This Is the Ultimate? Bull! The skipper of the world champs uses stats, sure, but relies more on his eyes and gut

April 04, 2004

In 1974, when I was managing the Kansas City Royals, I had a
lefthanded-hitting first baseman named Tony Solaita. He was in my
starting lineup one night in Detroit, but right before the game
the trainer came to me and said Solaita had a real bad eye
infection. He could hardly see out of that eye. I was ready to
scratch him from the lineup.

"Tony," I said, "I don't want to take a chance of you getting
hurt because you can't see."

Well, the guy pitching for the Tigers that night was Fred
Holdsworth, a fringe pitcher. Tony said to me, "Skip, it's O.K. I
can hit this guy with one eye. Every time I face him, I hit one
out of the park."

So he stayed in the lineup. First time up, two men on, bingo! He
hits one up on the roof. I said, "O.K., you told me."

That's why knowing your players and how they think and how they
feel is so important in managing. These days we have a lot of
statistics that we can use to help make decisions. Computers are
everywhere. Me? I don't use a computer at all. We do have one at
home. That's because my wife uses it.

It's not that I don't use stats--I do. I use a lot of the same
kind of stuff that I used back with the Royals 30 years ago:
matchups between batters and pitchers, how guys hit lefthanders
and righthanders, that sort of thing. Has it worked? About 50% of
the time. See, there's no guarantee you're going to get
outstanding results when you do go by the stats. And don't show
me stats that go back seven, eight years. I like up-to-date
information. Give me the last year or so.

So I do think stats are good to a degree. But for people to say,
"This is the ultimate"? Bull! When it comes to managing, there's
a lot to what you see and what your instincts tell you. You're
not going to run the game by stats. If that were the case, you
might as well put some computer guy in the dugout and let him do
it.

I'm not knocking the people who believe in them 100%. Stats do
play a part. It's just up to each individual as to how much faith
they put in them. Others may use them more than I do.

Here's an example: Last year we were playing the Mets, and Tom
Glavine was pitching. The writers told me that Mike Redmond, our
backup catcher, hits Glavine real good, something like .484. I
knew that. They asked me who was catching that day. I said,
"Pudge Rodriguez." Pudge was hitting .240, .250 against Glavine.
What happens? Pudge hits a home run in the eighth and we win 1-0.
I was putting the guy out there who I thought was the best. I
wasn't worried about the stats.

A manager has to know more than the numbers. He has to know the
status of his players on that particular day. Did someone have a
bad night the night before? Does someone have a cold? A problem
at home? Psychological factors come into play. A lot of what a
manager does is gut instinct.

Take this example: It's the ninth inning, and I have a base open.
The hitter due up has 95 RBIs but doesn't hit my pitcher very
well. The guy on deck has 47 RBIs, but the stats tell me he hits
this pitcher. What do you think I'm going to do? I'm going to
face the guy with the 47 RBIs, not the guy with 95 RBIs. That
other guy is the better hitter when it comes to driving in runs.

I've gone against the grain a lot, and even when it's worked, the
next day people ask me, "How could you do that?" Go back to the
World Series last year. Everybody was asking me how I could start
Josh Beckett in Game 6 on three days' rest. They talked about the
terrible record guys had in the postseason pitching on three
days' rest. I knew the numbers. So what?

If you went by the stats, Josh Beckett doesn't pitch Game 6. But
I did what I thought was right for my club, regardless of the
stats. I knew my players. I knew the kind of individual Josh
Beckett was, and when I looked into his eyes, I saw the
determination. Two days, three days, four days, five days--it
didn't mean anything to me. The other thing that mattered to me
was not letting the Yankees get to a seventh game, because they
seem to know how to win those kinds of games. That was another
time when going against the stats worked out pretty well for
us.

COLOR PHOTO: ALBERT DICKSON/TSN/ICON SMI UP IN SMOKE "A lot of what a manager does is instinct," McKeonsays. "You're not going to run the game by stats."

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)