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What Makes A Great Manager?

Stengel & HaneyFrom a conceptual standpoint, I find this question very interesting. It’s one that just about any sports radio caller could answer, and routinely does. “A great manager is a guy who does the exact opposite of what (insert name of maligned local bum here) does.” After all, nobody calls a sports radio show to praise the manager. But like a lot of questions most anyone could answer, the truth is a lot more complicated.

Or, upon research, maybe it’s not.

I could offer my own opinion here, which would be just as valuable and concrete as that of any other fan. So rather than throw platitudes and euphemisms at you, I’ll consult the experts. No less an expert than Chris Jaffe, author of Evaluating Baseball’s Managers, synthesizes what makes a great manager in one line. “The manager should handle his charges in a way that ensures they produce as much as they are capable of.” Okay then. But while I love Jaffe’s work and think his book on managers is the best one out there, I think we might be able to find even a better source.

The research of Marcus Buckingham was published in the Harvard Business Review in 2005, and if you believe that qualitative research counts as science, which I do, we can come up with a more scientific explanation than Jaffe’s. With over 80,000 surveys, and over two years of in-depth study of top performing managers, what he found, basically, is that great managers “discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.”

So there you have it. Jaffe’s analysis of baseball managers and Harvard Business Review agree. I went to such a source in what I thought might be an interesting aside, and in doing so I kind of learned that managing is managing is managing. Baseball managers, just as managers anywhere else are first managing people.

Well, that was an easy question to answer, right?

On the margins, in-game tactics matter. Bunting, pinch-hitting, platooning, knowing when and how to use your bullpen, lineup construction, using your appropriate players against particular pitchers, knowing when to offer a pitcher extra rest, and defensive positioning all matter. Some matter more than others. But the truth is that none of them matter as much as a manager’s ability to deal with the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the GM, the media, and most of all, the 25 men in the dugout.

Maybe Casey Stengel knew more than he let on when he said that the key to managing was to keep the guys who hate you away from those who are undecided.

Manager HoMErs

In this portion of our project, we’re charging ourselves with finding the 22 best eligible managers in baseball history. Things like wins and losses count. We’ll look at games over .500 and at total time at the helm. Pennants and World Series titles certainly add to one’s credentials. Those are the basics that lead to more nuanced stuff. We have to consider whether or not his teams improved when he arrived and got worse when he left. We should look at his Pythagorean record and his Pythagenpat record to see if he over-performed or under-performed what his record should have been based on runs scored and runs allowed.

And we probably need a formula for all of this. Eric often discussed his CHEWS formula for evaluating players. I discussed my MAPES formula less frequently. But we both had one. We needed one as a check against our assumptions. And we certainly needed one as a guiude when things got close. To be clear though, the formula isn’t the be-all, end-all for either of us. If it were, Jake Beckley, Gene Tenace, and Clark Griffith would likely be enshrined. Still, the formulae helped us get to a place with our players about which we’re quite proud.

So what will our manager formula look like? Well, at this point we’re not entirely sure. That’s why this project comes in two phases. In the first phase, we’ll just narrow. We’ll only elect or end the chances for those about whom we’re certain. Over the next few months, as we learn more and more about managers, we’ll hone a system, construct a formula or two, and hopefully induct the best 22 eligible managers into the Hall of Miller and Eric.

According to Me

Terry FranconaBy my early reading of the numbers, Terry Francona hasn’t been a great manager over his fifteen seasons. Not bad, but not great. In four seasons in Philadelphia, he never finished better than third and was fired after only 285 wins to go with 363 losses. After three years away from a leadership role, the Red Sox hired him in 2004. That kind of changed my life, as Francona led Dave Roberts, Keith Foulke, Doug Mientkiewicz, and a bunch of idiots to a World Series title. Boston won 98 games that year, a mark that Francona didn’t reach again in Boston. Doesn’t matter to me. I love the guy and always will.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet Francona. I was on the field at Fenway and was absolutely star struck. To nobody’s surprise, he was amazing. He was just a guy. A really nice guy. But don’t take my word for it. In case you missed it, Red Sox manager John Farrell has lymphoma. And Francona is going to accompany him to his first chemotherapy session. I could pick a worse guy to idolize as an adult, it seems.

Francona is active, so he’s not yet eligible for the Hall of Miller and Eric. But when he becomes eligible, it’s going to be hard for me to treat him objectively. He’s certainly in the Hall of Great Human Beings. And he’s one of my favorite people in baseball.

Coming Up

Please tune in the next dozen Mondays to learn about our manager candidates. We’ll have typical HoME content on Wednesdays. And then I Fridays you’ll be able to see which managers we’ll enshrine, table until the second phase of our project, and bid farewell with obituaries.

I’m really excited to get started on this phase of the project, and I hope you are too.




2 thoughts on “What Makes A Great Manager?

  1. Tommy Lasorda said (and I paraphrase because I don’t recall the exact wording) that no matter what a manager does he’ll win a third of the games. No matter what a manager does he’ll lose a third of the games. He gets paid for what he does in that final third.
    Am enjoying this project already.

    Posted by verdun2 | August 26, 2015, 7:46 am

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