What Makes a Good MLB Manager?

By Peter Schiller

A reader, Pete’s Rose’s Mom, asked the following question in a comment back in October:

    “I’d be interested in learning more about the managers of the 8 teams who made it into the playoffs. How do they compare with one another? What does it take to become a manager let alone a good manager?”


First, sorry for the late reply, but the first 4-8 weeks of starting a blog like this one, they say, are real time consuming & you find yourself working on the look & feel of your site more than you do about posting to it. I’m at about week 4 so please bear with me for a few more weeks or so.  🙂

            I will try to answer this question by breaking it down into sections. I’ll have to admit that I’m not an expert at this or else I wouldn’t be writing this blog, I’d be a major league manager myself!  🙂

What does it take to become a Major League Manager?

            Honesty, I don’t know for sure, but I do know this: Some men get into it simply by being a former major league player who happens to know every aspect of the game. They sometimes are seen as having an advantage to someone without that experience. Some people become major league managers after working in popular High School & College/University programs. Others get into an organization, work hard and climb the ladder until they get a position as a minor league coach, then manager until they move up to a triple A manager & the next step from there is a major league coach or right into becoming a major league manager. In one bad season or decision, it can all be lost. It can be a thankless job that often becomes a scapegoat.

What does it take to be a good Major League Manager?

            This depends or changes from situation to situation. In my opinion, a “good” manager is one who does well in any situation they find themselves in. I’ll explain this point in more detail later in this section. For now, let’s define some of those situations a big league manager might find himself in.

  • A Young Team – a team that is mostly comprised of younger players & there are possibly a number of rookies in the starting line up on a daily basis (like the 2007 Diamondbacks)
  • A Veteran Team – a team that is mostly comprised of veteran payers & probably doesn’t have any rookies in their starting line up (like the 2007 Yankees)
  • A Team in a Small Market City – a team which has a low budget restraint that they need to work within (like Oakland, Kansas City, Colorado & the Diamondbacks)
  • A Team in a Big Market City – a team that does not have many budgetary restraints & can almost spend at will (see the Yankees & Red Sox)

A “good” manager would be able to manage in any of these 4 situations, but not all managers are god managers. Jimy Williams (former major league manager for the Red Sox & Astros) was known for being great in the fundamentals & his teaching skills which work well with a young team, but caused some problems when managing a veteran team that no longer needs those managerial skills. They already know, or “should” know the fundamentals. It becomes more complicated when dealing with a big or small market team.

A small market team has to be wise with their spending & also need the backing of ownership & upper management (Baseball Operations & the General Manager) to build a team that will work best in this setting. Oakland GM Billy Beane does a good job at this by optimizing statistical analysis known as Sabermetrics (see the definition of this term in my definitions page). To learn more about Sabermetrics, I recommend the book Moneyball, which was written in part by Bill Beane or better yet, it is a sort of biography of the operations of the Oakland organization during Beane’s tenure as GM (a position in which he still holds with the team). To sum it up, you need to get the most out of your players without spending a lot of money. To do this, you need to figure out your team’s philosophy to winning games. Once that’s done, you build your team around that premise, looking for bargains in the player pool & especially in the draft. There are not usually a lot of star players here; therefore, a manager is typically dealing with players without much of an ego (which seems to haunt star players like a plague sometimes).  Some teams build around base running & speed, while others around on base percentage & even others rely upon the long ball (home runs), while still others rely upon good solid pitching & above average fielding. These just name a few.

A big market team usually has more star players who make considerably more money & with that usually comes bigger egos. What it also attracts are more intense media coverage & sometimes that can be the biggest intangible that a big league manager has to deal with. The dizzying egos & the often relentless baseball media can make even the toughest men want to find a rock to crawl under when things go bad. Likewise, if they are not good with handling people, they are probably not going to fare well with the egos some of these superior athletes have. Terry Francona & Joe Torre both do an excellent job with these elements!

But again I will stress, a “good” major league manager will do well no matter what situation they find themselves in while others are much better suited for just one or possibly two of these styles. You be the judge! If you want my take on a certain manager, post a comment & I’ll reply with a comment of my own! 

Also, I find that former catchers usually make the best managers (see Torre, Scioscia, Girardi, etc.)! They are generally good strategists if they are good at handling a pitching staff!

Who were the 8 managers in the 2007 Playoffs?

  • Bob MelvinArizona Diamondbacks (NL West Champs)
  • Terry FranconaBoston Red Sox (AL East Champs & World Series Champs)
  • Joe TorreNew York Yankees (AL Wild Card)
  • Eric WedgeCleveland Indians (AL Central Champs)
  • Charlie ManuelPhiladelphia Phillies (NL East Champs)
  • Clint HurdleColorado Rockies (NL Wild Card)
  • Mike Scioscia – Los Angelas Angels of Anaheim (AL West Champs)
  • Lou PiniellaChicago Cubs (NL Central Champs)

How do they compare with one another?

            I honestly do not know much about Melvin, Hurdle & Manuel so I can’t really speak much about them. If anyone has an opinion of them they’d like to share, feel free to comment below.

            Torre is great at managing the media & egos of a team and is not a bad strategist, but I don’t care for his handling of a pitching staff, especially his bullpens. I think he over uses them. I don’t care much for how bullpens are used these days in general with lefty specialist, et al. But that’s a post for another day!

            Scioscia is also very good and would be even if he managed a NL team. The Angels have a good bullpen and he typically manages it well. He plays small ball very well (manufacturing runs). 

            Wedge is also very good but has a young team. I expect his skills to only get better along with his team.

            Piniella:  let’s just say that he is very experienced, but I don’t care for his temper & antics with players or umpires.

            Francona seems to shine in the playoffs. Most of his moves work, but in the regular season he sometimes gives me fits. He can stay with a player too long (for example, Kevin Millar in 2005), but this year, sticking with the rookie Pedroia, Francona looked like a genius to stick with him after Pedroia gave such a poor showing in April. He also handles the players’ egos & the baseball media very well.

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