A Manager's Survival Guide

Last year, 13 major league managers got the ax. To help prevent a '92 bloodbath, we offer some advice
April 05, 1992

Imagine being the head counselor at a very exclusive summer camp for boys. You're the boss, in title at least, but the campers have all the rights, not to mention private agent-counselors to help ensure those privileges. If your campers, many of whom are spoiled rotten and possess delicate egos, misbehave or fail to meet your standards, your options are few. You can fine them, but since their personal wealth is maybe 30 times greater than yours, they will snicker, not cry. You can punish them if they break rules, but if the punishment is too harsh, they can run to the Campers' Association, the strongest union on earth.

Camp David McNally—named after a determined camper who once challenged the system—is located at a well-protected site on Cape Fehr, and every activity is closely scrutinized by diligent media: "Excuse me, counselor, you're starting which nine campers in the tug of war?" Your own boss, the camp's general manager, and his boss, the rich camp owner, sit perched in a tower, watching your every move. If you make too many mistakes, or if the boys fold up their tents and quit, it is only a matter of time before the G.M will put his arm around you and say, "Well, we can't fire 25 campers, so you're gone."

Welcome to the life of a major league manager, "the toughest job in sports," as Texas Rangers pitching coach Tom House puts it. Last season a record 13 managers were fired, and a 14th resigned. "If everyone in this country had to manage a major league team, there would be no need for Social Security—the job takes 10 to 15 years off your life," says Pittsburgh Pirate coach Rich Donnelly. "Those who say they enjoy it, that there's no pressure, they're liars. There's no job in the world like it. I've seen it do strange things to people. If you don't smoke, you will. If you don't drink, you will. And if you do drink, you'll stop."

So then, acting in baseball's best interests, we offer the 1992 Manager's Survival Guide, a set of a dozen simple guidelines to ensure job security...at least until October.

1. Get a nickname. This is a simple but useful tactic and will prove especially helpful in the case of new Boston Red Sox manager Butch Hobson, born Clell Lavern Hobson Jr. Many of the game's most enduring managers have had nicknames, including Sparky Anderson, Whitey Herzog, Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra. The great Connie Mack altered both his names; he was born Cornelius McGillicuddy. The goofier the nickname, the better the chances of keeping your job. Pants Rowland had a .578 winning percentage for the White Sox from 1915 to '18; he wouldn't have lasted one season had he gone by his real first name, Clarence. Are you listening, John Oates? (Oates was called Johnny as a player and as a coach, but he asked that it be shortened to John when he was named manager of the Orioles last May, saying that he thought it sounded more mature.) Dignified names will get you nowhere, Johnny.

The nickname rule, however, is not guaranteed for new Yankee manager Buck Showalter. The recent line of succession has seen Bucky Dent fired and replaced by Stump Merrill, who was fired and replaced by Showalter. But considering the natural progression—Bucky to Stump to Buck—if your nickname is Stumpy, you should most definitely apply for this job. (Send your application to the New York G.M., and former Yankee manager, Stick Michael.) "

2. Keep a comedian on your roster. "A manager's job is so demanding," says Donnelly, "you've got to laugh every day. Mickey Rivers was the funniest player ever. If I were a manager, I'd sign Mickey right now just to ride the buses and planes. He wouldn't even have to play." Second-year Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove wisely gave Junior Ortiz a shot at the Indians' backup catching job this spring. Ortiz, the current funniest man in the game, can keep a manager smiling. After one long stretch on the bench with the Pirates, Ortiz, instead of complaining, told manager Jim Leyland, "My only wish in life is that you have a son, that I'm his manager and I get to tell him, 'Sorry, Jim junior, you're not playing today.' "

3. Look the part, act the part. Just looking like a manager—overweight, bad hair, a cheek full of tobacco—will get you hired once, maybe twice. "Look like Zim," Donnelly says of Don Zimmer, who has managed 1,743 games with four teams. "If I had to draw a manager, I'd draw Zim." Says Zimmer, "I've gained weight this winter. So I guess I look more like a manager."

New Milwaukee manager Phil Garner, 43, will be lucky to last the season—he looks much too good, and he's in better shape than some of his players. "The younger managers are at a disadvantage because they look too much like the players," says Richard Griffin, director of media relations for the Montreal Expos, "and the fans are always mad at the players." At 35, Showalter is not only younger than some of his players but also looks about 14. What he needs is some stubble. Oates is extremely sharp, but he's too wholesome-looking to be a manager. He needs a scar on his face.

