Coaching experience means little when choosing an MLB manager

Coaching experience means little when choosing an MLB manager
Dan Jennings watches a game from the dugout on his first day as the Miami Marlins manager on May 18. (Hector Gabino / Tribune News Service)

Joe Maddon might be baseball's brightest manager. The Chicago Cubs dumped a manager they liked in order to hire Maddon, whom they regarded as the best in the business.

Maddon awoke last Monday to learn that the Miami Marlins had appointed Dan Jennings as their manager. Jennings had spent more than 14,000 days working in professional baseball, not one of them as a manager.

"God bless him," Maddon said, "because I couldn't do that."

No one holds an ill wish for Jennings, who is universally respected within the game. It is the apparent disrespect for managerial experience that made Maddon — and so many others — shake his head at the thought that Jennings could step down from the front office and into the dugout without missing a step.


"I hope he does great. He is such a good guy," Maddon said. "I am talking about me personally. I can't even imagine attempting to do it without the experience that I had."

Maddon took what might now be called the old-school route to managing in the major leagues. He managed in the minor leagues — for six years, in such outposts as Peoria, Ill. and Midland, Texas. He coached, in the majors and minors.

"The way the game is managed today, so data-driven," Maddon said, "I'm certain that there is a certain group that feels you don't need that actual dirty experience — in the minor leagues, on the field, riding the bus, chewing out your team after a seven- or eight-game losing streak in Arkansas. All that stuff, maybe, is not as important."

Maybe not. The species of fiery, cap-throwing, expletive-spewing manager is all but extinct, which is why Bryan Price's 77-bleep rant in Cincinnati got so much attention. It was out of the bleeping norm.

Today's manager is more of a corporate spokesman, a frontman for the team at a time the balance of power has shifted from the dugout to the front office, the conduit for statistical analysis handed down from above.

"The manager has to be multidimensional now," said San Diego Padres Manager Bud Black. "In this day and age, there is the media component, the front-office component, the ownership component, the public relations component and, most importantly, the player component."

Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations, hired Maddon off the Angels' coaching staff to manage what were then called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

With the disclaimer that he is happy with Don Mattingly, Friedman offered what his priorities would be for hiring a manager: the abilities to lead, communicate well, evaluate talent, understand each player's skills so as to put each in position to succeed, and apply whatever data is provided to give the team matchup advantages on offense and defense.

Managerial experience would be an asset, Friedman said, but not a requirement. A good bench coach could make up for a manager's lack of game experience.

Or maybe not. In the second game under Jennings — and his handpicked bench coach — the Marlins lost on a pinch-hit home run by the Arizona Diamondbacks' A.J. Pollock, who bats right-handed.

"We were watching the pen real carefully and there was no righty up at the time," Arizona Manager Chip Hale said. "That was the only way I was going to use him."

Tim Wallach, the Dodgers' bench coach, managed four seasons in the minor leagues, including two at triple A.

"I know what it was like the first two months managing at triple A. It was hard. The game was fast," he said.

"It's just experience you can't have until you actually experience it. And, as fast as the game is there, it's faster here."

Wallach is 57. He was selected the best managerial prospect in the Pacific Coast League in 2009. He is the bench coach for Mattingly, who never managed in the minors.

Wallach has interviewed for five managerial jobs, most recently with the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers hired Brad Ausmus, 46, who never managed in the minors.

Wallach emphasizes he is happy coaching for the Dodgers, and living year-round at home. He retains a burning desire to manage in the major leagues, but he cannot help but wonder whether it might be too late for him.

"Obviously, it looks like they're trending to go younger," he said. "I get it. Upstairs, they're getting younger."

Maddon calls it "the new normal" — owners and general managers that consider the managerial job "like an extension of the front office."

The trend: Get the right leader — a recently retired player, with smarts, that commands respect — and the rest should fall into place.

Ausmus won, without managerial experience. Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals has won, without managerial experience. Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox and Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers had no managerial experience. Walt Weiss of the Colorado Rockies was the head baseball coach at Olympic swim star Missy Franklin's high school.

Maddon speaks highly of Raul Ibanez, who was one of three finalists to succeed Maddon as the Rays' manager. Still, Ibanez completed his career last year, so he would have had no experience managing or coaching on any level.

"That is why I have always respected Ryne Sandberg," Maddon said of the Philadelphia Phillies manager and Hall of Fame second baseman. "He grinded it out in the minor leagues. I appreciate what he has done. I have a lot of respect for that."

Jennings never played or coached in the majors, in addition to never managing at any professional level. The Marlins lost his first five games.

Installing him as a major league manager strikes us as similar to installing a statistical analyst as general manager, before that analyst has any experience negotiating contracts, working with agents, building a baseball operations staff, or dealing with the media.

David Samson, the Marlins' president, said the idea of making Jennings the manager came out of his conversations with Michael Hill, the president of baseball operations, and then with Jennings.

"We had this epiphany and brought it to Jeffrey," Samson said.

That would be Jeffrey Loria, the owner. And, really, he is the reason why no one should get too worked up over the Marlins hiring a guy with no real experience.

On June 23, 2010, with Giancarlo Stanton two weeks into his major league career, Loria fired Manager Fredi Gonzalez.

Stanton never has played for a team with a winning record, but the Marlins' franchise player is playing for his seventh manager in six years. The eighth will come along shortly.

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin