Call it the Larry Dierker Effect. The success of the Astros' manager, who has led Houston to three division titles since vaulting from the broadcast booth to the dugout before the 1997 season, has made it safe for talking heads to dream of trading in their headsets for skippers' caps. Last week two more Fourth Estaters made the jump when the Diamondbacks and the Blue Jays tabbed their TV color men, Bob Brenly and Buck Martinez, respectively. Can commissioner Vin Scully be far behind?
Actually, the hiring of broadcasters is part of a more encouraging trend: the breakdown of the old-boy managerial network. For the first time in recorded history Rene Lache-man and Jim Lefebvre were not candidates for the openings. Of the six skippers introduced last week, four—Brenly, Martinez, the Pirates' Lloyd McClendon and the Dodgers' Jim Tracy—have no major league managing experience. Of the other two, the Phillies' Larry Bowa managed the Padres for a season and a half (career record: 81-127) but hasn't been in the hot seat since 1988, and the Reds' Bob Boone, who guided the Royals to a 181-206 record from 1995 to '97, was hired only after would-be rookies Willie Randolph and Ron Oester rejected Cincinnati's skinflint offers.
Why have baseball's hidebound front offices become so daring? Reason number one: As every want-ad reader knows, salary is commensurate with experience. New guys work cheap. Brenly's three-year, $2 million contract is the most lucrative of the new lot. Compare that with the recent re-signings of the Giants' Dusty Baker (two years, $5.3 million), the Mariners' Lou Piniella (three years, $7 million) and the Mets' Bobby Valentine (three years, $7.95 million). The veterans on the market—Jim Fregosi, Davey Johnson, Buck Showalter—would have commanded similar windfalls. It's no coincidence that four teams with new managers, the Phillies, the Reds, the Blue Jays and the Pirates, ranked in the bottom half of the 2000 payroll standings.
Brenly, McClendon and Tracy are in their 40s. Bowa, at 54, is the oldest of the six. The hope is that younger skippers will mesh with today's players. That means the managers will be expected to be flexible and New Agey. At press conferences last week, the word communicate was thrown around more than at a marriage counseling session. "I've known Jim for eight years," said Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone of Tracy. "He's a communicator." Said Pittsburgh general manager Cam Bonifay, "We felt the manager's primary function is to communicate and motivate our players."
Such bonding will mean nothing unless the team wins. Over the last six years 14 skippers started a season with no previous big league experience; only seven are still with the same clubs. That kind of stat can make a guy long for the security of the broadcast booth.