First-time managers in vogue in MLB
Hiring of skippers who have never worked in Majors more than simply a trend
Once upon a time, there were simple guidelines that teams usually followed when seeking a new manager. Contending clubs generally selected somebody who had managed in the big leagues before. Rebuilding teams might take a shot at a first-time guy who could help develop younger players ... and maybe be replaced by an experienced hand when the time was right.
Six teams have changed managers since the beginning of this past season. Four of the six new managers -- Brad Ausmus of the Tigers, Bryan Price of the Reds, Rick Renteria of the Cubs and Matt Williams of the Nationals -- will be Major League rookie skippers next season. Ryne Sandberg of the Phillies will enter the season with 42 games of experience, all after replacing Charlie Manuel in August. Lloyd McClendon, hired by the Mariners after managing the Pirates from 2001-05, is the exception.
And how about this? Fifteen managers hired since the end of the 2010 season had no -- or virtually no -- previous big league experience.
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING
|John Farrell||Blue Jays*||2011||251-235||.516|
|Robin Ventura||White Sox||2012||148-176||.457|
"I'm not sure there's been a conscious effort to do that. It just seems that's the trend right now," said Reds general manager Walt Jocketty, who hired Price to replace Dusty Baker, who has 20 years of Major League managerial experience. "But they're all guys who have been in the game their whole lives and just haven't the experience [of managing]. It's all about what you feel will be a winning combination for you.
"Bryan is very intelligent and very prepared, and I'm anxious to see how it works out."
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik went against the grain in hiring McClendon.
"Everything comes down to the individual," Zduriencik said. "There are people who could be in their second, third, fourth, fifth time. And that's not a guarantee for success. There are no guarantees, quite frankly.
"These trends will continue. The game changes. You never know. Eventually there will be something else."
There are reasons why hiring managers with no previous Major League experience is fashionable right now. The most obvious one is that it's worked for some clubs. Before the 2012 season, the Cardinals took a chance on Mike Matheny and the White Sox did the same with Robin Ventura. St. Louis made it as far as the National League Championship Series in Matheny's first season and went to the World Series in his second. The White Sox contended throughout in Ventura's rookie season before eventually finishing second in the American League Central, falling short of the playoffs.
"I think the success of Matheny had a lot to do with it," said Braves special assistant Jim Fregosi, who spent 15 years managing the Angels, White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays. "Whatever is successful, everybody wants to follow that modus operandi, so to speak."
"It's interesting," he said. "The issue is that experience is important. The success of Matheny, the success of Ventura, kind of gave people a different perspective. And those guys had really strong ties to the organizations that hired them. So it's a trend, and certainly now with Detroit's hire, they have a very bright, smart guy. It's how the game sometimes goes in a slightly different direction."
Matheny and Ventura aren't the only ones among recent hires who had a connection with the organization that hired them. Walt Weiss in Colorado and Mike Redmond in Miami, rookie managers in 2013, also fall into that category.
Another factor is that many managers with successful and long track records -- Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Bobby Cox, Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella, Cito Gaston, Jack McKeon, Felipe Alou, Fregosi and Baker among them -- have either retired, are getting older or have not been available in recent years.
"Every year, when I stand back and I look at what teams are doing, it is a function of the pool of managerial candidates who are available," said Braves GM Frank Wren. "Each of us, given different opportunities and different people being available, might have done something different. And so it just happened that, in our year, we felt Fredi [Gonzalez] was the ideal candidate for us. And it worked out perfectly. But it's probably not that easy. I know I've talked to general managers over the years who would like to make a managerial change but they don't see anyone out there they would want to replace their guys with."
Said Fregosi: "I think the experience factor has a lot to do with winning. But there's not a lot of experienced guys out there anymore. They've run through that group of guys. So they've got to try something. And the thing is to try guys who just came off of playing, and pitching coaches are getting more of a look now than they did previously because pitching's the name of the game."
Price was the pitching coach for three teams over the past 14 seasons, including the past four with the Reds. John Farrell, who led the Red Sox to the World Series title this year, his first as their skipper, was Boston's pitching coach from 2007-10 before leaving to take his first managing job with Toronto, where he stayed for two years before returning to Boston.
The current thinking seems to be that while previous experience can be a plus, it's only one factor that's being considered.
"I can only speak for our situation," said Washington GM Mike Rizzo, who hired Williams to replace the retired Davey Johnson. "And I think you try and get a manager that you know well, that you have a relationship with, that knows the game very, very well and that has great communications skills and leadership skills, who knows the Xs and Os of handling a club."
Rizzo knew Williams well from their days with the D-backs, when Williams was their everyday third baseman and Rizzo was their scouting director.
"I think all managers get to the Major League manager's chair in different ways," Rizzo said. "Some guys manage in the Minor Leagues for years and years and do their apprenticeship that way. Matt played successfully in the big leagues for a long time, managed in the [Arizona] Fall League, managed Double-A for a time with Arizona. He was a coach under [Kirk Gibson] for a long time. He really was kind of a player-coach even when he was playing, in his preparation and his intensity. So I think he has all the skills to be a manager, and not managing in the big leagues is something, but his strengths kind of overshadowed that one point."
Wren said the Braves were thrilled when Gonzalez became available after being let go by the Marlins, but admitted he would have thought a little harder about hiring him if he hadn't had that experience.
"No question," Wren said. "That's always a risk you take and I think you try to ask all the questions. ... We have a very elaborate managerial interview questionnaire that tries to touch on all the different disciplines that a manager has to deal with. Whether it's dealing with the front office, dealing with the media, dealing with the players, dealing with the staff, you talk about all those different areas and it goes very much in depth.
"And it is interesting that people who have managed before seem to know where the hot buttons are. People who have not sometimes drop the ball in those areas. If the candidate doesn't see it, doesn't feel it, you kind of know there's some greenness there that you need to be aware of."
Jocketty said Price "blew us away" in his interview, adding: "We just felt his lack of experience in managing, he'll make up for in other areas that are equally important. We'll provide him with a strong staff and I think he'll be very successful."