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The designated hitter rule somewhat simplifies the tricky business of removing pitchers from a game. American League managers may leave their starters in until the poor fellows either lose their effectiveness or drop from exhaustion. In the National League, a pitcher going well in a close game may get the hook if, in the manager's view, a pinch hitter might perk up the offense. This tactical challenge makes managing in the National League more attractive.
In his peregrinations across the baseball map, Martin has always had the same pitching coach, Art Fowler, who in a sense has been Martin's Sancho Panza in his tilts with authority. But Fowler is also a good judge of talent, and last year he and his boss remolded a battered and forlorn A's pitching staff. Recognizing that they were functioning with a weak bullpen, they flew in the face of convention and let their young pitchers go the distance. At a time when complete games are increasingly rare, the A's staff set a modern record of 94. And yet, because Martin used a five-man rotation, none of his starters pitched as many as 300 innings.
Martin also introduced Billy Ball to an unsuspecting public last year. When he was a skipper in Minnesota, Detroit, Texas and New York, his teams played slightly more orthodox ball. But Martin, like Weaver, is skilled at adapting his tactics to his talent. Billy Ball involves squeeze plays, double steals and swipes of home that are more dependent on guile than raw speed.
Tanner motivates the Pirates through sheer effervescence. Tanner teams, it's said, "never die in August," the dog days, because he keeps them enthused. Nevertheless, most players would prefer that a skipper spend more time "relating" to them than motivating them. "A manager has to know a player's personality," says the Phillies' Pete Rose. "You don't treat Pete Rose like you treat Larry Bowa. The manager has to have one set of rules, but everybody's an individual and should be treated accordingly. With some guys you've got to be a disciplinarian. With other guys you blow smoke."
These pleas from the clubhouse for understanding would undoubtedly have fallen on deaf ears had they been addressed to such bluff disciplinarians of baseball's antiquity as John McGraw (see box), Joe McCarthy or Bill McKechnie. The fact is, some of the respected managers of the current generation, including Rose's own, give relating and communicating a rather low priority.
"I disagree with relating to 25 guys," says Green. "I think you've got to 'handle' 25 guys. 'Relate' to me means a lot of one-on-one give and take." Indeed, Green remained an unpopular figure in the Phillies' clubhouse right up to the moment the champagne was poured. But in the process he justified his midseason declaration that, "These players need a guy who'll stay on them, who won't back down."
Williams, who won two World Series with the A's and brought Montreal home second in the NL East the last two years, is also an avowed non-relater. "I am an arrogant son of a bitch," he has said of himself. "My personality is basically horsebleep. I don't want to be their [the players'] friend. All good managers were like that 30 years ago."
There are, to be sure, some entrenched ideas about managers, and some are even true. It is true, at least right now, that most good managers were bad players. Of the 26 current managers, only six—Robinson, Howard, Martin, Joe Torre, Bill Virdon and Jim Fregosi—might be called first-rate major league players. It is not necessarily true, however, that superstars make terrible managers, a theory that Robinson will once again put to the test. And it's no longer true, if it ever was, that the best managers are catchers. There are only four former catchers managing—Torre, McNamara, Houk and Buck Rodgers of Milwaukee. Twelve are former infielders, and eight were outfielders. Green and Lasorda are the only ex-pitchers, lending credence to Jim Palmer's theory that most pitchers are too smart to manage.
Last season SPORTS ILLUSTRATED baseball correspondents were invited to nominate their choices for best and worst skippers. Those generally regarded as outstanding were Weaver, Martin, Tanner and Williams. K.C.'s Jim Frey, Virdon and Green were cited for exceptional one-year performances. Herzog, Anderson and McNamara were in the middle range. Lasorda received mixed reviews, both as a showman and a tactician. One of his former pitchers says that Lasorda is most visible during Dodger games that are nationally televised: "He'd make maybe eight trips to the mound, using whatever excuse to get out there in camera range." The managers who fared worst among the correspondents included four men who were eventually fired: Boston's Zimmer, who was censured for being unaggressive on the field; Texas' Corrales, who was cited for being controlled by "the book"; San Diego's Coleman, who was criticized for his all-around unsuitability; and San Francisco's Bristol, who ranked poorly in player relations. Another "worst" manager was Jim Fregosi of the Angels, who was faulted for fiddling too much with his lineup but being reluctant to make more than one pitching change per inning.
The top managers have what appear to be the top traits: alertness, adaptability, authority, organization and the ability to anticipate situations before they occur. Most important, all are winners. Martin is the most adept at getting himself fired, but with the A's under new ownership, he has a "long-term" contract and more responsibility over the movement of personnel than he has ever had in his stormy past. He has, in short, the opportunity to dispel his "self-destructive" image or preserve it forever.