No Experience Required

To all my readers,

 I know that this blog tends to be sports-centric, and I try to cover other topics. Please allow me to apologize in advance, because this installment is all about BASEBALL!

  We have all heard throughout our lives that experience is the best teacher. We have been told at one time or another that in order to do a thing, be it a job or a task, that you need experience first. There is no one that I know that has not lost out on something to a ‘more experienced’ candidate. I am finding that if you look at the world of professional sports over the last few years, that there is a growing trend towards hiring head coaches, managers, and general managers who have no experience sitting in the ‘big chair’. Let’s take a look at the last few managerial vacancies filled by MLB teams over that last few weeks. The Detroit Tigers have announced the hiring of Brad Ausmus as their new manager. He will be taking over for Jim Leyland, a manager with a boatload of experience. Brad Ausmus has no managerial or coaching experience at any level of baseball, although in his last Major League game, he was inserted as Dodgers manager on the final day of 2009 (a Joe Torre tradition), and inserted himself as pinch runner for the slow-footed  Jim Thome. Aside from that, he has absolutely no experience, except for that of a player who spent 18-years in the Majors. The Washington Nationals just recently named Matt Williams as their new skipper, replacing the retiring Davey Johnson. Williams brings 4-years of coaching experience to the Nationals, after quite a good playing career (17 years in the Majors. He was named an All-Star five times, won four Gold Glove Awards, led the NL in home runs in 1994 [before the players’ strike squashed the season], played in the World Series three times and won it with the 2001 Diamondbacks). And the Cincinnati Reds recently named Bryan Price as their new manager to replace the recently dismissed Dusty Baker. Bryan Price brings many years of being a Major League pitching coach (including the last 4 seasons with the Reds), but has no managerial experience at any level. The Chicago Cubs hired Rick Renteria to be their new bench boss. Again, a wealth of player/coach experience, but no managerial resume. The Seattle Mariners filled their managerial vacancy with Lloyd McClendon (who has considerable managerial experience), and it will be interesting to see if the Chicago White Sox keep Robin Ventura, or make a change after their dismal season.

This does not only translate on to the field of play. Let’s take a quick look at MLB front offices. Several years ago, the Boston Red Sox took a gamble on an inexperienced GM named Theo Epstein. Well, we know how that turned out, don’t we?  In late 2002, he became the youngest GM in the history of Major League Baseball when he was hired at the age of 28. In 2004, he was general manager of the club that won their first World Series championship in 86 years, and was in the position when the team won another championship in 2007. He was replaced by someone else who had no GM experience, a fellow named Ben Cherington. History has repeated itself, and the Red Sox are once again World Champions in 2013.

There are countless examples of inexperienced managers finding immediate success, just as there are many more who have failed miserably. That list is extensive, and I will not even attempt to list them here. So now on to the question… Is prior managerial experience a prerequisite for managerial success? Sure, there have been many examples of catching lightning in a bottle with managers, just as there have been with players, but is the success of inexperienced managers a growing trend? There used to be a U.S. Army recruiting commercial on TV that featured several young people applying for various jobs and all being told, ‘Sorry, but no experience, no job…’, and the young interviewee countering with the question , ‘Well, if no one will hire me, then how do I get the experience?’ It is the age-old question, and it becomes almost like a ‘chicken-or-the-egg’ dilemma.

 New managers with no experience offer some advantages to team owners, as well as some disadvantages. The new manager cannot command a large salary based on experience or past success. He probably doesn’t bring a busload of managerial baggage (the late Billy Martin, Bobby Valentine…), and he will most likely be more prone to ‘behave’ (read: listen to input from the Owner /GM). The disadvantages are defined as trusting your multi-million dollar business to someone who has never done it before. There is the unknown of whether or not this newly minted, inexperienced manager will hold up under the bright lights and scrutiny that he will be under as a new manager? How will he run the clubhouse? Will he be a ‘player’s manager’, or will he be a tyrant, and the type of manager that the players will quickly turn on? How will he handle the wins and losses? What about the ups’ and downs’ that come in the long season? Will he be able to harness the egos of 25 highly paid players and all of their idiosyncrasies? The wild card is that a new manager may have new and fresh ideas and concepts, and these may or may not work out. We all know how well MLB as a whole embraces progress and change, and how tolerant they are about breaking with tradition, and accepting new ideas.

 With all this said, we are now in the days of the Hot Stove. It is past Thanksgiving, and now we are looking ahead to Christmas and the New Year (2014 if you are counting…). It has been a busy off-season so far, and I will address the changes on a future blog. There have been big trades, shocking free-agent signings, and there will be much more to come before pitchers and catchers report to Florida and Arizona (roughly February 15th…). I can’t wait!

 

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