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Sizing up the Managers


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Wednesday, September 10, 2003


ESPN: [email protected] Sun., 8:05 PM ET

ESPN: [email protected] Fri., 10:05 PM ET



By Phil Rogers

Special to ESPN.com


For five games over four glorious September days, Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa faced off across the shaggy infield grass at Wrigley Field last week.


It was a test of managerial wills and styles, as well as a contest between the teams, and it was something to see.



Dusty Baker has brought great energy to the Cubs this season.


Baker and La Russa provoked and then tried to keep order, with chaos always just another inside fastball away. They responded to each other and then pointed fingers.


Pitchers from both teams seemingly became targets when they came to the plate, creating palpable tension. At one point, Baker snapped, shouting obscenities at La Russa. You didn't need a trained specialist to read his lips, especially not when the film clip was replayed endlessly on highlight shows.


In the end, shortly before Baker's Cubs beat La Russa's Cardinals for the fourth time in five games, the two highly decorated managers shook hands and made nice. They understood that the other was trying to do the same job as them, albeit in slightly different ways.


Baker and La Russa are among the most respected managers in the majors. But they have distinct styles that might set them up for an ugly collision such as the one last week at Wrigley.


Is it possible that privately each envies something about the other?


La Russa has built his reputation by deploying his troops unusually well; Baker's comes from his popularity with players, who give him every drop of ability within them. Baker is considered to have problems handling his bullpen; La Russa practically invented the art of the late-inning matchup. Each has a hot button, and you can bet they can push the other's any time they want.


That's the thing about managing. There are many different ways to do it well. With playoff spots on the line, this is a good time of the year to study the different styles.




Every player wants a manager to be honest and up front. You might not like everything he says or every decision he makes, but as long as he's telling the truth and he's being accurate, you can deal with it and adjust to it.


I believe a player can play for any manager, because you're not really playing for the manager -- you're playing for the organization and for your teammates. The manager is just part of the equation. In fact, you should be able to play for the manager even if you don't like him.


I didn't like my last manager with the Houston Astros -- for good reason -- but I played my hardest anyway. I was with the Astros from 1965, my rookie year, until 1971. From 1968-71, my manager was Harry Walker -- the guy who tried to keep Jackie Robinson out of the game before Jackie broke baseball's color line in 1947.


When he was a player with the Cardinals, Walker circulated a petition among other major-league players in an attempt to convince them not to play when Jackie played. Commissioner Happy Chandler told Walker that if he didn't stop it, he would end up being out of the game.


The manager has a job to do, and each player has a job to do. If you don't like the manager, you've got to block it out. But you can respect a manager who's honest and fair.


If I could play for a manager who tried to keep Jackie Robinson out of baseball, players today should be able to play for anyone.




A manager whose gift for keeping his team playing hard could be exposed for his late-inning moves. Jerry Manuel, perhaps?


A manager who has driven his players past the point of emotional exhaustion could watch them come up empty in the final weeks. Admin Bowa?


A manager who doesn't coddle his highest paid players could see his team rise on the strength of an inspired supporting cast. Grady Little?


Here's a look at the leading managerial styles and how the managers of teams within five games of a playoff spot fit within them:



These are the serious tacticians, guys who somehow always get the odds stacked in their favor.


Bobby Cox, Braves

Sure, Cox has had a lot of talent at his disposal during the soon-to-be-12-year run of division titles. But he's also done a great job of both retaining his enthusiasm and getting results. He's had his lineup clicking this year and in 2002 did a fabulous job with a bullpen relying on the likes of Chris Hammond and Darren Holmes. In the postseason, it seems someone like Francisco Cabrera or Keith Lockhart is always stepping up to steal games. Cox is the guy giving them a chance.


Tony La Russa, Cardinals

He's two or three moves ahead of the other guy almost always, with the telling performances coming from pitchers who don't do as well when they're somewhere else. He sometimes outthinks himself, however, such as that one year when he kept hitting his pitcher eighth, not ninth. Barry Bonds also took him out of his game in the 2002 NLCS.



These are guys who are prone to spontaneous combustion. Like liquid nitrogen, they must be handled with care.


Admin Bowa, Phillies

He's the Sgt. Carter of managers. That is, if you like playing for Bowa, you'd probably also use your vacation time for basic training. Bowa could care less about anyone's feelings. He demands key base hits and big outs and struggles to cope when his players prove to be as human as players as he once was. The one thing that saves Bowa from total revolt is players know Bowa has the full support of GM Ed Wade. But, as Tyler Houston's farewell interview suggests, it's going to get really ugly if the Phillies miss the playoffs.


Jack McKeon, Marlins

Trader Jack still has some juice, turning the Marlins into a serious contender since taking over for Jeff Torborg. He's 99.5-percent well-meaning bluster, but it sure is fun to see him explode at an umpire or some development in a game. It would be a great story if the 72-year-old survivor got a team into the postseason for the first time.



