View From The Bleachers

August 26, 2010

The Bill James Guide To Baseball Managers

Filed under: Reviews — cubbiedude @ 1:05 pm

The complete title of this book is: “The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers from 1870 to Today”. Bill James is the author. This book was published in 1997.

I was reading a book titled “How Bill James Changed Our View of Baseball”, and there was a quote to the effect that if Bill James wrote a book about peanut butter, he (the speaker) would buy it.

That statement prompted me to seek out books written by Bill James, which led me to this one. And now I can say: Bill James has written a book about Baseball Managers and we all should read it!

As Dan Gutman of Newsday is quoted on the back cover: ”He’s proven that he knows more about baseball than anybody in the whole world”.

Also on the back cover is this observation (from the book) by Dick Young about Leo Durocher: “You and Durocher are on a raft. A wave comes and knocks him into the ocean. You dive in and save his life. A shark comes and takes your leg. Next day, you and Leo start out even.”

Bill James’ bio on the inside back jacket cover includes the following items: “From 1977 through 1988 James wrote and edited ‘The Baseball Abstract’; from 1990 to 1992, ‘The Baseball Book’. His other books include ‘This Time Let’s Not Eat the Bones’, ‘Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame’, and the ‘Historical Baseball Abstract’, winner of the Casey Award as the best baseball book of 1986.”

In introducing this book Mr. James observes: “A manager is not someone who excels; a manager is someone who copes. I’ll manage somehow.”

His introduction continues: “There is one indispensable quality of a baseball manager: the manager must be able to command the respect of his players. This is absolute; everything else is negotiable.”

The introduction also includes: “Managers are fascinating people. Of the twenty-five greatest managers of all time, at least eighteen were alcoholics. Is this a coincidence, or is there a reason for it? Should we, in looking to hire a manager, make sure he has Betty Ford on his resume?”

The chapters of this Guide to Managers are arranged decade by decade. Here are a few of the decades and the managers profiled within:
– 1930s: Stengel and Southworth
– 1940s: Leo Durocher, Jolly Cholly Grimm
– 1950s: Casey Stengel, Paul Richards, Al Lopez, Fred Haney
– 1960s: Walter Alston, Bill Adair, Joe Adcock
– 1970s: Sparky Anderson, Earl Weaver
– 1980s: Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda
– 1990s: Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella, Tony LaRussa

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

– “The most important question that a manager asks is ‘What needs to be changed around here?’ Any manager, over time, loses the ability to see what needs to be changed.”

– “Almost any manager, when a pitcher gives him a big season, will make a commitment to that pitcher. If he has a couple of bad starts, the manager will say ‘It’s just a couple of bad starts; he’ll get it turned around.’ If he has another bad start, the manager will say, ‘Well, we need him to pitch well if we’re going to contend.’ Then he’ll have a good start or two, and the first thing you know, he’s 5-13, and you’re out of the race.”

– “Stengel didn’t do that. With Stengel, unless you were Vic Raschi or Whitey Ford, you were only as good as your last start. And that was a large part of why he was able to stay on top, year after year, in a way that few other managers ever have. It’s not that he wasn’t ‘loyal’ to his players, but his idea of loyalty wasn’t ‘Joe helped me win the pennant last year, so I owe it to him to let him work through his problems.’ It was ‘These boys are trying to win. I owe it to them to do everything possible to help them win’.”

– “A famous Stengel quote occurred when Casey was asked by a reporter why he had used three pinch hitters in the first three innings of one game. ‘Whaddaya want me to do,’ he asked. ‘Sit there and lose?’”

– “Both Richards and Lopez were ‘defense first’ managers. Lopez once said that all a team really needed was pitching and defense, because if you didn’t allow the other team to score, eventually they would give you a run, and you’d win the game. Richards was less extreme in this regard.”

– “As anyone who has been around athletes ought to know, the most difficult years of an athlete’s life are the years when he is coming to grips with the fact that his skills have gotten away from him. By loading his roster with players at that stage of their careers, Haney virtually guaranteed an unhappy clubhouse.”

– “We know this already, but it is worth noting: In hiring a manager, look for someone who is ‘secure’ and ‘positive’.”

