Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Book Review: The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers

The offseason is when I usually do my baseball reading so I figured it would be interesting to write my Oriole-centric observations of these books. Got it? Good.

Bill James breaks the book down into decades and determines the best managers of each decade and then tells you about their styles, tendencies, innovations and the like. There were really great writeups on two Oriole managers: Ned Hanlon and Earl Weaver.

Everybody knows Earl Weaver but do you know Ned Hanlon? Ned Hanlon managed the great Oriole teams of the 1890's, back when the O's were still a National League team and winning pennants like mad.

Anyway, James details how Hanlon's influence is still felt in the game today and can trace the lineage of influence back from current mangers to Hanlon. For instance, Tony La Russa played for Dick Williams, who in turn played for Walter Alston, who played for Frankie Frisch, who played for John McGraw, who played for Ned Hanlon on the old Baltimore Orioles.

Furthermore, you can trace the "lineage" of many Oriole managers of the modern era back to Hanlon and the Baltimore Orioles of the National League. Earl Weaver, Paul Richards, Hank Bauer, Joe Altobelli and Davey Johnson all spring from Hanlon's disciples. It a tangible link between the Orioles of the 19th century and the club that was reborn in 1954.

The analysis of Earl Weaver is one of the most entertaining reads I've had in awhile. Weaver was dedicated to the idea of platooning players, this we all know. What I didn't know was after the advent of the DH, Weaver would routinely carry only 9 pitchers on the roster so he could carry 16 hitters to fuel his various platoons!

To Weaver, it was all but impossible to get every situation covered with just 25 men on the roster. It wasn't a question of having 25 men and only 18 of them playing; if he'd had 30 men, he'd have started pinch hitting in the 4th inning, and he'd have used all 30.

Truer words were never written.

Weaver was also a huge proponent of the big inning and hated giving up outs. His success in this area drove the sacrifice bunt to near extinction in the American League.

But my favorite assessment was this:

Weaver wasn't interested in what a player couldn't do. He was interested in what a player could do. If he can't hit a breaking pitch, you don't play him against Bert Blyleven. If he can't run, you pinch run for him-but you don't let that stop you from developing what the player can do. It's the things that a player can do that will win games for you.

Isn't that great? It's this characteristic that I see in Dave Trembley. Sam Perlozzo used to worry about his player's flaws or the type of player he felt was missing from the lineup. Trembley isn't like that. He needed a cleanup hitter and turned to Kevin Millar, not because he is a classic cleanup hitter but because he was the best suited for the job of the players on the roster. He didn't worry about Corey Patterson's strikeouts and low OBP, he saw his speed and bunting ability and stuck him in the 2 slot to good effect.

Anyway, I recommend the book to anybody. A great read and an interesting look at how the game has evolved over the last 120 plus years.

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