These are the wise men. They carry themselves with a dignity sometimes out of place in a baseball uniform, treating players like men and reporters like people. Their teams sometimes lack urgency, but have something left in September.






Felipe Alou, Giants

Who knew he had anything left? The Montreal experience aged the soulful Alou badly, with both hope and franchise players going out the window every year at the trading deadline. He grew tired on that job and it showed; his last four teams failed to win 70 games. But Giants GM Brian Sabean needed a popular choice to replace Baker and Alou has not failed him. He has consistently preached optimism and not gotten into Bonds' way. It will be interesting to see him get a crack in October.


Jerry Manuel, White Sox

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Manuel learned much about how to manage from Alou, especially the respectful treatment of players, and it shows. He's also a highly religious man who believes in good work on and off the diamond. He's shown a confrontational side this season, getting ejected nine times already (more than in his first five years combined), and his players have responded to that change in style. His job was on the line early this season, but the Sox have gone 33-17 since the All-Star break.


Joe Torre, Yankees

It wasn't easy surviving prostate cancer; nor owner George Steinbrenner, either. Torre sometimes seemed wound tight during his previous managerial stints, but rises above the fray in New York. It's the perfect style for a team that annually faces the highest expectations in the majors. Don't be surprised if he decided he's finally had enough after this year's run is over.


First sergeants

These are guys with experience and everyman qualities, guys who might be out of place in dress blues but who would be welcome company in a foxhole.






Ron Gardenhire, Twins

Taking over for longtime manager Tom Kelly was not an easy job, but Gardenhire made the transition easy. He was well prepared by Kelly and, as Kelly's third-base coach, had forged a bond with Minnesota players that continues to pay dividends. Players know he'll fight for them so they don't mind getting dirty for him. He could have lost this year's team at midseason but didn't panic.


Grady Little, Red Sox

He almost always operates beneath the radar, but was forced to the surface to deal with the recent Manny Ramirez flap. He handled it perfectly, benching Ramirez for a game while rewarding the team that had won while Ramirez was too sick to play but not too sick to be seen out at a bar. The Red Sox are winning with their whole roster, not just Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra and Ramirez. That's a formula for late-season success.


Ken Macha, Athletics

Based on his reputation as an extremely well prepared assistant, this guy spent last October making the rounds of job interviews. He wound up staying put when Art Howe fled Oakland for a bigger deal with the Mets, and is getting his mettle tested down the stretch. To truly establish himself, he needs to do what Howe could not, winning in the postseason. Mark Mulder's injury makes that tougher.


Jim Tracy, Dodgers

Like Oakland's Macha, Tracy's resume was stamped "Dues Paid in Full'' long before he landed his first big-league job. He runs a game well, almost well enough to fit in with the grandmasters, but his strength is keeping all his players involved. He did a great job defusing the Gary Sheffield mess he inherited, but has not gotten blood from the proverbial turnip in terms of producing runs. His future is on the line as a result.


Jimy Williams, Astros

Another guy who treats attention like an airborne virus, Williams is popular in the clubhouse -- especially with the Jeff Bagwell-Craig Biggio block, who often wondered how former manager Admin Dierker was winning -- but needs some success to validate his nuts-and-bolts approach. He's a good man who is seldom caught unprepared. But with Williams, the product has to sell itself. Owner Drayton McLane isn't going to be happy if Williams doesn't win with Jeff Kent.


26th men

These are guys who were respected as players and carry that same gusto into the manager's office. They're experienced, outspoken and passionate.


Dusty Baker, Cubs

You keep expecting him to pinch hit himself some day. The man with the sweatbands and toothpick has literally just about seen it all while in baseball, but won't consider the voyage complete until he finishes off the World Series victory that eluded him in 2002. He empathizes with his players reflexively and they feel the love. He's been extremely loyal to warhorses like Shawon Dunston, Ramon Martinez and Kenny Lofton, which makes others want to play for him. Players want to stay in favor with him, which is why he can say "my teams don't give up, they give out.''






Bob Melvin, Mariners

While Melvin wasn't an All-Star, he established a reputation as a class act during his long career as a backup catcher. He added to that with a highly successful stint as Bob Brenly's bench coach in Arizona and has done well in a horribly tough first job as a manager, replacing the beloved Lou Piniella in Seattle. There's nothing flashy about Melvin, but he knows the game and how to deal with players.


Tony Pena, Royals

He proved his love for the game by hanging around for years as a backup after his All-Star caliber skills had faded. He made every team he was on a little bit better and has worked wonders in Kansas City. Pena convinced his players to believe in themselves in spring training and has just kept pushing. The question is whether Pena can work more magic. A happy ending seems unlikely for the Royals, but all Pena wants is a chance entering the season-ending four-game series against the White Sox.


Phil Rogers is the national baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune, which has a Web site at www.chicagosports.com.



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