By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) Managers exist to be doubted, second-guessed, and abused.
Seriously, how many of them can you immediately say you respect in full? Currently my list goes: Joe Maddon, Jim Leyland, Mike Scioscia, maybe Bruce Bochy, parts of Ron Washington and a hint of Buck Showalter. It gets messier from there. Charlie Manuel has won, but man is he odd, a bit dopey, and blessed with amazing pitchers. I hate the way he uses/doesn’t use Papelbon. Kirk Gibson is a tough guy and a strong leader… growing on me for sure.
It’s been interesting to look at the two fresh fish thrown into this baseball city, to slowly try to get a picture of who and what they will be.
I’ve always thought of managers in terms of three disparate skill sets: 1) An atmosphere provider, enabling players to be comfortable, productive, and confident. Some do that via a determined calm, and some do it by making an ass of themselves to distract from others. The latter style usually has a shorter shelf life. 2) A strategist, in terms of runners, hitters, defense, and bullpen. Some sit around and wait for the 3-run HR, while others get the wheels in motion every chance they get. 3) Leadership; the solid emblem and presence representing “the plan” with pristine clarity.
So, how are our newbies doing? Today we’ll look at Robin Ventura. Later in the week, we’ll do Dale Sveum. Sveum’s made two infuriating moves in the last two games, but again… Friday.
Ventura is here to provide serenity with his innate, well, blandness. That has seemingly been helpful to Dunn and Rios in particular. The anti-Guillen factor might have ended up as a weapon in anyone’s arsenal, but it’s a Howitzer in Robin’s. Walking through that clubhouse, seeing the demeanor of all of those men, is to soak up a completely different vibe.
He’s had pitching decisions made below him, strongly, by Don Cooper, and of course above him by Kenny Williams. Coop runs the pitching staff, entirely. Cooper is very good at his job, and there’s nothing wrong with leaning on his expertise, but it’s virtually unprecedented for him to have as much power, and express it as clearly as he does. Trace the history of the game to the most powerful pitching coaches, and you always find the manager with final say. Short list: George Bamberger and Ray Miller (Earl Weaver), Leo Mazzone (Bobby Cox), Dave Duncan (Tony LaRussa), Ron Perranoski (Tommy Lasorda), Mel Stottlemyre (Joe Torre). Of course, those are all Hall of Fame managers, so I’m open to ideas on a better comparison. If Duncan were still in St. Louis with Mike Matheny, would Matheny be letting him run things entirely?
Robin himself seems to call some effective hit-and-runs, enjoys the occasional Buntapalooza, and encourages the stolen base attempt. The Sox are aggressive, second in the AL in steals, with an acceptable 72 percent success rate. He’d shown early patience with Brent Morel in the two-hole for frustrating days on end (11 games), but has by now has also tried Gordon Beckham (9), Brent Lillibridge (6), and Alexei Ramirez (11), with almost uniformly horrendous results. There’s more to try there in my opinion. Defensively, the catchers are remarkably better at throwing out runners. You can credit Ventura and Mark Parent for that. The Sox don’t shift very often in the field, despite the enormous league-wide boom in that practice.
Ventura’s leadership presence is another story. It doesn’t exist. This is of course debatable in terms of how much you think it matters. I will forever stand by the idea that a manager, a basketball coach, any boss worth his salt needs some measure of gravitas. They need to be able to inspire, or cajole, or badger, or comfort a player as needed. Verbally, there’s nothing there with Ventura, and the fact that said decisions are being made above and below him publicly doesn’t help.
Now, is this something Robin can grow into? Honest question. Who has shown that they can grow into it? Charlie Manuel was a laughingstock for a year or two. Has “Good Time Charlie” grown, or has his team just been loaded?
So far, Ventura has looked every bit the rookie manager we expected him to be. I have wanted to, and will keep trying to, give the benefit of the doubt and see what develops in him. He’s an organizationally approved choice, helming a group approach. That doesn’t inherently mean he’s a puppet. Perhaps he’ll grow into some more strength and control. Baseball teams need that.
This team needs that.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show and Sundays from 9am–Noon CT on Hit And Run.