To act the part, a manager has to cuss a lot. To do so properly a manager would do well to take a Swearing Seminar from Phillie manager Jim Fregosi. Such instruction is strongly recommended for Oates and for the Mets' new manager, Jeff Torborg: Both need help in this area. (An added suggestion to Torborg: Don't compliment your wife so often. You're making other managers look bad.)

A manager must spit a lot. Fregosi, Minnesota's Tom Kelly and the Cubs' Jim Lefebvre, who together have managed 2,373 games in the major leagues, can run this messy little workshop. No points will be subtracted for spitting tobacco juice on your own spikes. Points will be added for splashing a writer's sneakers.

Stand, don't sit, during games. Standing on the top step of the dugout, with one arm resting on the rail and a serious look on your face, is very important if your owner or G.M. peers down from his box. There you are, a study in concentration. Among the top standers in baseball today are Fregosi, Oakland's Tony La Russa and the Angels' new skipper, Buck Rodgers. The Reds' Lou Piniella is in another category: He's the game's top pacer. If you must sit on your duff, take style pointers from L.A.'s Tommy Lasorda, Detroit's Sparky Anderson and the Giants' Roger Craig, who do it better than anyone else in the game.

It should be noted that there is a school of thought that runs counter to the conventional look-like-a-manager thinking. This is the approach that has worked so well for La Russa: longish hair, swarthy good looks, fit physique. "I think the '90s will be the decade for managers to look like Pat Riley," says Pirate outfielder Andy Van Slyke. "They'll care about their hair. They won't wear their hats. If it rains, they'll send the pitching coach out to make changes. On off days, instead of playing golf, they'll go get their teeth whitened."

4. Get a hobby. This doesn't mean fishing or hunting or going to the track, all run-of-the-mill manager hobbies. Dare to be different. Former Oriole skipper Earl Weaver, among the most resilient of managers, grew tomato plants. Craig, entering his seventh full season as manager of the Giants, raises horses and lives in a log cabin in the off-season. La Russa, entering his 14th consecutive season as a major league manager, is a balletomane and an animal-rights activist. How does a hobby help? It creates small talk, a diversionary tactic to keep nosy writers from asking pertinent questions and, better yet, to keep them away from the players.

Make reading one of your hobbies, or at least wedge a Tom Clancy novel in your office bookcase between The Baseball Encyclopedia and The Elias Baseball Analyst. Don't be like former manager Joe Altobelli, who, while managing Baltimore in 1984, revealed that the only book he'd ever read was The Gordie Howe Story. After firing Altobelli in '85, the Orioles' owner, Edward Bennett Williams, called him a "cement head."

5. Take a writer to lunch. Coexisting with the media is imperative. Compliment a well-dressed writer, if you can find one in North America. "Tell him, 'That's a very nice T-shirt you have on today,' " says Van Slyke.

Be helpful to the media, as Weaver was on at least one occasion. In 1986 a radio reporter tried interviewing him during spring training. It quickly became clear that the interviewer didn't know Rogers Hornsby from Bruce Hornsby, so Weaver seized his tape recorder and microphone and began answering and asking the questions: "Now you should ask, 'Earl, what do you think of your starting pitching this year?' And I'd say, 'I think it's going to be great.' "

Amuse the media. Former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan had a master's gift for gab. Before one game he captivated the press for 10 full minutes by discussing an acorn he'd found. Another day he took the Boston writers to lunch and at a quiet moment asked, "So, how many of you guys have used marijuana?" Before being fired last October, Morgan yakked his way through four seasons with the Red Sox—a healthy tenure in Boston.

Do not humiliate a media person unless it is clearly warranted, as it was when Zimmer, then manager of the Rangers, was asked by a reporter in 1982: "If you take a player out, can you put him back in later in the game?" In such a case you are permitted to strike the offending reporter repeatedly.

6. Be pals with your G.M. He can fire you, so laugh at his jokes, let him cheat at golf, listen to all his stories. Texas manager Bobby Valentine and his G.M., Tom Grieve, are inseparable—one reason why Valentine still has his job after seven pennantless seasons (page 42). Fregosi's chances of surviving in Philadelphia are much enhanced by the fact that he and G.M. Lee Thomas once roomed together as players with the Angels.

