From lower-tier player to top skipper
Francona, Hurdle, Melvin, Wedge prove the historic belief
The League Championship Series field is set, with four lineups stacked with talented hitters able to stroke with power and consistency, and deliver in the clutch. Players who have already enjoyed storied careers or are just beginning to write them.Everything their managers didn't, weren't and haven't. ALCS opponents Boston and Cleveland and NLCS dance partners Arizona and Colorado are all led by men who affirm the historic belief that marginal players make the best managers. Their motto? "Do as I say, not as I did." Boston's Terry Francona, Cleveland's Eric Wedge, Arizona's Bob Melvin and Colorado's Clint Hurdle all experienced relatively brief, definitely unspectacular Major League playing careers. The operative word is experienced. The four spent more time watching than playing, absorbing the experiences that would one day turn them into shrewd leaders and strategists. Total that quartet's big-league homers (88) and hits (1,310), and it doesn't even approach the stellar playing career totals of Joe Torre alone (252 and 2,342). That obviously isn't meant to discredit Torre's marvelous genius and success as a manager -- rather, it recognizes Wedge's role in fine-tuning and inspiring the Indians team that beat Torre's Yankees. "He created just such a positive atmosphere on this club," said Cleveland right-hander Paul Byrd. "It really had the feel of a family." The same goes for Melvin over Lou Piniella's Cubs, Francona over Mike Scioscia's Angels and Hurdle over Charlie Manuel's Phillies -- although the last Division Series pairing was the only one between managers of similarly thin playing resumes. Those losing DS managers had one-third as many All-Star seasons (12) as their conquerors had seasons (35): Melvin, who will turn 46 on Oct. 28 and obviously wants a World Series Game 4 for his birthday, spent 1985 to 1994 as a catcher-infielder on seven teams. He was a career .233 hitter who exceeded 278 at-bats in only one of those seasons. Francona, 48, had the most accomplished playing career of the four, batting .274 from 1981 to 1990 for five teams. He spent the bulk of his career with the Expos, with whom he played 365 of his 708 games. Hurdle, 50, was a utilityman for four teams from 1977 to 1987. A career .259 hitter, he had more than 400 at-bats only once, while splitting the 1978 season between the outfield and first base for the Royals. Wedge, 39, had a blip of a playing career that consisted of 39 games, 30 of them with the Red Sox in 1991-92 and 1994.
There are nearly as many reasons for lesser lights becoming great managers (bench-time education, empathy with struggling players, patience) as there are for greats failing at the job -- they're too demanding for players to play up to their expected levels, a lack of understanding about the game beyond the style they had played, impatience.Nowhere on the field does one get as well rounded a baseball education as behind the plate, which explains why former catchers have always comprised the prevalent group of successful skippers -- contemporaries John Gibbons of the Blue Jays, Ned Yost of the Brewers, Bruce Bochy of the Giants, Bob Geren of the A's, Melvin, Scioscia, Torre and Hurdle all played the position. Ex-catchers are exempt from one of the sure downfalls of other former position players -- the inability to manage pitching staffs. "You have to pay attention and know the subtleties of the game," Yost recently said. "A lot of it as a catcher is being able to stay positive with your pitcher. Get them through an inning ... through the game. It's psychological. Managing is a lot like that. That's a big part of it, getting [players] to feel comfortable in their environment." The LCS leaders are hardly exceptions when it comes to the Majors' current managerial roster. Of the 30 skippers, 16 had what can be called marginal playing careers, and seven never even played in the bigs. Nor does the quartet signal any dramatic shift in historic trends. For every Mike Hargrove, a career .290 hitter and 1975 All-Star who managed the Indians to five consecutive AL Central championships, there have been several Gene Mauchs. Mauch's nine-year playing career consisted of 737 at-bats, after which he embarked on a respected managerial career that resulted in 1,902 wins, No. 12 on the all-time list. The end-all in such discussions will always be the Brooklyn-Los Angeles Dodgers, who for 43 consecutive seasons were managed by Walter Alston (1954-76), who had one Major League at-bat, and Tom Lasorda (1976-96), who pitched a total of 58 1/3 big-league innings.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.