Earlier this week Stephanie Liscio gave us her thoughts on the Indians manager search. I agree with many of her points, but I thought I would throw in my two cents on the debate…
For starters, my philosophy on baseball managers is this: there are no good managers, there are simply the right managers for the right teams.
Unlike in football, where an offensive or defensive play call can dramatically alter any given play, a baseball manager only has the ability to influence the outcome of a handful of plays over the course of a game. And many games aren’t close enough for these plays to make a difference.
As a result, a baseball manager is most valuable in the clubhouse. Do the players listen to the manager? Do they respect him as a leader? Will they play hard for him during the dog days of summer? Will they respect his decision when benched or demoted, or will they pout and become a cancer in the clubhouse?
So who’s the right choice for the Indians? Let’s consider a few different types of players on the Indians roster, and determine whether they will respond to Terry Francona or Sandy Alomar Jr.
Both managers should have no issues commanding the respect of the youngsters on the roster. As a two-time world champ, Francona will have their attention from the beginning. Alomar may be slightly less well known to players who didn’t follow his playing career, but a quick Google search will turn up his six All-Star Game appearances and his five trips to the postseason as a player.
The Up-and-Coming Starters
This may be the most critical group of Indians players for the new manager to relate to, with Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and others having already established themselves as major leaguers but still looking to take that next step.
These players should respect Francona and his success in Boston in much the same way the rookies will. At least initially, Francona would command celebrity-like respect in the clubhouse.
Alomar, however, may not be able to handle these players in the same way. It appears as though he’s well respected in the clubhouse, but how long will this last? If the Indians are 10-games out next August will they view him as just a holdover from the Acta era? Will his message be too similar to the one they heard the past two seasons, and very clearly did not respond to down the stretch?
This is the unknown group, for a number of reasons.
For starters, we don’t know who the veterans will be. Guys like Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Jack Hannahan will probably get along with just about anyone, but all three will likely be gone next year and replaced by some relatively inexpensive veteran free agents.
Francona handled the veterans in Boston extremely well from 2004 through 2007. But his team underperformed during his final four years with the Red Sox, failing to win a single division title and missing the playoffs in 2010 and 2011. And we’re all very much aware of the chicken and beer in the clubhouse, which played a significant role in his firing.
In Boston, at least in the final few years, Francona lost control of his clubhouse. He was always a “player’s manager” but without a true leader (unless you count Josh Beckett leading the way to purchase the chicken and beer) the team fell apart.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after Curt Schilling’s retirement in 2007, the Red Sox won just one playoff series and Francona lost control of the clubhouse. Schilling demanded as much respect as Francona in Boston (and maybe more).
As a result, I think Francona’s ability to handle the veteran leaders on a roster is very much in question. With the right group, his hands-off style can work. But as we saw in Boston, it can also backfire.
As for Alomar, we simply don’t know. He was always a leader here during his playing days, but it takes a different type of leadership to handle players from the manager’s chair. Only time will tell how he handles the veterans and the issues that their egos can present.
As I said earlier, there are no good managers – only the right manager for the right situation. And it can be extremely difficult to predict how a team will respond to a manager until the season is well underway. I think both Francona and Alomar have qualities that should allow them to excel. And both have qualities that could lead to yet another collapse in 2013.
I have some concerns about both candidates. But I also think both have the ability to succeed in Cleveland.
Ultimately, I won’t be disappointed in the hire so long as it’s Francona or Alomar. If the Indians lose out on both, I will be irate and I suspect the vast majority of Tribe fans will be right with me and ready to run the Dolans out of town for good.