SI Vault
Ron Fimrite
April 13, 1981
A manager may have many talents—molder of men, master tactician, super psychologist—but the only thing he's sure to be is a goner
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 13, 1981

He's Hired To Be Fired

A manager may have many talents—molder of men, master tactician, super psychologist—but the only thing he's sure to be is a goner

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

Some observers believe that a third of the games a team wins in a season will be won regardless of anything the manager does, and a third will be lost regardless. A third will be up for grabs, and these are the ones the manager can win or lose. Robinson doesn't subscribe to this view. "A manager is much more important than any numbers," he says. "A manager has some influence on every game played. First of all, he's responsible for preparing his team to play. He makes out the lineup card, which determines who will play. He makes important decisions throughout the game, not just in the eighth or ninth innings."

Says Dodger skipper Tommy Lasorda, "A manager probably makes more decisions in the course of one game than a businessman makes in an entire week."

"The three things you need to be a good manager," says the Cardinals' Herzog, "are players, a sense of humor and, most important, a good bullpen. If I've got those three things, I assure you I'll get along with the press and I guarantee you I'll make the Hall of Fame. A manager doesn't necessarily win games, but he can lose a lot of games. If you make all the right moves and your bullpen isn't worth a damn, you're not any good anyway. If the bullpen is good, you're a genius." Herzog felt the lack of an outstanding reliever was one of the main reasons his Royals lost three straight Championship Series to the Yankees. If he reaches the playoffs with the Cardinals, he'll have Bruce Sutter, an off-season acquisition from the Cubs. A reliever of Sutter's caliber can make any manager a genius—if the manager uses him correctly.

Philadelphia's Dallas Green proved himself to be an excellent handler of pitchers last year, and that probably had more to do with the Phillies' winning the division, pennant and World Series than his prodigious ranting and raving. A former pitcher, Green was particularly adept at giving his relievers the proper balance of rest and work. "Dallas did a great job for a rookie manager. It was comparable to what Gil Hodges did when I was with the Mets," says Reliever Tug McGraw. "And I've always felt that Gil handled a pitching staff as well as any manager I've ever seen."

The manager's responsibilities fall roughly into five categories: 1) picking the players. 2) motivating the players, 3) game strategy. 4) public relations, and 5) "relating" to his team. Player selection isn't limited to the starting lineup. It involves judicious use of all 25 men on the roster, an aspect of the job in which today's finest managers—Earl Weaver of the Orioles, Billy Martin of the A's, Chuck Tanner of the Pirates, Dick Williams of the Expos—excel. "Earl's best quality isn't so much knowing the game of baseball and making the right moves," says Baltimore Third Baseman Doug DeCinces, "but the fact that he knows his personnel and knows how to get the best out of 25 men. He knows how to put the best 25 men together."

Mauch, who tied a record by not winning any kind of championship in 21 years of managing, was often criticized for his obsessive platooning. Weaver and Williams don't always platoon in the classic Mauchian lefty-righty sense, but each makes more extensive use of his bench than Mauch did his. Both keep voluminous statistics, which tell them who should play against whom.

"I don't believe in the 'book,' " says Williams. "I've got my own book. These statistics tell me everything I want to know: how often a player has sacrificed or failed to sacrifice, how many times with a man on second and none out he has failed to advance the runner, how many times he has missed a sign. I've got charts that show the direction of every ball hit by every player we've played, so you know how to shift the defense."

Weaver, the dean of big league skippers, with 12½ years service for the same team, is a tactician who, while opposing overmanaging, says, "I'd rather lose by doing something. I'm not a genius. I push buttons. I just have to make sure I've got the right 25 buttons to push when the season starts." Weaver's push-button style is illustrated by two key statistics from last year. Because he likes to go for runs in bunches, the Orioles were near the bottom, 12th, in sacrifice hits and near the top, third, in pinch-hit attempts. Reserves like Gary Roenicke (.500 pinch-hitting average), John Lowenstein (.417) and Lee May (.411) helped make Baltimore the most successful pinch-hitting team in the league, with a .295 average.

In contrast to Weaver, Boston's Zimmer doesn't push many buttons. Last year the Red Sox ranked last or next to last in pinch-hit attempts, stolen-base attempts and sacrifice hits. His tactical moves largely ended when he posted the day's lineup card.

Many managers now delegate considerable authority to their pitching coaches, so much so in some instances that these once lowly subordinates have achieved the status of assistant managers. Some managers still regard themselves as pitching experts, however. Cincinnati's John McNamara, a former catcher, says, "I'm not one to judge myself, but I'd like to think handling the pitching staff is one of the things I do best." Indeed, under his stewardship the once embattled Red mound corps has gained respectability.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4