Baseball managers are peculiar people. Put it another way, it takes a peculiar person to crave all the aggravation, to be willing to pass up the credit for a team's successes and accept the blame for its failures and shortcomings, and to put up with the second-guessers. Going in, the odds are all against him—24 teams, one champion, 23 to 1. Unless he has fooled himself he has to realize it's a high-risk occupation. He has to know that the only thing definite when he starts out is that sooner or later he'll be fired. There aren't many Walter Alstons in this business.
It has always been my belief that an effective manager is one who keeps a low silhouette, one who runs a team and a game without anyone noticing he's doing it—though it rarely worked that way for me. Some managers I've played for or observed might not agree at all. Leo Durocher's silhouette was about as low as Lookout Mountain, and Leo was a great manager. I played for him, and fought for him, and fought with him, and I can say that he was a great manager when he was in New York, with guts coming out of his ears. The Durocher who managed the Cubs years later should by no means be confused with the Durocher who took the Giants to pennants in 1951 and 1954.
The cream doesn't necessarily rise to the top in baseball; the best managers aren't always the pennant winners. I think Gene Mauch is the best manager in baseball today, and he's never been on top. Why is he the best? Because he's an active manager and a great competitor, and because he can sit down with a ballplayer and say, "Now, look. I'm the best friend you've got, but you're about to lose your best friend," and reach him. And he can turn right around and tell the star of the team, "Who do you think you are? You think we can't do without you?" Players respect Mauch because he not only doesn't miss anything but the next afternoon at four he'll be out there with the player he's been on, helping him. He'll work at it 24 hours a day if he has to. He can take an individual—and this is the tough part when you realize the silly little stunts some of them pull—and block out everything that isn't positive. He can sit right there and tell a .250 hitter, "Joe, you're the best ballplayer in the league. You're great."
But Mauch can't pitch a shutout or score a run, and when the players don't do it he's the one who has to take the heat and make the necessary moves. Put himself on the spot to get his players off it. I called pitches from the bench in San Francisco when I thought it was necessary, as many as six or seven innings in a row. Nobody can blame the catcher then if something goes wrong. Scared managing detracts from the game and lessens its appeal because a game without strategies, without exciting base running, hit-and-running and stolen bases can be tedious. A scared manager will never squeeze. He'll complain that the hit-and-run is overworked and dangerous.
Branch Rickey once said that if you gave him a well-pitched game and one properly executed hit-and-run he would win most games, and I believe it. But hit-and-run plays and suicide squeezes and that kind of thing put a manager on a spot, and a scared manager won't try them. He'll say, "We'll run and hit instead. Swing if you want. Run if you want. But don't leave me any decisions." When I was with the Braves the sports-writers used to come in and ask Billy Southworth, "Was that last out a hit-and-run?" And he'd say, "Aw, no, I never call hit-and-run. It was the batter's decision."
As a shortstop I knew what the hit-and-run could do, the confusion it creates. When I was playing for the Giants, other shortstops told me our tactics kept their whole infield in a turmoil, everybody jumpy, not knowing where we were going to strike.
The point is this: you can do everything by the book day after day, but there'll come a time when you feel a need to try something unorthodox, and if it fails you're sure to be criticized. Be prepared for the roof to come down—and then make up your mind you'll pick up the pieces and try again. Never put the winning run on base? I've done it 50 times when I thought the batter was a greater threat to beat us than the man on deck. I've walked Frank Howard with two out and a man on first base and leading 1-0 just so we wouldn't have to pitch to him, and that meant putting the winning run on first. My transgressions against the book could fill a book of their own. I'm not talking about wild, harebrained, spur-of-the-moment schemes; I'm talking about things that should be considered when you're discussing the game, planning for it, talking it over at the hotel or in the clubhouse beforehand. When the situation arises, you react.
In Detroit one night when I was managing the Indians we had a right-handed relief pitcher in the game, and going pretty good. Detroit got a man on with two out, and I brought in a lefthander to pitch to the left-handed batter. I didn't want to take my righthander out of the game because he was still strong and our bullpen was depleted, so I moved him to third base and put the third baseman, whom I didn't want out of the game either, on first. The batter then hit an easy grounder to first. Perfect. All my converted third baseman had to do was field the ball. He fumbled it. The next guy tripled for the winning runs.
A risk, sure, and it didn't pan out. But it was a calculated risk. You lose some.
Sam McDowell was like a son to me but he was not one of the best fielding pitchers in baseball—and still isn't. We were playing the Senators one night, leading by a run in their half of the eighth inning. With men on second and third and two out, Frank Howard was up, followed by another strong right-hand hitter, Rick Reichardt. I couldn't afford to let Sam pitch to Howard or Reichardt because they're good fastball hitters and might just hit one out. So I brought in Dean Chance, and moved McDowell to second base. Chance intentionally walked Howard to load the bases. I had to think the chances of Reichardt hitting the ball to McDowell were nil. And sure enough Reichardt hit the ball to third—but the third baseman threw to second. To McDowell. I about croaked. It was a bad throw, too. But somehow McDowell came up with it for the forceout. In the ninth he struck out the side. You win some.