The Commish Online                                                                                
Will the Ship Sail Despite the Skipper?
June 2, 2006

Get on a roll, and the players reap the benefits with an occasional nod to a manager for keeping the “chemistry” on the team strong.  Suffer a long losing streak, and surely the manager is to blame.  Fans love to blame the guy with the lineup card.  It’s one of the most popular topics on sports radio, but are the accusations justified?  Football is a game of planning and basketball does involve putting pieces on the floor that fit well together.  In baseball, however, how important is a manager’s role to the success of the team?

This week's topic:
Yes or no answer:  in MLB, is a manager important to a team’s success?

Bunker: Y. E. S.  Look no further than this year’s Tigers.  With Leyland on board with the same team who has lost 90+ games for 5 straight years, Detroit has the best record in the league!

Dewey: I couldn’t disagree more.  A manager DOES matter, but since it has to be a simple “yes” or “no,” I say no because there are myriad things more important than the manager - namely, talent.

B: Then how do you explain the Tigers having the best record in baseball?

D: Because they are NOT the same team who has lost so many games the past half decade.  Their pitchers have matured with experience, Ordonez is healthy for the first time since his signing, Kenny Rogers helps the rotation immensely, Todd Jones gives Detroit a much deeper bullpen than they’ve had, etc. etc.

B: And you’re saying Leyland has nothing to do with their success?

D: I’m saying if Alan Trammell was still managing the team, they would still be in first place thanks to the off-season moves of the general manager and the development of young talent.

B: So you’re telling me in terms of players, ownership, scouts, and managers, the managers are the low men on the totem pole?

D: That’s exactly what I’m saying.  Thank you for saying it for me.

B: Then how do you explain the situations with the Chicago teams?  Dusty Baker has completely lost his mind, starting guys like Neifi Perez and just bumbling his way through another lost season.  Meanwhile, Ozzie Guillen is getting guys like Joe Crede, Juan Uribe, and Jermaine Dye playing well enough to win a World Series.  Don’t tell me about developing talent with the White Sox, because Crede and those guys were around for a while and weren’t winning anything.  Podsednik was a nice bonus for Guillen, but he didn’t play a full year in the majors until he turned 27, so he’s not as phenomenal a talent as people make him out to be.  Plus, they lost one of their best hitters in Carlos Lee, but Guillen convinced that team to play hard and play his way.  The results?  A World Series Championship.  Don’t tell me Guillen wasn’t important!

D: I was hoping you’d bring up Baker!  Dusty Baker’s career agrees with everything on which my argument is based.

B: I don’t like the way you talk.

D: What?!

B: You know – “on which my argument is based…”  You sound smarmy and I think you’re cocky.

D: Well I’m sorry.  I don’t like dangling my participles.

B: Shut your trap.  Now I just want to slug you in the mug.

D: Let me stop you from punching me in the face by telling you about Baker.  Dusty has never had the best talent in his league, nor has he had the worst, and his managerial record falls right in line with the talent his teams have possessed.  In 13 years, Baker’s teams have finished 1st or 2nd in the division, which is right about in line with the decent Giants teams he’s managed.  His team advanced to the World Series one year, which is also in line with a guy managing above average teams for over a decade.  Also, the World Series year was 2002, one year after Bonds hit 73 home runs.  Suddenly, everyone was putting Bonds on base automatically, leading to more run scoring situations and seemingly making Baker a “better” manager.  He wasn’t managing any better – Bonds’ talent and the fear from the other team just made it easier for the Giants to score runs.

B: How convenient – you’re forgetting about the horrible Chicago years, where everything Baker does is wrong, the same way you’re forgetting that I’m still going to punch your lights out.

D: Threats of physical violence never make you sound smarter.  As for the Chicago years, Baker’s Cubs won the division in ’03 and were 5 outs away from the World Series, as everyone knows now.  The players played well enough to get to that point, and they also played poorly enough to blow the series.

