Thursday May 20th, 2010

"Hopefully, he does it with everybody. That's OK. He doesn't understand that. He never played in the big leagues." -- Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, talking about manager Fredi Gonzalez, after Gonzalez benched Ramirez for loafing.

He never played in the big leagues. This is not a new issue. Heck, it is not even new for the Marlins. Let's go back to 2001 and check out the words of Florida reliever Dan Miceli, talking about manager John Boles:

"No, I don't have confidence in him. I think the guys who've got time in the big leagues, those are the managers [that] guys want to play for. They respect those kinds of people. You have someone to go to."

So yes, we have heard this before, and we will hear it again. Major league players come in all shapes, shades and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: they play in the major leagues. So if they are looking for a reason to rip a manager who didn't play in the majors ... well, it doesn't take a debating genius to use that little piece of information to your advantage.

The question is: Does this matter? Does a manager need big-league playing experience to succeed?

Maybe Joe Torre's stellar playing career earned him respect as a manager ... but did it help Charlie Manuel to hit .198 in 384 major league at-bats?

Maybe Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi have credibility because of their days as World Series catchers ...but do players even know that Tony La Russa was a fringe big-leaguer?

Does it help to have major league playing experience? I'm sure it does. It gives managers a head start in winning over the clubhouse. But ultimately, that's all it is: a head start.

Alan Trammell was an All-Star shortstop, a local hero in Detroit and a man of dignity and class. He lost a good portion the Tigers clubhouse and was fired after three years. Jim Leyland was a career minor-leaguer, such a poor hitter that he sometimes says, with a straight face, "I don't know anything about hitting." Leyland, in his fifth year in Detroit, still commands the respect of his team.

To manage a big-league team you need to be fair, you need to be honest, you need to play the best players, you can't hold grudges and you need to convince the players you know how to win. You can develop all of those skills playing in the major leagues. You can also develop them elsewhere.

Fredi Gonzalez has the skills to manage a major league team.

You know who just proved it for him?

Hanley Ramirez.

This week, Ramirez actually did Gonzalez two favors. The first favor was that Ramirez committed his egregious mistake in a game, which means it was caught on video. There was no he/said, he/said over what happened in a meeting or a film session or on the team plane. Anybody who watched the video clip knows Ramirez was wrong.

The second favor was that, during his tirade, Ramirez said this: "We got a lot of people dogging it after ground balls. They don't apologize.''

Gonzalez, meanwhile, said "there are 24 guys out there, busting their butts."

Now, if you were a Marlins player on the fence -- a guy who knew Ramirez was wrong but didn't really like Gonzalez -- whose side would you be on now?

Players respect poise, and Gonzalez showed it from start to finish. First, he pulled Ramirez from the game. Wrong is wrong, and you can't let your stars give up on a play like that.

Then Gonzalez stood his ground without escalating the situation. He remained respectful of Ramirez even when Ramirez was not respectful of him. He said, "I think he needs to talk to his teammates a little bit. Whatever feelings he has for me are fine and dandy," and made it very clear that he would not hold a grudge.

Gonzalez gave Ramirez one day off. Ramirez apologized individually to his teammates. Then Gonzalez put Ramirez in the No. 3 spot in the batting order.

Gonzalez seems to understand that this is part of the deal with Hanley Ramirez: if you want the talent, you have to manage the person.

Fredi Gonzalez didn't play in the major leagues. But he showed this week that he knows how to handle a major leaguer. See, any player can call out his manager by saying "he never played in the big leagues." It only resonates if the manager has already lost the respect of his team.

The Marlins know this better than most. The day after Dan Miceli ripped John Boles for never playing in the big leagues, the Marlins fired their manager.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.