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Best of the Bosses
Peter Gammons
May 02, 1988
Managing a baseball team requires diligence, diplomacy and dynamism. Here's our ranking of the most skillful skippers
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May 02, 1988

Best Of The Bosses

Managing a baseball team requires diligence, diplomacy and dynamism. Here's our ranking of the most skillful skippers

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Managing is simple," says St. Louis Cardinals skipper Whitey Herzog. "You pick out your best players and try to get them out there in their positions as often as possible." Herzog, with six division titles to his credit, is being modest. Managing a baseball team is probably the most difficult field command in all of sport. A manager must be capable of judging talent and have the backbone to stand by his judgment when the front office has different views. He has to assemble the right mix of personnel and have his team physically and mentally ready to play every day. Juggling a pitching staff is an art, and handling the press—especially in competitive media markets—can be treacherous. The vagaries of managing fall into five general areas, and how successful a manager is over the years depends upon how well he masters these five.

PEOPLE MANAGEMENT

"It's a people business," says Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland, "and you'd better start with being honest, because you just can't snow players."

As personalities differ, so do the ways in which managers relate to their players. Dick Williams of the Seattle Mariners remains aloof and treats his charges like inmates on a chain gang. But, says Bill Virdon, former manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Montreal Expos, "It works for him because the players know he's honest."

The Los Angeles Dodgers' Tom Lasorda interacts with his players in another manner, with a blend of cheerleading and fatherly scolding. "There's a dangerously thin line between having the presence of being the boss and still having some relationship with the players," says Virdon. "But a manager's got to have it."

Leyland, who's beginning only his third season as a major league skipper, believes a manager must conduct himself in a way that earns his players' respect. "You have to maintain discipline on the team," says Leyland, "and it has to start with the manager, personally and professionally."

Billy Martin, who's in his fifth tour of duty with the Yankees, has presided over remarkable turnarounds with the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Oakland A's and Yankees. As a result, many experts regard him as the finest one-year manager of all time. But Martin's lack of personal discipline—e.g., brawling with pitcher Ed Whitson in a Baltimore hotel—has prevented him from joining that elite group of managers whose stature remains undiminished even in off-years.

"Sometimes you can't put your finger on what makes a manager successful," says Detroit's Sparky Anderson. "Some guys have that something that makes them leaders of men. Tom Trebelhorn [of the Milwaukee Brewers] is one of those guys. He's simply got it. And who would have known before he got the chance to work in the big leagues?"

Trebelhorn, who is in his second full season with the Brewers and is a substitute math and physics teacher during the off-season, is like the professor you never forget. "Ballplayers respond to him the way students do," says Milwaukee general manager Harry Dalton.

Still, as Martin, Williams and others have demonstrated, a manager need not be beloved by his players to be successful. Whatever approach he may take toward the members of his team, the important thing is that his approach yields results. As Oakland's Tony La Russa says, "If you can't get them to play hard, you're in trouble."

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