Most baseball managers of just 15 years ago couldn't get a job today. Of all the game's recent changes, none is more visible than this radical transformation in managers -- from their outward style to game strategies to basic personality types and backgrounds.
"If Earl Weaver came along today, nobody would hire him. Never even give him a chance," said Oakland's Sandy Alderson, one of many general managers interviewed at length about recent changes in the sport. "And that's wrong. That shows you how much things have changed and also how much debate there is over whether we're going in the right directions."
Look at the skippers of 1971 and we see autocrats and disciplinarians -- hot-tempered and poorly educated men who lived by intuition; strong silent types who would freeze up on camera and malaprop artists who mangled the language. Any one of those qualities would be a liability now. Two might be fatal.
Looking at the managers of 1986, we see gung-ho, positive-thinking, slick-talking motivators and psychologically acute ego strokers who never miss a public relations opportunity. We also find well-rounded and well-educated men who may even have advanced degrees in law, literature or mathematics.
Instead of a tobacco-chewing midget who cusses a blue streak, we're more likely to encounter a computer-literate innovator who keeps a computer beside him in the dugout, has a satellite dish on his roof and keeps instructional TV monitors all over his clubhouse. We may even find a gentleman so mild-mannered that he'd rather be fired than argue with an umpire.
First, for perspective, let's look back. Here they are, a diverse gang from 1971:
Silent, milk-sipping Danny Murtaugh in his rocking chair. Leo Durocher the martinet. Square-jawed men of military stamp who would never take a course in sensitivity training: Ralph (The Major) Houk, Gil Hodges, Red Schoendienst, Walt Alston, Ted Williams, Bill Rigney and Alvin Dark. Violent-tempered former players who demanded that you do it their way: Weaver, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch, Dave Bristol, Harry Walker and Frank Lucchesi. Plus the assorted inoffensive musical-chairs lifers from the good ol' boy network: Charlie Fox, Lum Harris, Preston Gomez, Eddie Kasko, Bob Lemon and Lefty Phillips.
Now check the current crop, especially those who have arrived recently or have already held one managing job in the '80s and probably will resurface soon:
Tony LaRussa (White Sox), who is licensed to practice law. Dave Johnson (Mets), a self-made millionaire in real estate who has a master's degree in math and grasps every esoteric twist in Prof. Earnshaw Cooke's classic incomprehensible tome, "Percentage Baseball." Steve Boros (Padres), who discusses Faulkner and uses a stopwatch on most everybody. Bobby Valentine (Rangers), who communicates so genially with his players that one president of another club said, "He's just their buddy. How can he be their leader?"
Everywhere we look, we see gab artists who love to tell their players how wonderful they are and how great it is to be playing a doubleheader on this beautiful 103-degree day on artificial turf in St. Louis.
Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers), Sparky Anderson (Tigers), Whitey Herzog (Cardinals), Chuck Tanner (Braves) and Pete Rose (Reds) -- all sometime managers of the year -- have been cut from the same inspirational motormouth mold.
Their office doors are not only open, but if you walk too close, they may drag you in, ask about your family, work the slice out of your golf game and make sure you know exactly how you fit into their scheme of things. To them, you're a truly valuable human being, even if you haven't played in two weeks, and don't you ever forget it . . . or (they all have hidden tempers) they'll invite you into their office again and break every bone in your inner ear. It's the school of managing Weaver loves to call "all that happy horsefeathers."
The '80s also have seen the emergence of a group of mild-mannered, personable, quick-thinking, organization-man nice guys who "communicate" well, "treat each player as an individual" and know how to manage the media as well as their players. Dick Howser (Royals) personifies the type, and Ray Miller (Twins), Hal Lanier (Astros), John Felske (Phillies), Lou Piniella (Yankees), Jim Leyland (Pirates), Jimy Williams (Blue Jays), Rene Lachemann (ex-Mariners) and Jeff Torborg (ex-Indians) also qualify. These guys usually have hidden depth, emotional sincerity -- or maybe they used to be the owner's clubhouse informant.
It's no wonder that, in such an era, Dick Williams and Billy Martin have a hard time staying employed. Their role now is to follow one of these failed new-wave sweethearts and serve as a total shock treatment.
"You can't scare 'em anymore with, 'We'll bury you in the minors forever,' " said New York Mets General Manager Frank Cashen. "The gruff old codger is history. 'Communicate' is now the No. 1 skill on my check list for a manager."
"The players are independent contractors . . . more comfortable, educated," said Toronto executive Pat Gillick. "You can still be firm, but a guy who sees things as black or white can't survive. You need to be sincere and honest, but also a motivator. Maybe con the guys a little. The manager today needs to be more well-rounded -- not more intelligent, but better educated. It used to be street smarts. Today, they have college degrees or broad interests."
"You'd like a guy with an organization background in player development, scouting and coaching. Also, someone who's PR-oriented and is a little bit of a psychologist," said General Manager Tom Grieve of the Rangers. "There's a lot more today than getting some tobacco spitter who beats the players down. You've got to bring a lot more to the party. We want somebody who accentuates the positive."
