11/13/2013 12:50 P.M. ET
Hurdle, Francona have winning personalities
Manager of the Year winners succeed by being honest and open with players
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Clint Hurdle and Terry Francona are reminders that, above all else, it's a people business. To spend five minutes with either of them is to understand their magic. Every manager can learn important lessons from them.
First, they have the ability to convince you that the five minutes they're spending with you is the best five minutes of their day. Virtually every player who has played for them will tell you the same thing.
2013 MANAGERS OF THE YEAR
How do they do this? Since not every manager has the same knack, it can't be that easy, even though it seems so simple.
Players will tell you that Hurdle and Francona care about them as people and that they care about their families, too, that they see players as something more than numbers on a spreadsheet.
They'll tell you both men are honest, and that every player knows where he stands. Every decision -- even tough ones -- is made based on what's best for the team. Players must buy into this simple concept.
Beyond all the strategy and all the tough decisions a manager must make, Hurdle and Francona have an essential decency that plays well over a season that can run nine months or more.
This ability to lead, to get players to buy into the concept of a team and to give a good effort every single day is the most critical aspect of managing in this era when analytics can provide a manager with many of the basics of preparing a team for a game.
Jim Leyland's players remember how he touched bases with them almost every single day. He would ask about the family. He would make small talk. Sometimes, he would say nothing at all.
Leyland simply walked up, smiled and hung around to see if the player had anything on his mind. If those small gestures didn't mean all that much at the time, players would eventually come to understand their significance.
They kept the lines of communication open, and because of that, there simply was no reason for grudges or unhappiness. Leyland was always there to hear a guy out.
Remember how some poked fun at Tommy Lasorda for all those hugs and laughs, for those raucous clubhouse meetings and the atmosphere around the Dodgers?
There was a method to Lasorda's madness. He understood the important part of his job maybe more than any other manager ever has. He believed that if his players felt good about themselves, if they trusted their teammates and they really did believe there was something special about playing for the Dodgers, that they were more likely to play hard and be a good teammate and be productive.
In the end, it's not just about lineups and defensive alignments and bullpen matchups. Those things are as important as ever, but managing has changed in some fundamental ways the past decade. Most front offices can supply a manager with data to assist with lineups, etc. What no amount of data can do is replace the human touch and its impact on winning baseball.
Hurdle was named the National League Manager of the Year on Tuesday after leading the Pirates to their first postseason appearance in 21 years. He began building toward this moment when he took the job after the 2010 season and communicated the same message to players and fans alike.
Hurdle told them that what had been acceptable previously in terms of sloppy play and a lack of accountability would no longer be acceptable. He asked every player if they believed the Pirates could be great again.
Hurdle wanted to hear them say it and to gauge whether they believed it. Had they come to accept that losing was the norm in Pittsburgh?
So many things have happened in Pittsburgh that it would be a mistake to assign the credit to one man. General manager Neal Huntington did his part in assembling a terrific roster and constructing a first-rate organization.
But on the ground floor, there was Hurdle, with his booming voice and his large presence, selling the gospel of the Pirates to every single person he met.
When Hurdle accepted the job, he moved his entire family to Pittsburgh. He didn't want to just manage the baseball team. He wanted to be part of the community, to see it and touch it and feel it.
Last season, as the Pirates rolled toward the postseason, Hurdle would see kids at schools wearing Pirates gear again, once more proud of the local team. He knew things had changed.
Francona did the same thing in his first season with the Indians. He told his players he believed in them, and he never wavered. He was honest and consistent and rock solid. Early in the season, when the Indians were playing terribly, he called a brief meeting to say that, losing aside, he believed in them more than ever because he appreciated the effort through tough times. Francona knew his guys were not accepting losing.
"You know what that kind of thing does for you?" Indians leadoff man Michael Bourn said. "It just makes you feel good. It makes you want to play for this guy."
Bourn spoke these words during a losing streak. As music played and players yelled at one another in the clubhouse, Bourn smiled.
"See what I mean?" he said.
This stuff can't come from just the manager, but the manager is where it starts.
Francona was named the American League Manager of the Year on Tuesday, and while he and Hurdle got the hardware, they'd be the first to tell you that plenty of managers do similar things.
John Farrell changed the environment in Boston by being demanding, consistent, honest and open. From the beginning of Spring Training, the Red Sox knew their guy had their back and that all they had to do was play hard and be accountable to one another.
Joe Maddon's guys show up at the ballpark each day not knowing if they'll hit first or ninth, or whether they'll be in the lineup at all. But they buy in because they trust their guy to do the right thing and to see things maybe they can't see.
There's no better example of this than the Orioles trading for Chris Davis and then their manager, Buck Showalter, beginning the process of restoring Davis' confidence and eventually getting a great player in return.
In Ron Washington and Ned Yost, in Mike Matheny and Buddy Black and Bruce Bochy, it's amazing how different styles can get similar results. What's eerily similar is how all their players believe in them and trust them and bust their tails for them.
Hurdle and Francona would be a good place to start for Bryan Price and Matt Williams and all the other first-time managers in 2014. There'll be good times and bad, but honesty, consistency and effort never take a day off. That's the overriding message for the 2013 Managers of the Year. They both did it right.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.