Of course some general managers are particularly difficult to get in step with. Former Twins manager Ray Miller, now a Pirate coach, says that when his team was on the road back in the mid-'80s, Minnesota G.M. Howard Fox would sometimes call him the day after a game and ask, "How did you guys do last night?"

7. Know your owner's family. "When the owner's kids walk on the field during spring training, I've seen managers drop their fungoes and run to hug them," says Griffin, the Expos' p.r. man. "That's a good idea."

Let's say your owner comes up to you in spring training, puts his arm around you and says, "Tell me something, Stumpy. You know, my 14-year-old is a pretty good little pitcher. You think you could let him throw an inning or two today?" Your response: "Sure, boss. And thanks. My starters can use the rest."

8. Sign autographs, pleasantly. Last November, Minnesota's Kelly was approached by two Twins fans as he was dashing to the men's room at the Salt Lake City airport. They asked for his autograph. Kelly barked, "Right now, I'm going to urinate." That comment was leaked to a Minneapolis gossip column, in which he is now routinely referred to as Tom (I'm Going to Urinate) Kelly. Imagine what he would be called if he hadn't won two world championships in the past five seasons.

9. Don't throw batting practice. That's for coaches, and you did your time as one of those. "They said I acted too much like a coach," says Tom Trebelhorn, who was fired in October as Milwaukee's manager. "Hell, I managed more games than anyone in Brewers history. I won more games, too. I threw BP, I hit fun-goes, I ran around on the field like an idiot. Who cares? If I got let go for that, then I don't want to be part of the game. If I have to add four inches to my belly and lean on the batting cage all day, then I'd rather be in Bushtown, U.S.A." (Well, he's now in Chicago—as a bench coach for the Cubs.)

10. Trumpet your pitiful playing career. As a rule, the worse you were as a player, the better you will be as a manager. Three of the American League's best and most secure managers were miserable players: Anderson was a .218 lifetime hitter, La Russa .199 and Kelly .181. Three of the National League's most durable skippers are Atlanta's Bobby Cox, Lasorda and Leyland. Cox hit .225. Lasorda was 0-4 as a pitcher. Leyland never played in the big leagues. Why this phenomenon? Because all spent the better part of their careers sitting on the bench, studying the game.

New Mariners manager Bill Plummer should be a huge success: His lifetime average was .188. The same goes for Montreal's Tom Runnells, who is entering his first full season as a manager—he hit a career .174. Hargrove and Kansas City's Hal McRae, both new managers in 1991, will someday wish their career averages had been .190, not .290.

11. Campaign for an expansion job. The positions of manager for the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies are still up for grabs, and managing an expansion team is easy. Lose 100 games each of the first three years, who cares? The city is just happy to have baseball. Consider the last four expansions (in 1961, '62, '69 and '77). The average number of games worked by the original managers of the expansion franchises was 575.20. That's 3.55 seasons. These days, that's security.

12. Diversify and be frugal. Even with these helpful guidelines, you're going to get fired eventually. So, work in the off-season, have another business. Valentine owns six restaurants. Runnells is a licensed stockbroker. Lasorda hawks Slim-Fast and a bagful of other products.

During the season pocket as much meal money as possible. Big leaguers—including managers—get $52 a day in meal money in spring training, $59 a day during the season. Not counting postseason, there are about 134 days a year on the road, which comes to $7,612. That's more than the minimum player salary was in 1969. After every game the visiting clubhouse man provides a full meal for the team. Eat it. It's good. And, more to the point, it's free. "Actually, a manager could live in the clubhouse all year," says Donnelly. "Peppermint patties for breakfast. Old doughnuts for lunch. Then eat the postgame spread. I bet a manager could pocket six or seven thousand dollars doing that."

"And you'd never have to worry about getting fired," says Van Slyke, "because you'd be dead from malnutrition. They couldn't fire someone who was dead. Could they?"

ILLUSTRATIONSTEPHEN KRONINGER ILLUSTRATIONSTEPHEN KRONINGERBe helpful to the media, even if it means both asking and answering a reporter's questions. ILLUSTRATIONSTEPHEN KRONINGERSign autographs, pleasantly, even if it means putting off nature's call.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)