I am a huge fan of the art of managing a major league team. Specifically, I am a huge fan of Joe Maddon and how he operates day in and day out. As we read in Jonah Keri's The Extra 2%, Joe Maddon came to Tampa from the Angels with a theory of how baseball should be played. He was brought to St. Petersburg for that purpose - to teach and guide the young players through the development phase and turn them into fundamentally sound major league players.
Recently I came across an article over at Through The Fence Baseball titled Why baseball managers are overrated. Although, for the most part I agree with the premise that managers who are given talent are going to be more successful than managers who don't and that a manager without talent is not going to suddenly compete because of the moves the makes but I don't agree with the following:
For all the talk about how managers change the culture of a franchise or how they handle the media or how great their clubhouse is and how they interact with the players … I have a little secret: It doesn’t matter. Baseball players are creatures of habit who are incredibly routine oriented. While some players may love, hate, or even be indifferent to their manager, it does not affect their performance on a day-in-day-out basis. The whole idea of a great baseball manager is a perception which is not rooted in reality.
The article cites Buck Showalter with the Yankees and after his dismissal the hiring of Joe Torre. The author of the article suggests the Yankees probably would have won the titles with Showalter anyways. Kirk Gibson is given a lot of credit for the turnaround of the Diamondbacks but the author suggest it was the performances of Justin Upton, Ryan Roberst, Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, and the bullpen that deserve the credit. Art Howe is mentioned as a guy that left a winning team in Oakland and suddenly forgot how to manage.
We can play this game forever with guys that failed in one organization and succeeded in another The end result more often then not is that a manger does succeed if his players don't succeed. But the part of the equation that seems to be left out in the argument is managers who put players in the best position to succeed, maximize their teams chances of winning based on the personnel at their disposal, developing a strategy to limit the other teams effectiveness, and keeping a team united against any and all obstacles.
Maddon used to be called a hipster, Merlot Joe, and a mad scientist and although the hipster and Merlot Joe names have stuck the mad scientist label seems to have been replaced by a bevy of articles explaining how sound his shifts have become and how many other managers have adapted shifts as part of their strategies. The attention to the shift and using technology to prepare for a game was covered by Jayson Stark of ESPN.com who wrote an article titled Welcome to the Information Age about how technology, specifically the iPAD, is changing the way the game is played.
He is also part psychiatrist as noted in the SunSports Game 162 special where after the team was 0-6 he got out a good bottle of wine and gave each player a small cup and proposed a toast to "the best 0-6 team in the history of baseball" - and he didn't do it to mock them, he meant every word of it. It was Joe's way of telling the team that they need to keep fighting and not to let the 0-6 start defeat them.
Just this past week Joe was asked why he went to Cesar Ramos and not Wade Davis when Jeff Niemann was injured. An assumption could be made that Ramos had the freshest arm in the pen but Maddon provided an extra detail in the post game. He said that he knew that Ramos would have anxiety sitting out in the pen knowing that at some point during the night he'd be called on so before the anxiety got too high he wanted to get him on the mound.
Joe has a development curve for young players as Tommy Rancel at ESPNFloirda details the five stages of player development which are as follows 1) I'm happy to be here, 2) survival mode, 3) I belong here. I can do this. 4) I want to make as much money as possible. 5) All I want to do is win.
Managing a teams personnel is a challenge for all managers and the way a manager responds to injury is also aided in who the front office has brought in, drafted and developed, etc. to replace a fallen player. In the end though a manager has to fill out the lineup card, position his players, and call on pinch hitters, make defensive changes, and make pitching changes late in games.
A manger has to be able to keep his team from getting to high after wins or too low after losses and most important he has to keep the team believing that they are a good team and able to overcome any obstacle in their way. Most managers fall short in one or more of these areas, especially when faced with adversity, but Joe Maddon is one manager who excels in each area and for that reason he is the best manager in baseball. Maddon is a strategist, a psychologist, and a master motivator - all skills that keep the Rays moving forward towards October baseball.