Geren soaking it all in
New A's manager learning from some of the game's greats
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The world in which Bob Geren now lives hit home while he was standing in the middle of a hotel lobby not far from Fantasyland."I have a close circle of family and friends that have shared this with me," the Athletics new manager said Tuesday afternoon, "but last night, I was standing there with John Gibbons, Ron Washington and Freddy Gonzalez. Then Manny Acta came by and that's when it sunk in that I am one of 30 guys now." Slightly more than two weeks after receiving a telephone call from A's general manager Billy Beane offering him the job of managing the American League West champions, Geren has been more of a sponge than a manager. He had a brain-picking breakfast with St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa in the East Bay. Geren took a four-hour flight from Oakland to Orlando on Sunday for the Winter Meetings, a trip that went quickly because he sat next to Karl Kuehl, a highly respected baseball official who used to work for the Athletics. Kuehl offered some advice that Geren knows will come in handy. And finally, instead of falling asleep while watching television Monday night, Geren read a book on baseball rules. Another sign of the new times occurred Tuesday afternoon when Geren, previously the A's bench coach under Ken Macha, had a roundtable discussion with reporters -- local and national. The questions came fast and furiously, asking him how the team would manage without Frank Thomas batting fourth, hitting home runs and driving in runs, or left-hander Barry Zito starting every fifth game. "There is something like 85 days until Spring Training and I know the team is not finished yet," he said. Beane and assistant GM David Forst "are not done putting the team together. So, we'll have to wait and see." History says the Athletics should be just fine without Thomas, who hit 39 home runs and drove in 114 runs for the team last season as the designated hitter. And Zito was the staff ace, winning 16 games for the division champions. There is a good chance that the Athletics will sign Mike Piazza as the designated hitter and a healthy Rich Harden would help make up for the loss of Zito. Harden started just nine games last season, posting a 4-0 record. His 30-16 career record and 3.67 ERA put him in staff-ace territory. "If you replace Barry with Rich, you have a pretty comparable staff," Geren said. "Rich finished the season at 100 percent and didn't feel anything after that. I talked to him after the season and he said he feels great." For the most part, the team that won the AL West returns next season.
Meanwhile, Geren spends most of his time on the mental aspect of his job, making darn sure he's as prepared as he possibly can be when pitchers and catchers report to spring camp in Phoenix on Feb. 16."One thing that stood out during the breakfast I had with Tony, which was a great experience, was he talked about constantly working ahead of the game so the game doesn't get too quick," Geren said. "He talked about 'what if' and how to use it in your normal thinking process. I understood what he meant." The best managers have the ability to plan ahead -- one, two or three innings ahead. "I would do that in the Minor Leagues," Geren said, "but the game is so much faster at this level and you have to stay ahead." The extended conversation he had on the plane with Kuehl also had an "always-remember-this" moment. "He ran the A's system for many years and I consider him a legend," Geren said. "One thing he said that really stands out is that I would dive into this job so deep that it was important to make sure to have time for other things to stay balanced. "He said it would be best for me and my family to do things that would take my mind off baseball. That is great advice and I have a million hobbies. I love to snow ski, water ski, play golf, surf and even go bowling. I can always find something to do." The will be times when the pressure to win becomes overwhelming -- OK, most of the time -- and Geren said it's important to create an environment "where the players like to come to the field every day." And when they get there, there is only one rule they must follow: Be professional. "In the four years I have been here, there are not a lot of rules as far as how high to wear your pants or how short their hair must be," he said. "This is a group of players that play hard, play the game right and conduct themselves as professionals. We've had little problem with that." And what can the players expect from their new manager? "I am pretty aggressive," he said. "I like to push every day. Whether that relates into stolen bases depends on the personnel. But that has always been my thing as a manager." While he can no longer have the same buddy-buddy relationship that a coach can have with the players, there was another piece of advice Kuehl gave that will come in handy. "He told me, 'What you don't want is for players to say that as a coach, he was great, but as a manager he doesn't talk to us the same,' " Geren said. He said to make sure you have the time, or make the time, to talk to the players."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.