In this post-Moneyball era, baseball franchises have begun to redefine the “Baseball Man.” No longer does a field manager need to pay his dues as a minor league manager or big league bench coach. Teams are thinking out of the box. They are going with managers that have an emotional and psychological connection to the roster (i.e. former teammates). The Joe Torre father figure is in danger of becoming a faded photograph. Nowhere is this more noticeable than the Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Unlike most Moneyball theories, which have been proven mostly accurate, the dependability of the rookie manager is still somewhat questionable. In 2001, his rookie year, Bob Brenly took the Arizona Diamondbacks to their first title in franchise history. A.J. Hinch was not as lucky. Hired as a rookie manager in 2009, Hinch was fired fourteen months later for an underwhelming 89-123 record.
The St. Louis Cardinals have taken a gamble, replacing retiring managerial icon, Tony La Russa, with former Cardinal Mike Matheny. A part-time catcher most of his career, he was extremely well respected during his tenure with the Cardinals from 2000 to 2004. Cardinals’ rightfielder Lance Berkman was quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying, “There is zero credibility gap between Tony [La Russa] and Mike…From the second he was hired, Mike had the credibility.”
In all truthfulness, Matheny is taking over the defending World Series Champs. Even while losing the greatest star in the entire sport, the Cardinals are still expected to compete. “With the veteran makeup of this team, his main objective should be to just keep the train on the tracks,” says Berkman. He’s bowling with the bumpers on.
In the same boat as Matheny is former White Sox Robin Ventura. On the flip side, the new south side skipper has to get his train back on the tracks. The two-time All-Star replaces the only manager to bring a World Series title to Chicago in what? 750 years? The club is also coming off a disappointing 83-loss season, despite the highest payroll in franchise history. Ventura is putting together a 100-piece puzzle with 99-pieces.
Ventura is Joe Girardi, circa 2006. He’s got young talent and he’s got some upper management, known to meddle. Remember the love affair of Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams? If he can navigate both along with a traditionally pessimistic Chicago fan base, Ventura will be bucking for Manager of the Year.
Ozzie Guillen, now managing the rebranded Miami Marlins, has hope for these rookie managers. “Those guys played a long time,” he tells Sports Illustrated. “They should know how to deal with players. You don’t need experience. You need good players. The less moves you make, the better manager you are.”
Let’s face it. Ozzie has a point here. If they don’t go crazy, they should be fine. Neither is going into car crash situations, like Bobby Valentine. Valentine will be charged with cleaning up that glorified Hooters Bar known as the Red Sox clubhouse. Big Market or small, baseball strategy is obviously moving in a Moneyball direction. As long as these guys don’t fail in spectacular fashion, field management will be moving in that direction as well.