It's getting to the point where baseball managers and old gray mares have a lot in common -- they ain't what they used to be.
That's a weak attempt at humor, perhaps, but it's becoming more obvious by the hire that managers don't have the same clout as their predecessors. In fact, you might not be far from the truth to classify recent newcomers as little more than mid-management.
Front-office puppets might be a little too strong for those who have been in the establishment for a while, but you get the point. If the nerds haven't taken over, they've at least planted a strong foothold in the castle -- and there is zero indication the trend will change anytime soon. All of which means that manager Buck Showalter is probably riding in his last rodeo -- which I would guess means he'd be much more likely to accept an extension from the Orioles than take a chance on another horse to ride.
With seven-plus years in the Orioles' dugout, and with more than 18 years of managing in the major leagues on his resume, Showalter qualifies as one of the dinosaurs of a changing profession. Experience is rapidly giving way to OJT (on-job training) programs, and while the jury is still out, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests the “old guard” is being phased out, very soon to be regarded as the “former guard.”
There was a time when prospects needed some major league exposure just to get in line to buy a ticket for the managing carousel -- and once aboard they were usually guaranteed a couple of turns around the circuit. That is no longer the case, as MLB has moved on to a trial-by-error system. Call it “managing by the numbers.”
Make no mistake about it, for better or worse, MLB is being driven by analytics, not strategy. The "gut" feel has given way to pitch-by-pitch statistical analysis that relies more on technical than strategic skills.
When the New York Yankees cut ties with manager Joe Girardi after coming within one game of the World Series in a year they were picked no higher than third, it became obvious executive vice president Brian Cashman had a plan that had little to do with tradition. The fact that the most storied team in all of professional sports had a managerial vacancy for more than a month after the season ended, barely a week before the Winter Meetings, pretty much told you all you needed to know.
New Yankees manager Aaron Boone, who had a 12-year playing career, comes from a third-generation baseball family that has a staggering total of 64 years of experience in the big leagues. His brother Bret logged 14 years, and their father Bob caught for 19 years and managed for six more.
Boone's grandfather, Ray, had three hits including a home run during a 3-0 win for the Tigers in the first game ever played by the Baltimore Orioles, in Detroit April 13, 1954 -- the seventh season of his 13-year career. He is the patriarch of the first family to produce three generations of major league players -- the first of five such families in MLB history.
(Bret's son Jake was drafted by the Washington Nationals last year, and should he ever make the major leagues, the Boones would become the first four-generation baseball family and, having seen all of the four Boones play, it'll be time to go.)
With this kind of background, Aaron Boone would figure to be a logical candidate to manage any team, but my first thought when he was hired by the Yankees was that ESPN had lost a very good analyst who had quickly become one of the best in the business. And more than likely it was his experience in the booth and on the fringes of the game that played a big role in Cashman's decision.
While the game that he had grown up around changed, Boone obviously was more than a casual observer. As is the case now with any new hire, Boone understands the impact analytics have had on the game, undoubtedly a key element.
There can be little doubt that the Yankees have bought in big time. It wasn't like they were in a massive postseason drought. Girardi was in New York for 10 years, and an average of 91 wins would seem to satisfy even the most demanding critic, certainly this past season. But there was only one World Series trophy delivered, and Girardi had detractors, many obsessed with his somewhat stoic demeanor, but you'd have to be a nitpicker of the highest order to complain about the overall body of work.
We'll never know what would've happened had the Yankees outlasted the Houston Astros and made it to the World Series. It's hard to imagine Girardi losing his job under those circumstances, but the mere fact the Yankees let him go into the final year of his contract without any hint of an extension probably said more than his win-loss record.
As this is written, the Yankees still didn't have a coaching staff in place, a situation that would be deemed unsettling for most teams, but somehow seemed almost normal given the unusual set of circumstances. The fact that most of Cashman's interviews would have been rookie managers pretty much said it all. Tradition was not going to be a factor in naming the 33rd manager in Yankees history.
Boone himself has a very brief, but unique, background in pinstripes. Filling a hole at third base, Boone played 54 games for the Yankees in 2003, when he hit two memorable home runs -- one a game-winner against the Orioles, the other a more dramatic, 11th-inning blast off Tim Wakefield that beat the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
But it was that winter that Boone had a prolonged effect on the next decade of Yankees history. He tore up his knee playing basketball, which opened the door for the infamous trade that brought Alex Rodriguez to New York.
The Yankees have made a bold move gambling that his second venture won't produce the same degree of unrest. •