Baseball Players Don’t Always Make Good Managers – The Atlantic


Despite the preponderance of useful data and the potential for a non-savvy manager to render it useless, most MLB managers are former players. Contrast this with the NFL, NBA, and NHL, where fewer than half of all head coaches are former players. These sports, by and large, recognize that a managerial or head coaching role is too important to assign to someone whose only success came when playing.


Why is MLB so different from its other major counterparts? There doesn’t seem to be a very clear answer. It may be a function of legacy—MLB is a much older league than its counterparts, and transitioning from the field to the dugout became ingrained in the league’s culture. (Yet the NHL and NFL formed at roughly the same time and clearly have very different hiring practices from one another.) And in all cases, the sports played in each league have dramatically evolved over time. No one would confuse a 19th-century baseball game for one played today, Conan O’Brien’s attempts notwithstanding. Or it may be because baseball has a distinct position—catcher—which is regarded as more cerebral than other positions and thus creates the perception of grooming players into managers. Whatever the reason, MLB has clearly been slower than its counterparts in moving away from using playing experience as a proxy for managing experience.


Even today, the sport doesn’t seem to be learning its lesson. A recent article by FOX Sports’ CJ Nitkowski (himself a former player) points out numerous managerial candidates with no previous experience being considered for 2016 hires. Yet the article highlights current managers with no experience either: Mike Matheny, Robin Ventura, Walt Weiss, Craig Counsell, and Brad Ausmus. If one wanted to make a case that managerial experience isn’t a prerequisite for success, this is an awfully strange list of examples to make that case. Of those five managers, all but Matheny oversee teams that have lost far more than they’ve won. Two of those five manage clubs in last place in their division; two more are next to last. Ausmus is likely to be fired at the end of the season. Even Matheny, the manager of the Cardinals, seems to win in spite of his inexperience even while his blunders are well-chronicled.

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