Experience doesn't always count for managers
Gibson, Maddon show value when teams hire outside the box
There was no doubt that Kirk Gibson and Joe Maddon would win the Manager of the Year awards, none whatsoever. The fellow expansionite D-backs and Rays had remarkable seasons that exceeded any preseason expectation, and the varied leadership skill sets possessed by Gibson and Maddon brought their respective teams to the postseason.
Gibson was an outside-the-box choice by D-backs president Derrick Hall to replace A.J. Hinch in June 2010. Maddon has, of course, always lived outside the box and turned out to be the perfect hire in Tampa Bay in 2006. While he had two stints as interim Angels manager in 1996 and '99 that totaled 61 games, his only other interview for a Major League job was with the Red Sox in 2004 -- ironic since Maddon's Rays finished ahead of Terry Francona's Red Sox three of the past four years.
The runners-up were Milwaukee's Ron Roenicke and Detroit's Jim Leyland. Roenicke just finished his first year with the Brewers, hired after years as a coach under Mike Scioscia; he had managed six years in the Dodgers and Giants organizations, but had never managed a Major League game. It seems hard to believe considering the fact that he's won two pennants, one World Series championship and 1,588 games, but like Roenicke and Gibson, Leyland had never managed a Major League game when he took over the Pirates in 1986 and eventually led them to three consecutive first-place finishes.
Actually, Leyland came close to managing the Houston Astros, but general manager Dick Wagner chose Hal Lanier and told Leyland he didn't like the way he was dressed for his interview. Apparently, George Hamilton wasn't available.
Wagner's superficiality is hardly unique when it comes to background on potential managerial hires. Some owners speak of the future, then dwell on the past. Experience. Boston ownership would not commit to Dale Sveum because of his lack of Major League experience, which consisted of 12 games with the 2008 Brewers when he replaced Ned Yost with two weeks left in the season. Sveum got into the playoffs.
An experienced name is what some media members cried for, citing Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Joe Morgan, Dick Williams and Earl Weaver. Of course, in reality, La Russa managed parts of two seasons in the Minor Leagues before getting the White Sox job in 1979. He went on to win the American League West in 1983, then retired this October with three world championships and the third-most wins of any manager in baseball history. Weaver, of course, took over from Hank Bauer in 1968 without managing a Major League game; had the Orioles stuck with the notion of the experienced name, Bauer would have been retained and Weaver wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame. Sparky Anderson had never managed above Double-A when he got the Reds job in 1970, and went on to three world championships and a spot in Cooperstown. Tommy Lasorda's Major League experience was nil when he took over the Dodgers in 1976; he's in the Hall of Fame. Ozzie Guillen had never managed when he was hired by the White Sox in 2004 and won the World Series a year later.
This month, the Cardinals hired Mike Matheny and the White Sox hired Robin Ventura, neither of whom had managed any place, any time. In both cases, their character was their credibility, their stature part of their resume. They have Dave Duncan and Don Cooper to run the pitching staffs. They have bench coaches. They have coaches, period, and their organizations appreciate how important coaches are, how hard they work.
Some ownerships and organizations never get what it means to have a staff of credible, industrious and loyal coaches who can teach; one CEO constantly reminded his coaches that they were overpaid, receiving too much credit and not enough of the blame. Of course, in contrast to the NFL, baseball tries to cut costs in minute ways, so Major League coaches are paid a fraction of the minimum players' salaries and Vanderbilt's Derek Johnson is the sixth-highest-paid pitching coach in the game.
The Cubs will now get Sveum, and the Red Sox have asked Ben Cherington and his front office to find an alternative. Now, had the Cubs and Red Sox both offered Sveum the job on Wednesday, chances are he would have taken the Chicago job. What many in Red Sox Nation don't understand is that while "Sweet Caroline" may be quaint and pink hats are still occasionally fashionable, much of the industry does not view the Red Sox as baseball's most beloved franchise. Theo Epstein and Francona won two World Series in four years after the 86-year itch before leaving, worn down by the constant scrutiny involved with the market.
Organizations that function best have everyone working together, manager and coaches with development and scouting and front-office people. No, this is not for clichemongers suggesting lineups are sent down by MIT interns, it is common-sense business in an industry that in the good old days required little business sense. Mark Shapiro always ran the Indians with his manager, Eric Wedge or Manny Acta, as his partner. They are not separate, but as Billy Beane always says, one is called "general manager" and one is called "manager" for a reason ... a good reason.
Baseball should be more like the NFL in terms of paying coaches (assistants?) good money and allowing the manager to manage and coordinate the staff. Arizona did that; Kirk Gibson assembled one of the best coaching staffs in the sport and today is NL Manager of the Year. Ditto Maddon, whose imagination, creativity, staff leadership and people skills are those of a Silicon Valley visionary.
Some want experienced names, grasping at the past while allowing the barnicles to build up on the hull and slowing progress. Others see the landscape, and an issue facing the Red Sox is that two of the organizations that see the landscape are the Yankees and the Rays.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.