their abilities, will be needed more than ever.
Yes, the F-word is important to the game these days.
No, not that F-word. Fundamentals.
Billy and The Boss liked all kinds of F-words
Teams that execute will win more than ever in this shortened season and maybe come from nowhere to make it interesting. Nearly every team has a chance. Teams that come out strong will have a tremendous advantage. That means managers who best read the situation – who put the pressure on the other team – will be more important than ever, more important than the guy standing on the top step digesting numbers and pre-game scripts sent from above.
Having the most talent makes you a better manager. Especially over 162 games. Over 60 games, when the right buttons are pushed, your team will gain a leg up on the competition. Ride the hot hand. Don’t be afraid to take a gamble.
That’s why it is so important this year for mind-controlling front offices to let the good managers manage. Rely on their ability to read the situation.
Let a Kevin Cash in Tampa or an Aaron Boone in New York, a third-generation baseball lifer, do his thing at Yankee Stadium. Same goes for Joe Maddon in his new gig with with the Angels or the underrated Craig Counsell in Milwaukee.
It’s going to be fascinating to watch young Luis Rojas get off the ground as manager of the Mets. Felipe Alou’s son has a special feel for the game and Brodie Van Wagenen & Co. need to let him manage and not micro manage every situation. The stakes are high for BVW with a new owner coming around the corner. The only chance he has to survive is to win big this year and that means giving up some control to the manager. The Mets are already down Noah Syndergaard and let Zack Wheeler walk away to the Phillies and another good manager in Joe Girardi.
This season has to be managed like the postseason from the start and all the way through the 60 games. The Nationals won the World Championship last year because they got hot at the right time and Dave Martinez wisely used his starters in a variety of ways in the postseason. That creativity will be needed in the 60-game season as well.
Interestingly enough, that was something Jack McKeon did as manager of the Marlins in 2003 when they beat the Yankees in six games for the World Series title. McKeon was taken on as a special advisor last season by Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo and built a trusting relationship with Martinez.
McKeon will turn 90 in November, but this game has kept him young. He has the energy of a man half his age. He understands how important a role the manager will play in this crazy 2020.
“I think you have to be on top of things,” McKeon told BallNine. “I see a trend today where the manager is less important than he used to be because you are dealing with analytics and front office people now are coming down dictating who to play, how many innings this guy should play. Who should do this. Who should do that. It’s gotten to the point where there’s no more gut feeling or knowing your personnel, being with them in the dugout and knowing what makes them tick as compared to sitting upstairs and saying, ‘Well we should do this. We should do that.’
“They don’t know the emotional side of the player down on the field.”
McKeon managed 16 years in the majors for five different teams. Trader Jack was a GM as well so he knows it from both sides. He also spent a lifetime managing in the minors and managed in the winter leagues.
Jack McKeon has seen it all, but not a season like 2020.
“On the field it’s a different world,” McKeon said. “You have to know what the players are going through, the mental state of the players and this year, with everything that is going on, you really have to see where the players are at mentally. This year I see so many players wondering if they should play or they shouldn’t play. In my opinion that’s going to translate into how much intensity they have for the game in this 60-game period. To me the 60 games is like an exhibition season.’’
The season is going to be over before you know it. So let a good young manager like Rocco Baldelli take control with the Twins or veteran manager Bob Melvin with the A’s, Bud Black in Colorado and Dave Roberts with the Dodgers. David Bell, another third generation player, has an interesting Reds team. Over in Cleveland it’s always fun to watch Terry Francona work.
There will be not as much time to allow a player to find his groove like in a standard 162-game season. Every day is now or never. Egos must be put aside as much as you can with this generation.
As another former manager told me, “In a 60-game season we will see what managers have the guts to force the action. Make things happen.’’
Yes we will.
That’s why it will be fascinating to watch an old pro like Dusty Baker work his psychological magic with the talented – but hated by the rest of the baseball world – Astros. Will Baker be able to guide them back to the postseason or will it all just blow up?
Welcome to small sample size baseball.
This year a computer is not going to have all the answers. This year managers will be on the spot from the first pitch of the season and they need to have their act together and keep it going. One long losing streak may finish a team.
A manager who can inspire and even irritate a bit will make a big difference this season.
Come to think of it, a manager like Billy Martin. To get the most out of players quickly, managers will not have the luxury of time to allow players to find their comfort zone. By then it might be too late.
Bob Lacey, an A’s reliever in 1980, explained in Billy Ball what approach Martin took with the team to keep control. “He was the best manager I’ve ever played for, but Bronco Billy would ride the wild player on the team to calm him down so other horses in the stall would see and fall back,” Lacey said.
Of course times are much different now. Managers will not have time this year to allow any part of the game get away from them or to let one player run wild and ruin a team. If the “star” isn’t hitting, you might have to sit him down a bit.
Managers must build that team confidence so it will be important to put runs on the board early, anyway they can and not just sit back and wait for the three-run home run. Beat the shift, move runners along. Score any way you can score. Unless of course, Rob Manfred decides to use that SuperBall once again this season.
Managers like Aaron Boone might get to actually use some gut instincts this season
Get an edge. Take more chances on the bases and that means there should be more hit and runs and even stolen bases if players are capable of buying into the concept of playing baseball and not just another night of Home Run Derby.
This is a sprint and not just in the amount of games played.
“Good baseball managers, the ones that are left, will win some games this year because of the shortness of the season,” one long-time scout told me. “It’s funny how the length of our season takes away the importance of the gut instinct. ‘It’s a long season, you have to go with the analytics.’ But in a short series, the gut instincts are allowed to play by good managers.”
It’s up to you managers, show some guts.
Keep the nerd script in this 60-game season but also evaluate on the ground. For a change, it’s all on the line every game.
In 2020, managers are important again.