Friday, November 17, 2006


Q: Why is the head coach in baseball called the manager?

A: I’ll take my cuts.

I think of the earliest baseball clubs I know about. I see old team photos in my head. Dog-eared daugerotypes. Faded photogravures.

The guys in charge didn't just coach the players; they managed every aspect of the team. Connie Mack had a $$$take in the Philadelphia A's - wore a suit like a suit. And John McGraw made all of the decisions involving the New York Giants. Coached. Invented the platoon. Picked different uniforms for each year for gosh sakes. One year McGraw liked a pink and orange plaid. So the Giants wore pink and orange plaid for a season. Mugsy was the first micro-manager?

So let’s just say that the first managers were called managers because they did more than just coach - which says something about how we used to define the idea of management. Team budgets were low; owners weren’t going to pay a guy much just to coach. Again with the old team photos in my head. Fewer guys. Players (24). Manager. Trainer (laundry, rubdowns and ankle-tape). Then the 3 or 4 uuunder coaches - wise guys who used to play and wanted to stick around for the price of room and board: salty-tounged 1ST base coach-guy, stumpy 3rd base coach-guy, lanky paunchy pitching coach-guy…then one guy good with the fungo. FYI: The fungo is a special light bat just for practice grounders and flies. The Cali-Angels had a coach named Jimmie Reese: game-smart/been-there/done-that...Babe Ruth's road-roomie in the 20's = 'roomed with Babe's suitcase' with a custom-fungo that was pancake flat on one side. He'd flick balls up to the flat with his foot, wrist-elevate the ball from the flat to air, swing, then crickety-crack: a grounder to short with plenty of moxie on it. Kept that job until shortly before his death at 92 in '94.

But now? Today-manager is less coaching, mostly manage-MENT. He manages staff. More team photos in my head. The 3 to 4 coaches as before + now strength coaches, flexibility coaches…a nutritionist…+ a guy who is not the pitching coach who sits in the bullpen coaching bullpen pitchers who might not even pitch this week.

Manager-of-now may talk to players before the game, but not about the bat and glove… more like motivational management, occasionally getting 'inside a head:' "Hey A-Rod, anything going on at home I should know about?"

Then this not head coach builds a line-up based on post-mod matrae collected by statisticians (more staff), then the in-game insertions and removals - also based more and more on charts and less and less on sage fly-by- the seat feel for the game.

And of coarse he talks to the media.

Not a sympathetic media. (Toughest part of the job? More on this down the blog-road.)

Does all this sound less baseball organeec? Not very le coq sportif? But no worries, the game still comes out okay.

The player of now can’t bunt. Scooter Rizzuto was state of the art in 1941. Now even the shortstop is an SUV - say, a late model Miggy Tejada. But still, in baseball, each individual player must make his own educated yet split-second in-game decisions that affect the direction of the team without much in-game help from staff or the manager who manages it.

Football or Basketball or Hockey head coaches also manage many coaches, but the head coaches are serious X and O guys. They draw up plays and coach those plays. And the players just run them. Basketball and Hockey is a bit more free form than Football, but there are many more pre-set scenarios in all three than in Baseball. The Football or Basketball or Hockey head coach is a coach who really has to coach (micro-coach).

But in baseball, no matter what the latest evolutions in coaching, training and/or managing are, winning players/teams must always evolve towards a natural association of free-thinking, free-agents.

As a go-union-go guy, I mean that in a really good way. Each player is his own playa on/off the field. Team yes, but “this is the moment for individual achievement” says Deniro in Mamet’s ‘Untouchables’ screenplay. And once the skillzetz have been learned, the onus is on the ballplayer to figure out how to improv the most out of those skills in real time, team time. (It’s not surprising that the Baseball players union is the only really strong one in pro sports. Men who figure out how to excel as individuals in federation know that unions make good sense micro and macro. Football players wait to be told what to do,depend on the coach-daddy for guidance. These are child-ified adults who weren't willing to strike for more than half of a season. I understand that contact sport careers are shorter, akin to being involved in dozens of multi-car pileups, so get the $ while you can, but still…a bit of contempt from me. (FWIW.) Give me the fellowship of the bat, ball and glove. One guy gets rich, so do the rest. Note: Jeter and Nomar did not cross the picket line during the commercial actors strike. The Karma Chameleon loves Jeter and Nomar for not crossing the picket line during the commercial actors strike.)

Yes, the baseball game is much more improvisational - variations on the theme. Not plays run like a machine. Football and Basketball and Hockey are about possession. Endless leaning forward with the rock. Control the orb.

Baseball even involves throwing the damn ball away from the start. The home team that starts with the ball is actually on defense. And the game-starter (the pitcher) has to relinquish control of the ball to get the damn game going. Everybody has to find their mellow. So pitchers learn to grip the ball as if it was an egg. And hitters figure out that if you squeeze the lumber too hard, the game slips out of your bat-strangling hands. (Gary Sheffield being the exception to the rule? So. Much. Rage. The Angry Sheff. And yet the rage is harnassed. Managed. I've never seen the guy play without a plan or hit without a clue. It's as if he creates his own shoulder chips to get offensively-defensive about, manufactures enemies to re-fresh his game. Jesus that dude hits the ball hard. Screaming liners that start out so low that the shortstop jumps for it - but the ball ends up giving a kid in the left field bleacher seats teeth chicklets.)

But in general: You can't control baseball. You can only manage it.

Summation: So most of the really successful baseball managers are the ones that figure out how to stay out of the way of the players. They don't coach too much. A-rod does not need his manager to tinker with his stroke. A-rod needs to feel less encumbered, more free to flow.

Suuuma-Summation: Old baseball managers were not called head coaches because they did more than coach. Current baseball managers are not called head coaches because they do less coaching and more managing – and that’s a good thing because good baseball players coach themselves (or hire their own staff). Head coaches in other sports are martinet types who micro-coach and therefore don’t allow anybody to learn their own lessons; head coaches teach us how to operate armies as opposed to enlightened lives. (And general managers are guys who never played; they manage the managers. They are businessmen. Neither moral nor immoral. Like big-business itself, they are Amoral.)

Also: When management micro-manages, there is often something wrong with the management.

Thanks to Jono for the Q.


Blogger jono39 said...

Thank you for a wonderful answer. J

8:26 AM  

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