Those Who Can’t Do, Teach (Part 1: Managers)

Setting aside Ted Turner‘s one-game stint as skipper of the Braves in 1977, only five men in baseball history have managed a major league team without having any professional playing experience. The last one to do so, Carlos Tosca, was fired by the Blue Jays in the middle of last season after going 191-191 in three years on the job. Before Tosca were Ed Barrow, Hugo Bezdek, and Judge Fuchs, who each managed before 1930, and John Boles, whose time at the helm of the Marlins ended in 2001.

In other words, if you want to become a big-league manager you better have earned a paycheck for playing the game at some point. But does it matter what type of player you were or if you were any good? Does it matter if you had a Hall of Fame career or got stuck in the minors? I started thinking about the playing careers of today’s managers while watching an A’s-Nationals game earlier this month that featured one of the greatest players of all time managing against a guy with 98 career hits spread over six seasons.

There are all sorts of possible ways to break 30 playing careers down into groups, but I tried to keep things simple. Basically, I separated everyone into Hall of Famers, All-Stars, Regulars, Role Players, Cups of Coffee, and Minor Leaguers. Hopefully the groupings are fairly self-explanatory. I could have further broken the All-Stars down by forming a group of guys who made the team more than once, for instance, but I’d rather just let their career numbers speak for themselves.

Hall of Famers (1)
                       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+    AS      WS      WARP
Frank Robinson      11743     .294     .389     .537     154     12     519     157.9

Frank Robinson is the only Hall of Famer managing right now. That may change at some point (more on that in a moment), but regardless of that Robinson is the only truly elite, inner-circle player currently managing in the majors. Among retired players, Robinson ranks 16th all-time in Win Shares (WS) with 519, which is over 200 Win Shares more than the next-closest manager. While several of the guys ahead of him on the Win Shares list managed at some point, they are all either dead or banned from baseball, so it’s safe to say Robinson will remain the best player managing until he decides he’s had enough with guys like Cristian Guzman (or Rickey Henderson starts writing out lineup cards).

Robinson was the MVP of the NL in 1961 and the MVP of the AL in 1966, and he finished in the top 10 a total of 10 times during his 21-year career. He led his league in batting average once (1966), on-base percentage twice (1962, 1966) and slugging percentage four times (1960, 1961, 1962, 1966). In 1958, Robinson ranked 15th in the league in on-base percentage. In 1963, he ranked 16th in slugging percentage. Aside from those two years, Robinson ranked among the top 10 in his league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage every season from 1956 to 1971.

He won the Triple Crown in 1966, leading the league with a .316 batting average, 49 homers, and 122 RBI in his first season in the AL. After joining the Orioles following a decade with the Reds, he also led the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored, total bases, extra-base hits, adjusted OPS+ and Runs Created. And just for good measure, Robinson won the World Series MVP that year too, leading Baltimore to a four-game sweep over Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and the Dodgers.

All-Stars (12)
                       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+    AS      WS      WARP
Alan Trammell        9375     .285     .352     .415     110      6     318     101.2
Joe Torre            8801     .297     .365     .452     129      9     315     101.6
Willie Randolph      9462     .276     .373     .351     104      6     312     106.8
Buddy Bell          10009     .279     .341     .406     108      5     301      98.9
Dusty Baker          8021     .278     .347     .432     116      2     245      76.7
Felipe Alou          7908     .286     .328     .433     113      3     241      65.0
Mike Hargrove        6693     .290     .396     .391     121      1     212      62.7
Phil Garner          6860     .260     .323     .389      99      3     195      67.1
Mike Scioscia        5056     .259     .344     .356      99      2     168      60.0
Lou Piniella         6362     .291     .333     .409     109      1     164      43.9
Ozzie Guillen        7133     .264     .287     .338      69      3     148      41.6
Lee Mazzilli         4831     .259     .359     .385     109      1     134      40.1

What you have here are the managers who were selected to at least one All-Star team, which is the sort of criteria that creates a large group which includes both Alan Trammell and Ozzie Guillen. Trammell, whose 318 career Win Shares rank second to Robinson among active managers, is one of the greatest shortstops of all-time. Guillen, whose 148 career Win Shares rank 12th among active managers, was a horrible offensive player who somehow managed to make three All-Star teams. But they can both tell their players that they were All-Stars. In fact, they can both tell their players they were multiple-time All-Stars.

