I’ve heard it said that being the manager of a professional baseball team is not easy. It takes years, if not decades of baseball experience to excel at the position. Planning, analysis and gut feelings all must intertwine to help any big league manager get an edge.
But you would never know that from looking at them.
For the most part the iconic managers (the LaRussa’s, Lasorda’s, Pinella’s and the Cox’s) stand at the railing of the dugout staring stoic and statue-like out at the action. They spit every now and then and make a few silent hand gestures. At their most animated they run out onto the field to swear in the face of the umpire and kick dirt.
I respectfully suggest that managing a Major League Baseball club cannot be half as difficult as managing a pee-wee team. I submit my argument below for your approval.
A manager at the professional level is handed talent with existing information. He knows who his pitchers, catchers, middle infielders and outfields are before the season begins. Positions are, for the most part, decided.
A pee-wee manger has no idea what he is getting. He might know two kids have pitched before and what his own children’s strengths are, but beyond that he is in the dark. He needs to field a team while keeping in mind certain kids can’t make the throw from third to first, his middle relief pitcher will most likely bean three opposing batters per inning, the placement of some kids at short stop puts their lives in direct danger because it is only a matter of time before they take a line drive off the face and that parents tend to get upset when they are playing to have their son pay and he has been in the outfield three innings in a row. (Thankfully, all the parents from my team seem very understanding, but we’ll see how many coaching gaffs that understanding lasts through.)
The batting order of a big league manager is fairly static by the end of spring training. The slightest tweak is met with commentary that the skipper must have done some in-depth analysis that led him to make the change. In reality, you or I could have done the work after looking at a stat sheet for ten minutes.
At the pee-wee level, the manager must be careful not to let a budding athlete languish at the bottom of the order for more than one game. He also needs to be prepared to switch the order at a moments notice when he finds out just before the first pitch that his lead off hitter has a dentist appointment and will not make the game. Then, the same kid who crushed the ball in practice may have decided that he wants to wear his brother’s batting gloves (the ones that are three sizes too big) to today’s game and the bat will be flying out of his hands and into the shin or crotch of…you guessed it…the manger. It also seems the batters have trouble remembering to wear helmets to the plate as well as who they batted after. This leads to the inevitable distraction of the manager as he shouts, “Billy! You’re on deck. Get a helmet on.” While distracted, the likelihood of said manager taking a released bat to the shin or crotch is exponentially higher.
In-game adjustments are studied ad nauseum. What praise we hear for managers that noticed their pitcher looked tired. How celebrated is the defensive switch in the bottom of the ninth. Apparently, it wasn’t easy to notice that Mark Prior was a pitch away from complete meltdown in October of 2003. It isn’t obvious to everyone that Alphonso Soriano has no business being on the field with a three run lead going into the bottom of the ninth when all he has the potential to do is hop in the air for no discernable reason just before botching a routine pop fly with the bases loaded. Only the trained eye of a seasoned baseball genius could catch this.
The pee-wee manager does not have the luxury of standing on the dugout steps to watch the action unfold. In fact, he misses two thirds of every game. What’s the count? How many outs? He had better hope another parent was watching because he was too busy keeping Timmy from dumping that handful of dirt on Tommy’s head and making Sean give Jimmy his hat back. What do you mean nobody’s been in centerfield for the last five batters?