The San Diego Padres signed Steve Boros to replace Dick Williams as manager on Tuesday and completed an absolute about-face.
Williams might've been too mean.
But Boros might be too nice.
Truthfully, Boros lost his managerial job with the Oakland A's in 1984 because the front office there thought he was a softy. They wanted him to run out and kick dirt on umpires, and he wouldn't. They wanted him to yell at outfielder Rickey Henderson who wasn't getting to the ballpark on time, and he wouldn't.
They fired him.
"We wanted him to be tougher," said an A's executive who requested anonymity Tuesday. "The idea that players were adults and should be treated as adults is a little bit simplistic. We all need pats on the behinds, but we also need to be scolded. That was the message we tried to get across (to Boros) and we didn't, maybe because Steve didn't think it was his style."
But it's this style that the Padres prefer. General Manager Jack McKeon had Boros as a player in the 1960s and coached with him in the 1970s. They're buddies. And last year, McKeon hired him as his minor league coordinator.
When Williams resigned Monday, mainly because of his stormy relationship with his players, McKeon nominated Boros. Both Boros and McKeon drove back to San Diego Monday and they visited with owner Joan Kroc and president Ballard Smith Tuesday morning.
And other changes have transpired:
- First base coach Jack Krol has been made third base coach. Previously, he has coached third base for the St. Louis Cardinals.
- Sandy Alomar, a minor league coach last year with the Padres and a former New York Yankee, will be first base coach. A native of Puerto Rico, he had been coaching with their national team before last season. He then became a minor league instructor last year with the Padres. Incidentally, his sons, Roberto and Santos, are Padre minor leaguers.
- Harry Dunlop, who was bullpen coach last season before Williams asked management this winter that he not be retained, becomes Boros' new bench coach.
"This is Steve's first time managing in the National League," Dunlop said. "He just wants to make sure he doesn't leave anything uncovered."
Boros, who signed an undisclosed one-year contract, was the logical choice, because he came from within the Padre organization, because he has so many friends here (Dunlop and pitching coach Galen Cisco have worked with him in other cities) and because he has major league managing experience.
And how about that experience? He's known to be an advocate of the running game, first of all. As a first base coach in Montreal, he kept a stop watch with him. He would clock runners from first to second. And he would clock each opposing pitchers' delivery time to the plate and would add that to the catchers' throwing time to second base.
In theory, then, he could calculate whether a base stealer would be safe or not before the fact.
Another fact: When he was a minor league manager in San Jose, his team stole a modern day record 372 bases.
"I've always been a strong advocate of base running, not necessarily base stealing, but base running," he said Tuesday. "Because ultimately, you win because you score more runs, and what I want is to be 90-feet smarter and 90-feet more aggressive than the other team. That means going to second on a short passed ball or wild pitch or from first to third on a hit to the outfield."
"We'll work on a number of drills starting tomorrow (today). Bunting techniques . . . proper leads on the bases."
But what about the "nice guy" label? Somebody once said nice guys don't finish first. In Oakland, he had been hired to replace Billy Martin, and his first team, in 1983, went 74-88 and finished in fourth place.
To be fair to Boros, 10 of his 25 players were rookies, not to mention four of his five starting pitchers.
In that off-season, he met with president Roy Eisenhardt and sensed Eisenhardt's impatience. The front office asked him to be tougher on umpires, to argue just for the sake of the players, to be more theatrical in front of the fans. Kick dirt. He wouldn't change. In May of 1984, with the team went 20-24 and was just 2 1/2 games out of first, but he was fired.
- The front office wasn't content with the way he handled the young pitching staff. They fired his pitching coach, Ron Schueler, with him.
- Henderson knew Boros would not discipline him and took advantage, sources said. He'd show up late for batting practice. Other players saw this and said: "Why can't I?"
The last straw might have been a game in Detroit in May of 1984. The Tigers took a slim lead after six full innings when it began to rain. The forecast called for clearing, but the umpires called it, giving Detroit the victory. By the time the Oakland players had dressed and were ready to leave, the rain stopped. They could've played. Players remembered how Billy Martin used to fight for such things.
Boros would not.
He has a philosophy about arguing:
"When I was a player coming up in the minor leagues, I used to think of ways to hate the pitcher, his appearance, his delivery," Boros told Oakland writers after he was fired in 1984. "I'd come up with something to hate him. I'd get angry, too. I'd throw my helmet, kick water coolers.
"But when I finished my college education as an English major, I had been exposed to philosophy. I found that my old attitude disgusted me. I saw baseball as an art, a beautiful game. It was just me and my emotions. And I started to take pride in controlling myself. From that day on, I never jumped an umpire. I channelled my emotions the proper way."
But . . . "I'm sure hope he learned something from his time with us," that A's executive said.
Boros says yes.
"I perhaps gave umpires too much credit in Oakland," Boros said Tuesday . . . Perhaps Steve Boros won't be as patient as he once was with umpires, and with players, too.
"Still, some of the things that've been said about me are that I didn't jump and climb on ballplayers enough. I don't do that. That's not to say I wasn't taking players aside when they let me down, the coaches down, the teammates down, his family down and himself down. But I do it one on one, usually the day after with no public demonstration. Perhaps people think you have to make a public demonstration, and I'm not so sure that's the way to handle people."
Starting today, he will try and meet with each Padre. Tuesday night, pitchers Dave Dravecky and Mark Thurmond caught him in the parking lot, and the conversation ended happily.
McKeon said: "No question, he's much more outgoing (than Williams). He's into communicating with players. He likes people. He gets around, and he has a rapport.
"This is his type of ballclub. At the time we hired Dick, we thought it was his type. It was young. But we're a club that's settled in and reached a point where it couldn't get too much more (from Williams)."
Boros has coached with some of the best:
- Whitey Herzog in Kansas City.
- And, yes, with Dick Williams for one year in Montreal.
He is from Michigan; his wife Sharla from Iowa. They met when he managed a team in Waterloo, Iowa. Her parents were great fans.
So he's a family man. He reads quite much. He loves movies. He's a semi-gourmet. He plays tennis. He doesn't chew tobacco. He doesn't spit.
He is known as an intellectual.
"But you can intellectualize life, and that can make life too complex to the the point where you get paralyzed by it," that A's executive said, still certain that Boros should've blasted those umpires.
So Boros wasn't so confident back when he was fired in 1984. He didn't think he'd manage again. He said at the time:
"This nice-guy label -- I'm kind of getting clubbed to death with it. The public misinterpreted it. When it saw a manager who went and talked to his players and asked their feelings, that all helped create this impression of me as too nice a guy, one who can't make up his mind, who let the players tell him what to do."
And as he spoke that day, he held a coffee mug with the inscription: "No more Mr. Nice Guy."