What makes a good manager?
No, I'm not talking about a healthy upbringing and life experiences. I'm wondering how you know if a manager is good, or not.
Today, MLB gives its answer to who they feel is the best manager this year. But, I'm not sure how you know.
The obvious choice around these parts is John Farrell. Clearly, his job taking the Sox from last place to the World Championship shows how good he was. But, how much of it was him, and how much of it was his players? After all, last year's Red Sox didn't have Victorino on it. Or Mike Napoli. Or Johnny Gomes. It was missing David Ortiz most of the year. No John Lackey. No Koji. In fact, the team was rebuilt so well from last year, that Ben Cherington won GM of the year. So, how much credit do we give to the cook, and how much to the guy who buys the groceries?
Granted, in this case, one of the moves Cherington made was to hire Farrell. So, you could say he won the award, in part, because he hired the best manager. Maybe.
Bobby Valentine said recently that he'd like to think that if he was the manager this year, they would have won the championship too. Of course he said that, and he was rightly laughed at. Another case of Valentine self-promotion. But, really, how far off would he have been? Wasn't the whole theme this year that the team really liked each other? They liked playing baseball. They were fun to watch. Would Valentine change that? Everyone loves to point at the "everyone hates each other" line from last year, and point out how that changed this year. But, weren't at least half of the players this year on the team last year? So, John Farrell made other players like Pedroia? Or Saltalamacchia? John Farrell made Johnny Gomes love to play baseball?
What, exactly, did Farrell do?
I've never been in a baseball clubhouse. (Well, I've never been in a clubhouse when there were players in it.) So, I have no idea about the "clubhouse culture." But, I do know that the manager's office is set apart from the rest of the clubhouse. Makes me wonder what influence he had. I'm also reminded of a line Terry Francona used during an interview for the 2004 World Series DVD. He said he was dying for the team to get a "team identity" and that the goofy hair thing ended up being it. He didn't say he was trying to form an identity. He didn't instruct the players to get an identity. He was just hoping it would happen. Just like it wasn't Farrell that started the "beard" thing. In fact, he flatly refused to play along and grow one of his own. It was all on the players.
Now, you could say that Farrell allowed the beard thing to take over. Maybe another manager would have insisted his players stay clean shaven. Maybe he would have forbidden players from taking extra workouts, for fear that they would wear themselves out. Maybe that's what a good manager does. Knows when to step in, and when to back off. Is that it?
Is it in-game stuff? Hard to imagine that one manager really distinguishes himself in game management. Really, how often is there a decision that comes up that's a puzzler?
Maybe it's just one of those things that can't really be measured. Maybe Farrell just didn't blow it? Maybe he got out of the way when the players were bonding, and didn't really screw up the game management? Is it just about being the right fit for the team? Valentine somehow didn't fit last year. Maybe Buck Showalter wouldn't work. I have to assume that Joe Maddon and his ridiculous themed road trips would be laughed off the bus. So, maybe it's just being the right guy in the right place. Is that what it takes to be manager of the year?
Sure hope it is.
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