Milwaukee's Harry Dalton sees a tendency toward younger, untried people. "The musical chairs game of rehiring the same managers is gone."
Once, the monosyllabic Dutch uncle type, such as Joe Altobelli, Danny Ozark or Don Zimmer, could corner a player on a cross-country flight for a meandering heart-to-heart. Now -- lights, camera, action -- that's not enough. Those guys get publicly mocked.
"The good manager always had to be part psychologist and father confessor. But now he has to be able to draw together his thoughts and emotions and convey them to the world in a split second, often right after he's lost a tough game," said John Schuerholz, general manager of the world champion Kansas City Royals.
"We're more of a media society now, and the manager is the one who presents your organization to the public. We're the No. 1 fishbowl industry in the country. The manager has a huge responsibility as spokesman. Some old-style managers haven't been able to withstand the crunch of that," continued Schuerholz. "It's no accident that the most successful managers -- Herzog, Weaver, Lasorda, Anderson, Howser -- often speak to the team by what they say on TV and in the papers. You don't need team meetings to set your club's tone.
"Maybe Casey Stengel was ahead of his time. He spoke Martian, but he made his point."
Ol' Case would never have understood Sabermetrics -- the new pseudo-science of baseball stats. Today, he might have to pass a test on "The Elias Analyst" or "The Bill James Abstract." Want controversy? Start here.
Valentine, and several other managers including Johnson, have computers in their dugouts that spit out esoteric numbers. Any pitcher versus any hitter. The probability of a certain pitch being thrown or hit on a certain count. A player's career figures in specific circumstances -- say, with men in scoring position with two out in the late innings of a close game (honest). Performance day vs. night, home vs. away, on grass vs. on artificial turf, month-by-month or vs. left- and right-handed pitching -- it's all there. And much more.
Of course, you might expect this of Valentine. He's the guy who has done away with the advance scout who reports on upcoming opponents. Instead, Valentine tapes every game in creation off his satellite dish and condenses the previous seven games of every team the Rangers are about to play. Watch a game in half an hour or study the previous 25 at-bats of any particular hitter. Valentine has three television monitors in the clubhouse and three more in the team TV room. They're on from 3 p.m. until after the game.
"A scouting report is just words," Grieve said. "It doesn't give you a picture. If a young pitcher sees Eddie Murray repeatedly chase a particular pitch in certain situations, it makes an impression. He says, 'I bet I can get him out with sliders down and in.' "
Although Valentine may be the extreme case, everybody is stat crazy these days. Schuerholz photocopied and marked up 100 pages of the 430-page Elias Analyst for Howser. Nobody's laughing. They're world champs.
"The older GMs and managers are slow to go to the new stat theories," said Dalton, who built winners in Baltimore, California and Milwaukee. "We still play eyeball baseball. There are so many variables. All the facts in those books don't tell you whether the grounds crew [left a pebble out of place] or whether Jim Gantner's baby was sick last night and he didn't sleep. We tend to think more about that.
"We're seeing a disagreement between generations -- the computer literate and us old fuds -- in which each side has a tendency to believe too firmly in its own view while being too jaundiced toward the other," said Dalton. "I still want to know about the impending divorce or the pulled muscle, not that some guy is one for seven off left-handers in the day at home on grass. But facts are facts and when the [statistical] base is large enough, you can use it."
The computer wave may already begun to recede, leaving behind some newly chastened skeptics. "We were known early for being computerized," said Alderson, "but we dumped it at the tactical [dugout] level while keeping it at the strategic [front office] level.
"We found that [statistical] stuff began to override all the other managerial tools -- intuition, human relationships, recent trends and hot streaks. We began to have doubts about a computer in a foxhole setting . . . I was a marine lieutenant in Vietnam and there's a heat-of-battle mentality. You don't want your players thinking that the manager has more faith in the machine than he has in them."
"Weaver isolated the important stats 15 years ago," growled the Mets' Cashen. "Every hitter versus every pitcher; hitters vs. left- and right-handed pitching; and recent streaks to see who's hot and who's cold. The first guy to keep those stats with sophistication -- on index cards -- was Bob Brown in the Orioles front office. When you go much beyond what Earl always used, you're just confusing yourself."
Four seasons at the helm has sobered Alderson in Oakland. "If I had to face that [new manager] situation again, I'd be much less concerned about hiring a so-called retread than I would have been. There's a value in having proved you can do it, and it's hard to measure leadership with credentials and diplomas.
"Managers aren't fired because they're incompetent. They're fired because leadership situations change. [Former A's manager] Martin is the quintessential example. He may be perfect for some situations, then, two years later, on the same team, he may be just what you don't need."
"Now it's recognized that there are very few managers for all seasons. You need to have the manager for where your team is now," said Cashen. "After a disciplinarian has gotten the team so tight it can't move, you need a paternal type, an antidote . . . I always thought the best in the business for adapting to managing in almost any situation was Weaver . . . head and shoulders the best."
But, these days, could he -- or Stengel or Durocher or Alston -- even get a shot at the job?
Next: the men upstairs