Farrell, Matheny breaking long-held managerial molds
World Series skippers part of changing landscape of dugout bosses
BOSTON -- Closely contested and loaded with lineup adjustments and some bold bullpen maneuvering, this World Series has provided plenty of ammunition for the armchair managers among us.
John Farrell and Mike Matheny, with those jaws cut out of a DC Comics book, might instantly invite respect with the way they carry themselves and the way their players tout their talents. But under the postseason spotlight, the Fall Classic first-timers are naturally going to be subjected to the same sort of scrutiny that has surrounded every man in the managerial role since the day fans first plunked down their dollars for ducats.
Some things in life are simply a constant.
What's striking, though, about these two men is what they tell us about the changing nature of the job they hold.
Farrell overcame the stigma once associated with former pitching coaches-turned-managers to become the first such skipper to reach the World Series stage.
Matheny was hired with precisely zero experience in the coaching ranks and reached the Series in his second year on the job.
Thus, two taboos have been utterly abolished, and they've been abolished because organizations have been taking a different approach to the way they assess and select from the managerial pool.
"The job has changed," said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who was a source of surprise when he picked Matheny to replace the legendary Tony La Russa. "It just seems like it's not simply your track record of what you did as a player or how many years you spent in the Minor Leagues. When I think about it, it's almost like building an algorithm. A lot goes into it."
Look at what's going on in the industry, outside of the postseason spotlight. The Reds and Nationals, two teams in win-now, World Series-or-bust mode, have replaced two of the most veteran skippers in the sport -- Dusty Baker and Davey Johnson -- with Bryan Price and Matt Williams, neither of whom has managed a game at any professional level. (That Price is a former pitching coach only adds to the allure of the Bud Black breakthrough and the Farrell precedent.)
The Tigers, another club with serious 2014 aspirations, are still in search of Jim Leyland's replacement, and president/GM Dave Dombrowski has already made it clear he'll at least consider a candidate like Brad Ausmus, who lacks managerial experience.
Indeed, exact experience seems to be considered less valuable a variable, with an increased emphasis on the relationship between manager and front office. The days of the Major League manager possessing an outsized personality that makes him the focal point of the franchise could be dwindling to a close.
That's why, at this World Series, Farrell and Matheny fill out the lineups while Ozzie Guillen, as outsized a personality as there is, provides analysis for ESPN Deportes, surveys the scene of job openings and waits for the phone to ring (and for the record, outside of a publicity-driven courting by the independent Joliet Slammers, it hasn't).
"Things have changed," Guillen said. "I think the front-office people get involved more, from the Minor Leagues all the way to the big leagues. It's something you have to get used to. It's not, 'Here's your team, now go get it.' I think with all the studying they do, [front offices] get more involved in the games."
The increased emphasis on defensive shifts suggested by the advanced data and advanced scouting has certainly added more of a scripted element to in-game strategy, and the increasing adaptation to sabermetric thinking has definitely impacted lineup construction.
All this serves to make the tactical decisions that have long colored our perception of the person in the managerial position less of an overriding factor in how his boss perceives him.
"The in-game decisions are important," Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said. "They do make a difference in the course of a game and over the course of a season. But I would argue that the rest of the job makes an even bigger difference."
It was Boston ownership, not Cherington, that wanted a familiar managerial face to replace Terry Francona after the 2011 season, and Bobby Valentine's tenure was as brief as it was disastrous.
In Farrell, who possesses a particular understanding of the front-office mentality after running the Indians' player development department, Cherington had a candidate who more closely fit the formula modern front offices follow, prioritizing working relationships over résumés.
Mozeliak followed that same formula in hiring Matheny, who made up for his lack of applicable experience with an intimate knowledge of the Cards' system and methods.
"The guy has to be qualified, has to have the attributes to be a manager and all that stuff," Cherington said. "But there is something to be said for cutting down the ramp-up time. The runway can't be that long for a team that's trying to be good right away. The fewer relationships that are in place and the less somebody understands about how the organization works -- the players, the clubhouse, how everything fits together -- likely the longer the runway is going to be."
That runway was significantly short for Matheny and Farrell. They both inherited talented teams, they were both careful to construct a clubhouse culture in which communication was an absolute, and neither did anything to distract from the goal at hand by creating controversy in their own communication with the media.
"You have to be a skilled communicator," Mozeliak said. "You have to understand how to manage the media and keep a constant message out there."
The demands on a manager are inherently different than they were decades ago, when guys like Casey Stengel or Earl Weaver were the faces of their respective franchises. Between the players, medical staff, clubhouse staff and coaching staff, the modern manager must motivate and discipline and direct and empower the various members of a traveling sect, and they must do so in concert with the input of the numbers-crunchers.
That's how Farrell and Matheny operate, and look how far it's taken them here in 2013. Don't think executives around the league haven't noticed.
"I think the one thing that maybe this does is enlarges the pool of candidates," Mozeliak said. "Maybe now people aren't going to necessarily over or undervalue experience. It's just going to be a variable. And being a pitching coach isn't necessarily going to take you out of the candidacy. The way I look at this is more people should have more opportunity.
"But I still think to become a manager, you have to have some common threads of leadership and the ability to connect with your players."
And of course, the ability to survive the second-guessing.