Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs and Jeff Banister of the Texas Rangers just won Manager of the Year awards; good for them — but I’ve got a few questions:
1. Is the Cubs spring training well organized?
2. When a Rangers coach gets in a dispute with a player, does Banister back the coach?
3. If a Cubs player makes a mistake is Maddon willing to bench or fine him?
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4. Does Banister let the front office dictate lineups and game strategy?
5. Does Maddon give his players a green light, so if a stolen base backfires Maddon can blame the player?
6. If a coach thinks his job is in jeopardy and wants to schedule unnecessary extra work to make a good impression on the front office, does Banister let him?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, join the club: I don’t either.
Manager of the year and why I didn’t vote
This season I was given the chance to vote for Manager of the Year and turned down the opportunity; I didn’t think I knew enough to cast an informed vote.
Earlier in my sportswriting career I did vote for Manager of the Year and did what everybody else probably does; I picked a manager whose team had exceeded expectations — I voted for Joe Maddon and he won. But by 2015, I was much more skeptical of my own knowledge.
By 2015, I’d heard of coaches showing up for spring training, realizing it was a disorganized mess and the regular season was probably going to be a disaster. I realized I didn’t know a damn thing about how well a manager organized spring training.
I’d heard of managers who were so toxic coaches would avoid standing next to them in the dugout: they didn’t want to get blamed for the managers’ mistakes.
I’d also heard of a manager who was so bad at game management that the veterans on the team urged a bench player to stay close to him and try to keep the manager from screwing things up — and that manager won manager of the year.
The more I learn the less I think I know.
The tip of the iceberg
Game management — the part of a manager’s job we can see — is just the tip of the iceberg. Managers also have to deal with the front office, the media and their coaching staff. And we don’t know much about how well a manager does those things.
A manager also has to decide on an appropriate workload; how much early work is enough — how much is too little?
How often does the manager hold closed-door meetings?
Hold too many of them and they fail to make an impression; the player thinks, “Here we go again,” and what the manager has to say goes in one ear and out the other.
Refuse to hold a closed-door meeting and air out the players even when it’s needed — some managers are reluctant to criticize the players because they want to stay popular — and players lose respect for the manager.
You can win and still be a bad manager
Some team wins because the manager makes good decisions and some teams win despite the manager’s poor decisions. Good players can bail a manager out.
And if a manager’s job is on the line, don’t expect him to think long term. Over his career it might be better for a player to have one more season in the minor leagues, but the manager wants that player brought up now — the manager might not be here next season.
Over his career, it might be better for a player to take more days off, but the manager wants the player on the field every day. If you think you might get fired at the All-Star break, you aren’t going to spend a lot of time worrying about a catcher blowing out his knee two years from now.
A manager can do well in the short run and actually sabotage his team and a player over the long haul.
We have a hard time admitting we don’t know
There are 30 big-league teams and I know a fair amount about just one of them. And to gain the little bit of knowledge it took me six years and thousands of hours talking to players, coaches, managers and front office people.
The idea that anyone really knows what’s going on inside 30 big-league baseball teams is ludicrous.
So to get back to the original question: did Joe Maddon and Jeff Banister deserve Manager of the Year?
I don’t know and I’m guessing you don’t either.