Tuesday November 23rd, 2010

Would you rather hire a manager who has failed or one who has no experience? Is trying to find the next Terry Francona a less risky bet than trying to find the next Mike Scioscia? This was a busy seven weeks for examining the mysterious issue of what experience means in the dugout. Since the regular season ended, 10 teams -- one-third of the major league clubs -- were forced to make a call on that issue.

Six of the 10 openings went to men who until this year never before had managed in the big leagues: John Farrell (Blue Jays), Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks), Don Mattingly (Dodgers), Mike Quade (Cubs), Edwin Rodriguez (Marlins) and Ron Roenicke (Brewers).

Time will tell if they made the right call, though recent history suggests most of the first-timers not only will fail, but also might never manage again.

What was one of the greatest overhauls of managers in baseball history -- 12 jobs turned over in the past six months -- finally ends today when the Mets formally introduce Terry Collins as their new manager.

The Mets played the experience issue right down the middle in the interview process, winding up with a final four split between first-timers Wally Backman and Chip Hale and recycled managers Collins and Bob Melvin. Experience won out, with Collins having 878 games of experience with the Astros and Angels.

New York is regarded as a rugged landscape for managers in which experience seems to get enhanced value. Over the past 20 years there have been only five first-time managers in New York, and four never have managed again: Bud Harrelson, Bucky Dent, Stump Merrill and Willie Randolph; Buck Showalter is the exception. (Going further, the Yankees and Mets historically do not hire first-time managers who already are not embedded in New York; fiercely provincial, they would never hire a Roenicke or Farrell.)

Does that mean that general manager Sandy Alderson took the safe route by choosing Collins over Backman? Not even close. Collins is a risky choice, as evidenced by just a two-year contractual commitment that is less than what the Blue Jays gave Farrell and the Dodgers gave Mattingly (three years each).

Here's why Collins is a risk: he is 61 (the oldest Mets' hire other than Casey Stengel), he quit each of his last two jobs with tearful resignations in the middle of seasons (including one with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan), he hasn't managed in the major leagues since 1999 (Wade Boggs still was an active player), and he brings the reputation of white-hot intensity that tested the clubhouse loyalty of his players toward him.

Collins is the antithesis of cool hands such as Charlie Manuel, Joe Torre and Ron Gardenhire, whose teams often rewarded their quiet confidence by improving as the long season wore on. Here are the most damning numbers of Collins' approach with the Astros and Angels, his record as the season wore on:

Collins' teams did not respond to his approach. Why would he be different at 61? But does it even matter?

Every job brings different needs, and in this case the priority for the Mets is not September but to create a culture of accountability and a prideful work ethic. Their 2011 season is a boot camp to bring the entire organization into shape, and when it's over, they will have $61 million coming off the payroll and an idea of who fits and who doesn't. The change starts to show in 2012.

Collins, lauded as a sharp player development guy, fits the culture of change. He is not there to be liked, but to help in the making of difficult decisions. Alderson won't let players sabotage Collins' clubhouse the way the Angels did; players will be gone before Collins is.

When spring training camps open next year, Collins will be one of 12 managers running his first camp with his current team -- including half of the entire National League.

Six of the 12 are pure first-timers. What are their chances of success? Rewind to 2008-09, when four first-time managers were hired: John Russell (Pirates), Trey Hillman (Royals), Don Wakamatsu (Mariners) and A.J. Hinch (Arizona). All have been fired already and none have been re-hired.

So that got me thinking: How often do teams miss -- I mean, really miss -- when they hire a manager without big league experience? So I looked at all managers hired full-time for the first time between 2000 and 2008. I excluded hires who had experience as interim managers. I found 37 true first-time hires. How did they do?

• Slightly more than half of the first-timers, 19 of 37, were fired and never have been hired again.

• The 19 first-time, one-time managers lasted an average of 398 games, or about 2 ½ seasons.

• If you include the 13 first-time hires who were interim managers in those years, the failure rate is 64 percent: 32 of 50 first-timers were fired and haven't been hired again.

Can you imagine that kind of a failure rate in the business world, especially any other $7 billion industry? Is managing a baseball team really that hard? Is finding a manager for a baseball team really that hard?

Of course, there are success stories -- enough, anyway, to give hope that your team will be the one to find the next gem. Six of the 50 first-time hires are still employed by the team that hired them: 2010 Managers of the Year Bud Black of the Padres and Gardenhire of the Twins; Bob Geren of the Athletics; and three who have led their team to the World Series: Scioscia of the Angels, Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox and Ron Washington of the Rangers.

Those are the exceptions. Indeed, Collins aside, hiring a recycled manager is a safer move. Six teams have done it in the past six months: the Mets, Braves (Fredi Gonzalez), Pirates (Clint Hurdle), Mariners (Eric Wedge), Royals (Ned Yost) and Orioles (Showalter).

Of the 16 world championships in the wild card era, 13 have been won by managers who were fired at least once before. The past five managers to win a World Series all failed elsewhere first: Bruce Bochy, Joe Girardi, Charlie Manuel, Francona and Tony La Russa. The only first-time hires to eventually win a World Series in this era were Bob Brenly (2001 Diamondbacks), Scioscia (2002 Angels) and Guillen (2005 White Sox). The safe route? Hire a guy after he's made his mistakes for somebody else.

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