Don Mattingly is enjoying the palm trees, sun, and humidity in Miami, and according to recent reports, the Los Angeles Dodgers have chosen their final two candidates to replace him: either former Padres Bench Coach Dave Roberts or the Dodgers’ Farm Director Gabe Kapler.
Looking at the landscape of hiring managers, we will explore some various rules of thumb that we can ascertain from the process, which may help us determine the thinking in the Dodgers Front Office and Major League Baseball.
Rule No. 1: You have to start somewhere.
What do the recent hiring’s of baseball managers Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals, Brad Ausmus of the Detroit Tigers, Dan Jennings of the Miami Marlins, Dodgers Rumors indicate candidates Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler, Ryne Sandberg of the Philadelphia Phillies (before he resigned in 2015), Matt Williams of the Washington Nationals (before he was fired in 2015), and Bryan Price of the Cincinnati Reds all have in common?
They each either had very little or no managerial experience before being hired.
When we say no experience, what we really mean is that person has not moved through the minor league system coaching at various levels. Instead, what we are seeing is that managers are being hired as protégés of the front office or the current manager, or as players who were fan favorites, with catching experience a preference.
The question becomes: what is the success rate of managers with no experience? We know Matheny has had success with the Cardinals. However, Williams was fired because of lack of performance with a talented team. Sandberg quit mid-season. Ausmus had a bad season with Detroit. Jennings was fired in 2015. Price is under a lot of pressure with heir apparent Barry Larkin waiting in the wings. The 2016 season has yet to begin with either Roberts or Kapler at the helm.
But is that pressure any different than for an experienced manager?
It is telling that Bud Black and Kirk Gibson, the only two candidates with Major League Baseball manager experience, are not one or both of the two finalist managerial candidates for the Dodgers. However, and this relates to the third and final rule of thumb to be discussed, the Dodgers Front Office, more than anything else, and like any employer, wants to be able to mold the new Manager to its liking. It wants to train the manager with as little conflict as possible. Roberts and Kapler provide that path based on their experiences and personalities. A coach with too extensive a background might be less open to newer ideas as Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi, and the rest of the front office would like to try.
Rule No. 2. People skills matter.
No matter how far we have come in life since Kindergarten, the poem “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum still rings true.
With the Cardinals, besides his managerial skills, Matheny has been successful because he commands the respect of his players, he relates to them, and he has a great farm system with an organization backing him.
Does anyone remember Dodgers Outfielder Andre Ethier arguing with Mattingly? How about the widely known dispute between Yasiel Puig and Mattingly? As much as we do not want to hear this, you do not hear of these types of disputes with the Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants. Maybe because they are better at keeping things in-house. Maybe because they do not happen. Maybe because their cultures are different.
Regardless of why we do not hear of them, their public in-existence — especially when compared to the drama perpetually swirling around the Dodgers — is notable.
People skills matter. Treating your players with respect, finding middle ground, and generally leading effectively all matter. Mattingly is a good manager, but he was not the right manager for the Dodgers. And let us give credit where credit is due: Mattingly did take the Dodgers to three straight playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history and he holds the highest winning percentage as a Dodgers manager since Walter Alston.
That said, there must be a manager who is better-equipped to relate to players of the various backgrounds on the Dodgers roster. That is who the Dodgers are trying to find. Maybe it is Roberts. Maybe it is Kapler. Maybe both, with one serving as the bench coach.
Rule No. 3. Everyone must be on the same page.
If we were to guess, Andrew Freidman, Farhan Zaidi, and Ownership are conflicted about Roberts and Kapler because they each contain the skills most wanted. Roberts commands respect and has won a World Series as a player. He is also a former Dodger. Is it any surprise that he knocked the first interview out of the park (or maybe he hit a triple, but still). He is a leader, a team player, and he would be the Dodgers’ first African-American hire at that position. On the other hand, Kapler relates to the players, is new age, created a health food plan for the organization changing its thinking on fitness, and is a protégé of Friedman’s.
Based on the above, we can imagine that ownership and President Stan Kasten prefer Roberts because of his leadership and a potentially more traditional approach. We can also imagine that Kapler is the favorite of the Dodgers Baseball Operations department (Friedman and Zaidi) because of his ability to adapt, accept change, and work directly with the Front Office on daily lineups and other managerial decisions.