B: I’m aware of ’03, but his poor management skills showed when he couldn’t get that talented team back to the playoffs.

D: The Cubs finished 3rd in ’04, but they had a BETTER RECORD than the ’03 team.  You can’t blame a Cubs manager for the fact that other teams in the division won more games than the previous year.

B: Now you’re just trying to fit the situation to your argument, and it’s not working.  Baker’s team finished first in ’03, but they only had an 88-74 record – not very good for a team with dominant pitching and a juiced up Sammy Sosa.  In ’04, despite gaining 1 measly victory compared to ’03, the rest of the division caught up, leaving the Cubs behind, despite a very talented team.  Why?  The manager!

D: That’s a lot of blame thrust upon a guy who doesn’t hit, doesn’t pitch, but does fill out the lineup card.

B: Again, that’s where your argument always falls short.  It’s not always just about the stats.  And a manager doesn’t just fill out a lineup card.  Play the game and maybe you’d understand.  A good manager can give confidence where it’s needed, boost a player’s morale, kick a guy in the pants when he’s overconfident, and basically provide an environment that makes these ego-driven superstars excel.  I’m not knocking the players for their egos; that’s why they are better than us – because they believe they are.  The battle is putting 25 of them in a room together and convincing half of them that the best way to succeed is for them to sit on the bench and perform when asked.  A good manager does that.  A GREAT manager does that AND outperforms the guy on the other side of the diamond when it comes to in-game strategy.

D: Your argument is spirited, inspiring even, but sadly incorrect.  In sports, baseball in particular, it IS about the stats.  The stats are the results, and the only way we can judge performance is on the results.  From what I see, the results all point to the fact that a manager is NOT important to the success or failure of a MLB team.

B: Ok then, using your argument, the stats reveal that the Yankees and Braves had the most talent in baseball in the mid 90’s.  One team won 4 World Series in 5 years, while the other has just one ring to display.  Atlanta’s pitching was consistently better, and they had years where their hitting was dangerous as well, but Bobby Cox led them to just ONE crown.  Joe Torre put the Yankees back on the path of greatness, winning FOUR titles.  Sooo, using stats, you have to admit that Torre is a better manager than Cox, and if their jobs were switched, it might be the Braves hoisting multiple trophies.

D: Thanks for your use of stats, but you have used them irresponsibly, like so many others have done before.  You simply used the stats that fit the argument of “Torre is a great manager.”  You didn’t include the fact that five straight years have gone by with Torre at the helm of baseball’s most talented team, but no more rings have been added to the collection.  In addition, Torre managed for 14 seasons before heading to the Yankees and produced expectedly poor results (1 division title in parts of 14 seasons) managing teams (including the Braves) with much less talent than today’s Yankees.  In fact, Torre did absolutely nothing more with what he has had than what Baker has done in his first 14 years as a manager.  I would argue that Baker has actually done more in his 14 years, but that would be indicating that a manager is important.

B: It’s obvious that I’m not going to get through to you.

D: You would if you were right.

B: I need to end this before my fist does, so let me just say that teams like the Yankees wouldn’t win as many World Series titles without a guy like Torre, and teams like the Red Sox and Braves might win a few more with a guy like him.

D: Fair enough.  I’d continue, saying that you are confusing the cause and the effect.  Does Dusty Baker suddenly become important if the ’02 Giants win a couple more games and ultimately the World Series?  Is he suddenly a “good” manager in your eyes because his team won?  Does he suddenly have the ability to manage egos better if Barry Bonds hits a couple extra home runs to win the World Series?  I think not, but I won’t say that since I value my face.

The Commish's verdict:  Dewey
Much as I hate to agree with him, Dewey posed the best argument.  Bunker was “spirited,” as Dewey said, but he never really backed up his argument with anything substantial.  The real answer likely lies somewhere in the middle – a manager does have importance, but player talent takes precedence.  In other words, you can win with great players and a bad manager, but not the other way around.