There is no perfect manager. Some are better than others, but they all have strengths and weaknesses, as I highlighted last week in my piece on what makes managers so important.
One of the best things about broadcasting games was that I got to spend time talking to managers about their teams, strategies, lineups etc. This access provided me with an insider's view of their personality and decision-making skills. It allowed me to see how certain managers were able to sustain long-term success and how others got in trouble.
I do believe one of the keys to long-term success for a manager is consistency in his approach. That leads to a clear understanding of expectations and consequences.
Also, I firmly believe that managers who interact with their players with a calm and understanding approach have more long-term success. Emotional managers -- screamers -- may have an immediate impact, but I believe they find it difficult to sustain success because they need to ramp up the emotion each time to get the same response.
At some point the players start to tune out the message.
Other areas where a manager needs to excel is in handling a pitching staff, dealing with the media, in-game strategy, maintaining professional decorum in the clubhouse and dugout and creating an environment to maximize performance.
Here is what I have learned about some of the more successful managers:
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What he means is that he will be good if his team wins and not so good if it loses. His intensity drives his team over the 162-game marathon. He shows up with the same focus every game and is always thoroughly prepared. The players feel that, and mimic his approach.
Of all of the managers in the game, La Russa is the one who impacts the actual game the most as it unfolds. When I was broadcasting his games, I had to think along with him to anticipate a hit and run or a sacrifice bunt. He handles his pitching staff extremely well.
Joe Torre had a long and successful stint with the New York Yankees and has enjoyed success with the Dodgers as well. His demeanor and personality are the same every day. He is mild-mannered, but there is never any doubt about who is in charge. When he speaks, his players listen. His style has rubbed off on his teams and they have been professional and workmanlike.
Torre is one of the best at minimizing problems. He never seems rattled, and nothing ever seems overwhelming to him. His calm nature has played well in the large-market media circuses that can be found in New York and, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles.
Bobby Cox is a fiery guy. He holds the all-time record for ejections as a major league manager. By arguing with umpires so often, Cox reminds his players that this pitch in this game is the most important one of the season. It reminds the players that in mid-August, when they might be a bit fatigued, their manager is hanging on the next pitch like it is Game 7 of the World Series.
Now you may think that Cox's fiery disposition places him in the emotional manager category, but in reality he has the ability to compartmentalize his emotions. Despite his angry displays with umpires, he is as positive and upbeat as there is when it comes to his players. He is fatherly, or dare I say grandfatherly in his approach.
Said one of his players: "When you are 2-for-20, he makes you feel like you have gone 15 for your last 20. When you make a mistake he takes the blame for you and says that it was his fault that he didn't put the player in a place to succeed."
He is beloved and respected by his team.
Lou Piniella had a long and successful career as a manager, and while he definitely falls under the screamer classification, he had long-term success because he was very, very consistent in relating with people. You knew what to expect, so even though he was emotional, he was predictable too.
Piniella was also a great manager for offensive players. He was a great hitter himself, and he possessed a unique ability to relate to young hitters.
There is a belief in baseball that a manager can't motivate his players on a daily basis because the season is 162 games long. Players can't get too high or too low. Rah-rah speeches don't work because at some point the players tune out the messenger. No manager or player has the energy to ramp things up everyday. So when a manager's message lingers it can have a lasting impact.
Jim Leyland is by far the most impactful speaker and messenger among managers. When one listens to Leyland, it becomes apparent that he speaks in a way that is easy for his players to digest. Numerous times I would talk to Leyland about his team and their approach and then when I spoke to his players, they would regurgitate Leylandisms. It was clear that he communicated with his players every day, and that they heard him.
The best managers are the ones who can be a different manager for each player. Some guys need a pat on the back, while others need a kick in the pants. Some need to be calmed down, while others need a fire lit under them. In order to maximize the performance of every player, the manager needs to know the player and what makes him tick.
Terry Francona is the most versatile manager I have seen. He can handle the veteran players with respectful expectations while managing the younger players with a firm, supportive and understanding hand. He is also one of the best at handling the media. He protects his players at every turn while maintaining his credibility. He acknowledges the obvious struggles, but is still able to present a reason to hope for improvement.
Here are my top five managers in a number of categories, followed by my overall rankings:
|Strategy||Handling Veterans||Nurturing Youngsters||Handling Pitchers||Handling Media||Players' Manager|
|1. Tony La Russa||1. Joe Torre||1. Ron Gardenhire||1. Tony La Russa||1. Terry Francona||1. Bobby Cox|
|2. Bobby Cox||2. Terry Francona||2. Joe Maddon||2. Mike Scioscia||2. Joe Torre||2. Dusty Baker|
|3. Jim Leyland||3. Jim Leyland||3. Terry Francona||3. Bud Black||3. Joe Maddon||3. Charlie Manuel|
|4. Mike Scioscia||4. Ozzie Guillen||4. Buck Showalter||4. Bobby Cox||4. Ron Gardenhire||4. Ron Washington|
|5. Terry Francona||5. Lou Piniella||5. Mike Scioscia||5. Joe Maddon||5. Mike Scioscia||5. Terry Francona|
|Ranking the Managers|
|1.||Tony La Russa||6.||Ron Gardenhire||11.||Buck Showalter||16.||Dusty Baker|
|2.||Bobby Cox||7.||Jim Leyland||12.||Ozzie Guillen||17.||Cito Gaston|
|3.||Terry Francona||8.||Joe Maddon||13||Bud Black||18.||Ron Washington|
|4.||Mike Scioscia||9.||Lou Piniella||14.||Bruce Bochy||19.||Jim Tracy|
|5.||Joe Torre||10.||Joe Girardi||15.||Charlie Manuel||20.||Manny Acta|
The remaining managers: Bob Geren, Jerry Manuel, Ned Yost, Jim Riggeleman, Brad Mills, Jon Russell, Ken Macha.
And the interim Managers: Edwin Rodriguez, Daren Brown, Kirk Gibson.
If I had to pick one manager to run my club I would choose from between La Russa, Francona, Leyland, Mike Scioscia and Ron Gardenhire, and in the end I would select Francona. His versatility is a huge asset to an organization as he can manage the team regardless of the direction in which they are headed.
If the club skews young Francona will help the kids grow at the major league level. If the team is veteran-laden, then he has the credibility to get them to do what he needs. Francona is a great representative of an organization and is one of the best communicators in baseball. He is an excellent tactician as well. He has proven that he can handle adversity as well as success. He is the entire package.
Now you may be wondering why I wouldn't select my No. 1-ranked manager. As you can see I have La Russa ranked first overall. I have the utmost respect for him, but I want to be able to laugh with my manager and Tony is quite serious. His seriousness is what makes him excel at his job, but at some point during the chaos of a baseball season it needs to be fun.
Next week I will give you my predictions on who will be managing where next season.