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Do Plus-Fours Amooose You
The subject of recycled coaches has become a hot-button issue in the NBA these days, particularly after the fireworks in Golden State between Latrell Sprewell and his recycled coach, P.J. Carlesimo. Against all odds, baseball, where the coaching carousel once spun nonstop, might have learned a lesson. All four major league teams with job openings this winter passed over unemployed big-name skippers like Davey Johnson, Cito Gaston, Jim Fregosi and Kevin Kennedy in favor of little-known candidates: The Toronto Blue Jays hired Tim Johnson, the Baltimore Orioles selected Ray Miller, the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays chose Larry Rothschild, and the Chicago White Sox went with the jaw-dropping choice of Jerry Manuel. Only the 52-year-old Miller, who went 109-130 with the Twins in 1985 and '86, has managed in the bigs.
The four new skippers share certain traits: They have low-impact personalities, can communicate with players and the media and are likely to create a warm and fuzzy atmosphere in the clubhouse. They may be short on big league bench experience, but as one National League executive says, "Running a game is not the most important quality in a manager." Three of the four—Manuel, Miller and Rothschild—worked under the archetypical modern manager, the Florida Marlins' Jim Leyland. (Manuel and Rothschild, both of whom are 43, were with the Marlins last season as bench coach and pitching coach, respectively, while Miller was Leyland's pitching coach in Pittsburgh in 1996.) Tim Johnson, 48, is fluent in Spanish and, in five years as a minor league manager, has built a reputation for being accessible to his players.
Each member of the managerial class of 1998 is also a good organization man. That could mean that each is more likely to be influenced by his bosses than a more experienced manager would be. Miller has already agreed to have lunch with Orioles owner Peter Angelos a few times a month to, as he says, "kick around" what's happening on the field. Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash explained his reluctance to hire Davey Johnson by saying he "wanted a manager who was going to be here a while and grow with the club. I didn't get that feeling from Davey."
The newcomers' salaries are relatively low—Miller's two-year, $1.4 million deal in Baltimore is the most lucrative of the lot—and that can't be overlooked as a factor in the hirings. Even so, the new ponies on the managerial merry-go-round are a welcome change. As Blue Jays chairman Sam Pollock asked last week, "Who is anybody till they get a chance?"
Gretzky to Gartner
Until Sunday night Mike Gartner of the Phoenix Coyotes was known primarily as one of the NHL's fastest skaters—he won the fastest-skater competition at the 1990 and '93 All-Star Games—and for being president of the NHL players' union. But when he wristed in a goal at 10:41 of the first period against the Detroit Red Wings, he became known as something else: an immortal.
Well, maybe that's a little strong. But only four other players in NHL history have scored 700, and their names are Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Marcel Dionne and Phil Esposito. But Gartner would gladly trade it all for one sip from the Stanley Cup—he has appeared in more games without winning a championship than any other active player.