Is It Hard To Manage Big-Market Teams?

I’ve always been fascinated with the managing side of Major League Baseball. Whether it was Torre of Girardi at the helm, I imagined myself in their shoes, and how difficult a job it would be. Or, would it be?

Something I’ve come to think of over the past few years, is that I don’t know if it really is a difficult job to manage a big-market team like the Yankees or Phillies. Perennial contenders and annual spenders in free agency, who restock and retool their roster to the best of their ability year after year. The manager doesn’t need to lift a finger in building the team, and when it does come together, it seems he doesn’t need to say or do much for the team to perform.

We’ve all talked about Joe Torre’s incredible-turned-ugly tenure with the Yankees, and how he went down as one of the best skippers of the 20th Century. But in reality – and I am a Torre fan – his success was because of what was given to him, not for what he did. Buck Showalter and Gene Michael had already set the Yanks up for glory before Torre even got a phone call from George Steinbrenner. The Core Four, which at the time was much larger including guys like Bernie, O’Neill, and David Cone, were already on the team. Tino Martinez would be signed to a big contract to replace Don Mattingly, and New York was already coming off a playoff appearance in 1995.

And what do you know, Torre led the Yankees to the World Series championship in ’96, ending an 18-year title drought. “Clueless Joe” was now the talk of the town, and a well-respected skipper. Add three more titles to his resume, and some, maybe most people now think of him as a sure-bet Hall of Famer.

The thing that I am really stumped about, is was it really hard for Torre to manage one of the best dynasties in sports history? Think about how great the Yankees were in the 90’s. Who really built the team? Showalter, Michael, and eventually Cashman who re-tooled for the 98, 99, and 2000 championships. Is it a stretch to say regardless of the skipper, the Yanks would have had similar success? I don’t think so.

And then think about the guy who replaced him – Joe Girardi. By no means is he respected and admired the same way Torre was, but he hasn’t skipped a beat in continuing the Yankees’ dynasty into another decade. Missing the playoffs in ’08 due to having to deal with the remains of Torre’s crumbled operation, Girardi got three huge presents the next winter. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, and over $400 million spent later, the Yanks were back on top as the favorites in 2009. Sure enough, they’d stroll right through the regular season and postseason, winning their 27th title. To say it was Girardi’s genius handling of the bullpen (yeah right) is foolish. It was all thanks to Cash and his cash. No matter who managed the Yankees in ’09, to me they were so stacked a similar finish probably would have happened.

To me, it really seems that to manage teams who constantly spend money and have a talented roster is not so hard to do. Terry Francona, Charlie Manuel, and the former skip Bobby Cox all inherited young and productive players that grew into the superstars and legends (for some) they have become in the game. Again, don’t forget the free agent splashes and trades each of the five managers have graciously been given by ownership.

I know managing is not an easy job by any stretch. However, it’s clear to me and it should be to everyone, that when you have a perennial postseason contender that is constantly spending money, it should be expected to win, and win often.

Basically – next time you scream and kick over your TV about a decision, or one not made by Joe Girardi, you have the absolute right to. Even he somehow manages to make managing the Yankees seem difficult and tense.

Posted on March 28, 2012, in Personal Opinion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Love your last line of this article Brian.

  2. I *strongly* disagree. Managing a big-market club such as the Yankees is a challenge exactly because of people who hold this kind of opinion: that if you are given the tools to succeed, you automatically should. Expectations create tremendous pressure. Managing in New York, for example, is challenging not because one is forced to scrape together talent, but rather, one must truly *manage* that talent. The manager’s job in a big market club is to provide clubhouse stability, deal with personlities, prevent the media from impacting the game, while also maximizing the potential of the team. Brian, I’m not sure if you’ve ever read “The Yankee Years” by Torre and Tom Verducci is an excellent book, detailing how Torre took the pieces that were there for him and was able to assemble them into a dynasty where the team took precedent over individual statistics and awards.
    Also look to how he was still able to drive Yankee teams suffering from abysmal starting rotations to playoff contention year after year. Managing in a big market enviornment simply presents a unique set of challenges to a manager, not necessarily an easier set.

    • Can’t you say managing a team like the Pirates is hard as well. When you know ownership isn’t going to provide you with the greatest players and you have to make best with what you have?

    • Actually I did read “The Yankees Years” – twice. I love the book and I am a huge Torre fan, but I wondered if he is really due all the praise and cheers he got. I’m a big Torre fan as I said, it was just kinda doing some deep thinking.

      • Eh… look at Terry Francona with the Red Sox this year (a phenomenal manager, I might add) He was given *all* the pieces for a World Series contending team, but they collapsed. Just because you have the pieces doesn’t mean they’re going to put themselves together. That’s like talking out a jigsaw puzzle, throwing the pieces on the table, and thinking they’re just going to assemble the picture themselves.

        • Good example Eric. Often times it’s just that certain managers gel with certain types of players & teams and it’s difficult to predict. I also thought Tito was a great manager but he lost control of the Red Sox last yr. Torre was the perfect manager for the Yankee teams of the 90’s. He pushed all the right buttons and handled the media perfectly. Although in his latter years some of his moves (or lack of) became head-scratching – his handling of bullpens and reluctance to go with young players eventually led to his exit from NY.

  3. “The manager doesn’t need to lift a finger in building the team.”

    He doesn’t have to, but he should. Who has a better idea what player is going to fit the team, both on the field and off, better? The GM or the manager? It would be stupid for a team not to consider the manager’s opinion when signing players. It’s clear that Girardi does put in his two cents when making decisions like that.

    “The Core Four, which at the time was much larger including guys like Bernie, O’Neill, and David Cone”

    You do know that the term “Core Four” refers to home-grown players, who have spent their careers with the Yanks… right? O’Neill, Cone, and Tino (who you mention in the following sentence) are not home-grown Yankees. Andy Pettitte, one of the “Core Four”, always gets an asterisk mentioning his time in Houston.

    Being a MLB manager has more to do with handling egos (which are huge in pro sports), than it does calling hit and runs or what-have-you. I agree that managers are a bit overrated, but I think you’re underrating them in this article.

    • You’re right about the Core Four thing – my mistake. But I meant to say like the core of the Yankees’ team in the 90s, which was more than Jeet, Pettitte, Mo, and Jorge.

    • Forget the core four, the pitching was what this team was built on. Key, Cone, Pettite, Clemens, El Duke, Wells, Wetland, and Mo. were the keys to the Yanks winning . Jeter is an Immortal, Bernie and Posada were great, Tino and O’Neil good, but in the big games it was the pitching that carried them to victory. Clemens is a Hall of famer, Cone and Pettite are borderline Hall of famers, Key, Wells, and El Duke above average, and Mo, another Immortal along with Clemens. The pitching put the hitters in position to win big games. Wells and Cone threw perfect games, and the Mets have never had a no no. Pitching helps managers sleep well at night.

  4. The Yanks are the toughest team in baseball to manage. Everyone is expecting you to win the world series or you are a failure. It is by far the toughest place to manage and play. Some teams have never won the world series, and Yankee fans can be very spoiled. Just look at some of the posts on this site, many fans are not happy even when they Yanks win 97 games. It is ridiculous how some fans look at the team. Try rooting for the Cubs! I think that this attitiude has hurt the Yanks lately, players like Lee and Beltran are picking other player friendly teams, rather than go to the Yankee pressure cooker. Then there is the mass media in NY, just look at the Tebow circus. All for a backup QB, for a few games anyway.

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