The amazing thing about Guillen’s three trips to the All-Star game is that he had on-base pecentages of .294, .312 and .284 in those seasons. He also slugged .314, .341, and .340, so it’s not as if his power made up for not getting on base. Guillen was a slick-fielding shortstop with a weak bat back before those guys were called “utility men.” He hit .270 with 15-20 walks and a few homers each year, was fast without having any real basestealing ability, and finished with a horrific career line of .264/.287/.338. Of course, Guillen the player having zero plate discipline, and possessing only the slightest bit of power hasn’t kept Guillen the manager from succeeding. His White Sox have the best record in baseball.

Tramell, on the other hand, began his managerial career by leading the 2003 Tigers to a 43-119 record. His outstanding defense, great ability to control the strike zone, solid power and efficient baserunning didn’t help him one bit when it came to managing a group of players who couldn’t carry his jock. Tramell the player is one of the most underrated of all time and deserves a place in the Hall of Fame. Trammell the manager was in charge of one of the worst teams in the sport’s history and is 94 games under .500 in his third season.

Among active managers (and perhaps all time, although it’s very debatable), Joe Torre has the best player/manager career combination. As a player, he was a nine-time All-Star with over 300 career Win Shares and won the NL MVP in 1971. As a manager, he joined the Yankees after 14 fairly nondescript seasons as skipper of the Mets, Braves and Cardinals and has led them to nine straight trips to the postseason, four 100-win seasons and four World Series titles. Even if you only give him credit for being a “borderline” Hall of Famer as a player and as a manager, the combination surely gets him into Cooperstown without much problem.

Regulars (4)
                       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+    AS      WS      WARP
Clint Hurdle         1596     .259     .341     .403     105      0      43      10.6
Bob Melvin           2095     .233     .268     .337      68      0      39       9.1
Terry Francona       1826     .274     .300     .351      81      0      32       6.1
Lloyd McClendon      1375     .244     .325     .381      94      0      27       8.2

This is an interesting group, because there aren’t very many managers who played regularly without making at least one All-Star team. Perhaps I overestimate the numbers of players in general who get lots of playing time in multiple seasons and don’t make an All-Star team, but the fact that only four managers did so surprised me. Clint Hurdle was the best of the non-All-Stars, with 43 career Win Shares and a very solid (for the late 1970s/early 1980s) .259/.341/.403 career line in 10 seasons as an outfielder/first baseman.

Hurdle was an everyday player twice during his career, getting 481 plate appearances as a 20-year-old for the Royals in 1978 and then 438 plate appearances as a 22-year-old for Kansas City two years later. He hit well in both seasons, putting up OPS+ totals of 108 and 119, and then hit .329/.427/.553 in 28 games in 1981. Then he fell off a cliff. Through 1981 Hurdle was a career .276/.353/.432 hitter (which was better than it looks). After 1981, he hit just .196/.299/.301, which is why he is in his fourth season as a manager despite being just 47 years old.

Role Players (7)
                       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+    AS      WS      WARP
Bruce Bochy           881     .239     .298     .388      92      0      22       7.0
Bobby Cox             719     .225     .310     .309      87      0      16       4.3
Ron Gardenhire        777     .232     .277     .296      62      0      13       4.0
Ned Yost              640     .212     .237     .329      57      0      11      -3.1
Ken Macha             425     .258     .329     .324      81      0       7       1.2
Jim Tracy             213     .249     .336     .368      94      0       4       0.8
Charlie Manuel        432     .198     .273     .260      51      0       3      -0.4

This is the group for guys who bounced around the majors for a few years, but never got everyday playing time in more than one season. None finished their careers with OPS+ totals that were better than league average, none of them came close to an All-Star team, and none of them were even 10 Wins Above Replacement Position (WARP). Together, the seven managers who were regulars as players were just slightly more valuable than Hurdle.

Ron Gardenhire‘s career is pretty typical of the group. He came up with the Mets as a 23-year-old in 1981 and then took over as their starting shortstop in 1982. He stunk, hitting .240/.279/.312 in 424 plate appearances for a team that finished 65-97, and he appeared in just 17 games the next season. Gardenhire was back with the Mets as a 26-year-old utility man in 1984, hitting just .246/.276/.304, and he finished his playing career by hitting .179 as a bench player in 1985. Aside from being such a poor hitter, Gardenhire’s bad luck was that the Mets finished second in his final year and then had one of the best teams in baseball history the next season.

