This past week, the Mets named Carlos Beltran as their manager for the 2020 season. And a lot of Mets fans are, shall we say, not pleased.
“He’s inexperienced,” they say.
“He’s got no track record!”, they complain.
“HE TOOK A CURVEBALL FOR A CALLED THIRD STRIKE TO LOSE THE 2006 NLCS AND HE SHOULD ROT IN HELL!” cries the 40-something with a potbelly who hasn’t played competitive baseball since the Reagan administration.
(Point of order: I was super-pissed at Beltran for years over that, like most Mets fans. I’ll own that. But, as I’ve said before, one play does not win or lose an entire series.)
This leads us to an all-important question: how crucial is experience in a good manager? And, to appease said 40-somethings; how important is postseason success?
My opinion: not very, and totally irrelevant.
The Washington Nationals won a championship a week ago with a second-year manager – Dave Martinez – at the helm.
Joe Girardi – the #1 choice of the vast majority of Mets fans to succeed Mickey Callaway – managed the Florida Marlins in 2006 and was in his second year managing the Yankees when they won the World Series in 2009.
Willie Randolph was a second-year manager with the Mets when they made it to the seventh game of the aforementioned 2006 NLCS.
More important than an impressive resume is this: can the manager be a unifying presence to a team?
A “team” is just that; a TEAM. Every successful team that I’ve ever played on has had the common factor of some sort of unifying presence. Sometimes it’s a slogan, sometimes it’s an experience, and sometimes it’s a meddling owner (see also: Major League). But a team needs to be a TEAM, in every sense of the word. A player needs to know and trust the guys around him to play at his best.
A shortstop isn’t going to make that great play in the hole and the whirling, back-foot, off-balance throw to first unless he trusts the first baseman to bail him out if he makes a bad throw.
A hitter isn’t going to take a chance swinging at a 1-1 backdoor slider unless he knows that the hitter behind him will pick him up if he strikes out.
A pitcher won’t take the chance bouncing that 0-2 curveball with a runner on second unless he knows the catcher will knock it down and keep the runner from advancing.
Knowing – and trusting – your teammates makes the difference between a losing team and a winning team.
That trust is the all-important “chemistry” that everyone hears about, but doesn’t have a column on baseball-reference.com. Team chemistry is both the least tangible and most important ingredient to successful teams.
If you don’t believe me, look no further than last week. The Washington Nationals, a 93-win Wild Card team, won the World Series with a solid team, excellent pitching, and strong defense, but also without Bryce Harper. You won’t convince me that Harper – who once got into a fistfight with fellow hothead Jonathan Papelbon in the dugout during a game (see also: Major League 2) wasn’t a negative factor in the Washington clubhouse in all of the years that they would have good, talented teams that just couldn’t seem to win in the postseason. I really feel that those other Nationals teams were good teams not because of Harper, but in spite of him.
So where does the manager fit in?
That’s a tough question. In today’s game, with the personalities, egos, and talents that are involved on every team, the manager has to get all
25 26 players on the roster to buy into the idea that the team is more important than they are. That’s no small feat.
The fading veteran has to pinch-hit and spot-start for a talented rookie as he loses a step in the field.
The closer starts pitching in the 7th inning down 2 runs until he finds his breaking ball again.
Two second basemen have to share playing time because one can’t hit lefties and one doesn’t have good range.
The 4th outfielder only gets to start twice a week because he’s a Gold Glove defender but a .240 hitter.
All of the players involved are being asked to make sacrifices in their own careers – and take shots to their own egos – for the greater good of the team. If not handled properly, this creates resentment and erodes the trust and chemistry of a team. And the manager has to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The manager’s job is to manage the game, yes. He has to know how to fill out the lineup card and give the right one to the umpire (see also: Mickey Callaway). He has to know how to execute the double-switch. He has to know the rules of the game, which plays are reviewable, and when he’s got an argument with the umpires.
However, his primary job is to manage the players.
He has to know which relievers need three batters to warm up and which need three pitches. Or, he needs to know that his starter has trouble working through the third time in the lineup because he doesn’t trust his changeup. Maybe his rookie third baseman is making off-line throws to first because he doesn’t think he’s a good defender. Sometimes, his backup outfielder/first baseman struggles with pinch-hitting because he thinks he should be starting. These are all examples of things that directly affect a player’s performance, but don’t show up in the stat lines. Managers need to be aware of them and work with his players accordingly.
But most importantly, a manager’s job is to get his players to trust him. They need to believe that he’s making the decisions that he’s making for the good of the team.
Oh – I almost forgot: Playing pedigree.
With 595 wins, a .588 winning percentage, and a World Series title, Davey Johnson is the most successful manager in Mets history.
Davey Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles flew out to Cleon Jones to end the 1969 World Series. Who did the Orioles lose to? The New York Mets.
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