Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ryne Sandberg and a Dearth of Hall of Famers As Managers

Ryne Sandberg's recent promotion as interim manager of the Philadephia Phillies brought up something that was on my mind upon finishing reading Mike Schmidt's book Clearing the Bases: Juiced Players, Monster Salaries, Sham Records, and a Hall of Famer's Search for the Soul of Baseball:

In the book Mike Schmidt talks about his inability to get a managerial position at the Major League level and devotes some time to the idea as to why there aren't many Hall of Famers that become managers. At the time of the printing of the book in 2006, Schmidt states:
In the last thirty years, only two Hall of Fame players have managed in the majors: Yogi Berra and Frank Robinson. Only one (Robbie) is a big league manager today. Babe Ruth wanted to manage the Yankees when he retired and the offered him the Newark Bears. See what I mean?
Schmidt offers a theory as to why this is so using himself as an example:
Before 2004, I had nothing on my résumé to that would lead anyone to conclude that I had the right stuff to manage a team. As a player, my dealings with the press had been dicey at best. I'd been a high profile player, known to be a bit self-centered, and not necessarily a strong person outside the clubhouse.

How could I work for someone?

How could I work "within" a team where my opinion counted but wasn't the final one.

How in the hell can Mike Schmidt fit in as an everyday working stiff, dedicated to making an organization a winner without being the top dog?

Aside from these concerns, any GM hiring me-Especially a GM in Philadelphia-would have to factor in the political fallout should I fall flat on my face and have to get canned.

Firing a Hall of Famer, especially one who has a statue at the stadium entrance, can be tricky.

To view this from a General Manager's perspective is to realize why so many high-profile players today ever get reasonable consideration for major league managerial jobs.
His theory concerning himself is rather candid and honest. He would get a chance to manage the Class A Florida State League Phillies Affiliate in Clearwater which he found to be an uncomfortable fit due to political and philosophical differences at the Single-A level. Schmidt also poses a general view as to why there aren't many Hall of Famers who have become managers in the last 30-40 years:
The general feel in baseball seems to be that high-achieving ballplayers don't make good managers because they don't have the patience to work with players of lesser skills.
This point made me think at least in the case of hitting coaches. Why is it that the best hitting coaches are the ones who weren't great hitters. As recently as this season, we saw Hall of Famer George Brett become the hitting coach for the Kansas City Royals only to step down less than two months after taking the position. In the article George Brett Resigns as Hitting Coach by the Associated Press dated July 25th, 2013 from ESPN.com, an interesting point came up:
He said at the time of his hiring May 30 that he always found the game easier to do than say -- that is, he found it natural to play and difficult to instruct. That never did change.

"I found out I was a better player, a better hitter, in my opinion, than a teacher," he admitted. "I was not a good mechanical hitting coach."

Brett said he has played several rounds of golf with Fred Couples over the years, yet the former Masters champion never gave him any tips. Not long ago, Brett asked him why.

"He told me, 'George, I know my swing, but I don't know yours,' " Brett said.
Rod Carew also found difficulties as a hitting coach  when he was hired as the Hitting instructor of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1999, holding the position until October 2001. According to John Donaldson's article Milwaukee Brewers Spring Training 2002 from CNNSI.com:
The Brewers set a major league record last year by striking out a stunning 1,399 times, with Jose Hernandez and Richie Sexson going neck-and-neck for the whiff crown (Hernandez won, 185-178). All the missing contributed to a team batting average of .251, better only than the impotent Mets and Pirates, and a 13-25 record in one-run games, the worst in the NL.

The Brewers also became the first team to have more strikeouts than hits.

All that led to the firing of hitting coach Rod Carew -- who struck out only 1,028 times in 19 years.
On the flipside, Tony Gwynn has found success as the head coach of his alma-mater's varsity Baseball team the San Diego State Aztecs. His eight-year record stands at 242-241 (.501) and his coaching record in league play stands at 124-82 (.602). But this isn't coaching and/or managing in the big leagues.

There have been recent cases of successful players being productive managers. Joe Torre found success with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers as Don Mattingly has currently done with the Dodgers and Mike Scioscia with the Angels. But in looking at the current managerial roster in the pros (along with Mattingly), Dusty Baker, Kirk Gibson and Robin Ventura stand out to me as being productive players during their career making the jump to being productive managers. The rest (in my opinion) don't stack up.

We'll see if Sandberg gets a chance to have the "Interim" tag removed from his title with the Phillies or if he gets a chance with another team such as the Chicago Cubs in the future. Time will tell.

Sisco Kid