I have never managed a single game in the big leagues, nor did I play in that many. But I don’t think the amount of time spent in the big leagues factors into one’s ability to judge a manager’s capacity to communicate well. After all, speaking to a group of men united by a purpose isn’t some esoteric thing, mysterious to all those looking in from the outside.
I find this happens in baseball fairly often. A group of people inside the locker room agree that no one on the outside can understand what they’re going through. False. Managers think there are no other teachers or tacticians in the world besides them. False. Media people think there are not other sources of information besides them. False. The fact is, these jobs are unique, but the circumstances have several parallels in real life that most fans can connect with. In fact, baseball—I’m stealing Keith Olbermann’s blurb on my book cover—is often a great metaphor for life. It becomes a much harder experience when we shut life out and try to communicate baseball is if only a great select few can know it.
That doesn’t mean players and managers and media need to start taking advice from every keyboard commando out there, but it does mean that they can stop celebrating their own accomplishment by kicking out the world around it, branding it clueless.
In the Baseball Prospectus article I put up here earlier, Joe Maddon is celebrated as one of the great managers of the game. But quite honestly, he’d be pretty damn good at a lot of things because he has skills that translate well to other venues: He listens, he’s got a unique style, he’s not over baring, he’s charismatic, and he is aware of what is happening around him, not anxious to push things that aren’t baseball out of baseball.
I’ve had the misfortune of playing with a lot of “baseball” men who have a healthy disdain for cross the streams of real life with the game. These men are always revered in the locker room, like old military commanders have only known the way of war. They make life hard for dissimilar minds, especially young disimilar minds whom they have direct power over. I always wondered how the managers let it get this way? Why aren’t they more proactive in generating an atmosphere of communion, softening the hard-nosed and hardening the wide-eyed? Hell, even office managers and restaurant managers know this is key to running a good work place. Why do baseball managers leave players to figure it out this themselves?
College kids play for a sense of team. For an ideal. For school money when they don’t even want to be in clase. When you get to pro ball, that collegiate thinking is looked down upon. You hear the term “cut the chord” used a lot. Yes, players must move on from the coddling embrace of their alma mater, but should they move beyond the ideology that they are a unit bound by a higher belief in their ability and glory and all the other stuff that on paper sounds cheesy, but when delivered by a charismatic leader it’s the kind of thing that makes you want to drive a spear into a Persian warlord and scream, “WE ARE SPARTANS!”??
I’m glad Bobby Valentine has been a complete and total disaster because he’s done a great job of drawing attention to often overlooked facets of the managerial process. You have to be able to communicate. You have to have a good personality. You have to be able to deal with people. You cannot be esoteric. You can’t rely on strategy only—you must know how to sell it to real people.
This game has moved further and further towards numbers and I understand why. But at the end of the day it is a game played by people. You can’t inspire a number, but you can inspire a person and that is one of the things a manager should do best.