Like several guys in this group, Gardenhire’s lack of ability as a player hasn’t hurt his managerial career one bit. He led the Twins to the postseason in each of his first three years on the job, and Gardenhire’s career winning percentage of .569 would rank 13th all-time if he had enough games to qualify. An even more extreme case is Bobby Cox, who is one of the greatest managers in baseball history, ranking seventh all-time in wins and 13th all-time in winning percentage. As a player, Cox was nothing more than a light-hitting third baseman who spent two seasons with the Yankees.

As a Twins fan who has obsessed over the daily minutiae of Gardenhire’s managerial career, it is interesting to me that one of his major faults (in my mind) involves Luis Rivas. It is interesting not because Rivas is a horrible player (which he is), but because he is very similar to Gardenhire the player. Gardenhire was a middle infielder who arrived in the majors at a young age, struggled and saw his career end at 27. It is not surprising that he has stubbornly stuck with Rivas, who if not for having Gardenhire as his manager might very well have followed the same career path (starting young, benched after poor play, out of baseball early).

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

I suspect most managers who had mediocre (or worse) playing careers have similar blind spots when it comes to players who remind them of themselves. In Gardenhire’s case, he likely sees in Rivas the potential he wishes his managers with the Mets could have seen in him. That potential may not actually be there, of course, but certainly in Gardenhire’s mind he deserved more of a chance to establish himself as a quality major leaguer than he got. Unfortunately for Twins fans, he has more than made up for that with the number of chances he has given Rivas.

Cup of Coffee (3)
                       PA      AVG      OBP      SLG     OPS+    AS      WS      WARP
Eric Wedge            100     .233     .340     .430     106      0       4       0.4
Tony LaRussa          203     .199     .292     .250      54      0       3       0.8
John Gibbons           57     .220     .316     .360      90      0       3       0.6

These are the playing careers very few people remember. Eric Wedge had three stints with the Red Sox and one with the Rockies in the early 1990s. He singled in his big-league debut (the only at-bat he got in 1991) and then hit .250/.370/.500 with five homers and 11 RBI in 68 at-bats in 1992 but received a grand total of just 17 at-bats after that. Tony LaRussa played his first major league season at the age of 18, hitting .250/.346/.318 in 53 plate appearances spread over 34 games as the third-youngest player in the league in 1963. He didn’t resurface again until 1968, and he got hit most playing time with the A’s in 1970, batting .198/.301/.255 in 123 plate appearances as a second baseman.

Toronto manager John Gibbons had even less of a major league career than Wedge or LaRussa, but he at least had pretty good timing. Gibbons played 10 games as a backup catcher for the 1984 Mets, making him very brief teammates with Gardenhire. But while Gardenhire played his final season in 1985 and missed out on the 1986 World Series, Gibbons was out of the majors in 1985 and returned to play eight games with the Mets in 1986. That might not seem like much, but he hit .474/.545/.842 in 22 plate appearances and, most importantly, has one more World Series ring than Gardenhire.

Minor Leaguers (3)
Buck Showalter
Dave Miley
Jack McKeon

Among the 30 active managers, only Buck Showalter, Dave Miley and Jack McKeon did not play in the majors. Their managerial careers have been a mixed bag, because while Showalter and McKeon have had plenty of success, Miley appears to be one of the worst managers in baseball.

UPDATE: This was obviously written before the Reds fired Miley yesterday, but I thought leaving in the part about him looking like one of the worst managers in baseball was apropos.

Despite being 5’9″, Showalter was an All-American at Mississippi State and the Yankees’ fifth-round pick in the 1977 draft. He spent seven years in the Yankees’ minor league system as a first baseman stuck behind Don Mattingly, although Showalter’s .365 career slugging percentage didn’t exactly force the issue. His final minor league season was 1983, and he was managing the Yankees nine years later. McKeon and Miley were both minor league catchers. McKeon signed with the Pirates in 1949 and played 10 minor league seasons, hitting a career-high .263 in 1958. Miley signed with the Reds as an 18-year-old in 1980 and played 403 games in the minors, hitting just .238 with limited power.

Thanks to THT’s own Mr. Graphs, Dave Studeman, here is a nice little comparison of all the managers and their careers:


Not only is there no real correlation between playing success and managerial success, there might actually be a negative correlation. In other words, a number of the best winning percentages among today’s managers belong to guys who didn’t do much as players. Gardenhire, Cox, LaRussa, Showalter, McKeon, Jim Tracy and Charlie Manuel are in the top dozen for winning percentage, yet they have a total of 39 Win Shares among them. Meanwhile, outstanding players like Trammell and Buddy Bell have two of the three worst winning percentages, and even Robinson has won fewer than half of his games as manager.

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