– “He looked for an attitude, a willingness to get it done. When a player lost that edge, that fearlessness, that love of risk, he lost his value, and then his manager had a problem. If the manager faced that problem head-on, there would be conflict. If he didn’t, there would be mediocrity.”

– “What do you put on the back of a manager’s baseball card?”

The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers contains a lot of discussion about topics I wasn’t expecting to see here, including “the definitive history of the sacrifice bunt”, and “fundamental analyses of the several billion options available to a manager setting a batting order”, among other things.

I enjoyed reading this book. It was both entertaining and informative. I do believe that Bill James could make a book about peanut butter be fun and educational, yet somehow relevant to baseball.

I recommend “The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers from 1870 to Today” to anyone with an interest in baseball &/or good writing. It’s too bad that the analyses only go up to the mid 1990s. But after reading about the earlier decades the reader can supply his own ending.

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I'm a third generation cubs fan, living in southeastern Wisconsin.

  • Buddy

    I recommend all Bill James’ work. Even if you dont’ agree with his theories, the content is interesting.

  • Kevin M

    I have been a Bill James fan for years and read his book on managers when it was released. As you pointed out, it is a great study on MLB managers and is well written. I would love to have him update the book to include managers like Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia, and updated looks at Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Lou Piniella.

    I enjoyed reading your blog entry and I will check back again!

  • mrbaseball2usa

    “The most important question that a manager asks is ‘What needs to be changed around here?’ Any manager, over time, loses the ability to see what needs to be changed.”

    Man, if that doesn’t sum up life, I don’t know what does.

  • mastrick

    Yep mrbaseball, isn’t that what happened with Lou Piniella? Batting Lee third and Ramirez fourth all this year? What a joke.

  • CubbieDude

    Buddy: I would second that opinion. If it’s by Bill James, it’s worth reading.

    Kevin M.: Thanks for stopping by, and do return again. I’d love to see an updated Bill James Guide To Managers. There are a few other people who I would like to have read such a book, also.

    mrbaseball2usa: You got that right!

    mastrick: It’s a shame, isn’t it?

    To all: I really hope Jim Hendry and the Cubs get this one right, that they find Mr. Right, and that they hire Mr. Right. I truly hope they don’t take lizzie’s advice and settle for Mr. Right-Now.

  • CubbieDude

    This would probably be a good time & place for me to apologize publicly to lizzie. I disagree with her philosophy that the Cubs should hire a “not so hot” manager for a few years because “they (the Cubs) are gonna suck for a few years, anyhow”.
    But I like lizzie and I respect her right to state any opinion she might have at any time, and I sure don’t mean any offense to her personally when I disagree with her stated opinion.
    I’m sorry lizzie and I apologize if I was out of line.

  • lizzie

    Oh my goodness, CubbieDude, it didn’t even cross my mind to be offended!! In fact when I read your comment I had to go read back to figure out where you thought I might have taken offense! No worries! I’m not even sure I exactly feel that way anymore anyhow, I change like the wind, hehe! The only thing I’m afraid of, is that they’ll bring up Sandberg and because the Cubs aren’t that great of a team right now anyway, he’ll be run out of town before he gets a chance to be great. That’s more my fear. So in that case, I’d rather a disposable guy than bring Sandberg too soon. And you might not agree there either which is 100% perfectly fine. If we all agreed with each other all the time this would be a very boring place. The thing I love about you is that when you disagree, you always do so with respect. We’re good! xxoo

  • Doc Raker

    Does James give the stats on Italian managers vs all other creeds? How about a break down of managers by their position when they where players? How about Italian managers who were catchers? Does James have any stats on that? Thanks for another great book review. Casey Stengelese (his family changed their name to Stengel after immigrating from Calebrese, Italy) always great for quotes.

  • Mr. David M. Beyer

    I’ve got this book — it’s a great read, and even better to keep around for reference.

  • MJ

    Lizzie, here’s the rub on your train of thought. Is this a good time to get Sandberg seasoned to major league managing, with a team that probably won’t compete for at least a year? No pressure for a couple of years. All the while know that in two to three years they’ll be in a position to once again field a competetive team?

  • CubbieDude

    OK, I am definitely losing it. I thought I posted this earlier today, but it’s not here, so I’ll try again.
    lizzie: I’m glad it’s all good. I was just exercising some pre-emptive damage control.
    Doc Raker: Those are all good questions. I guess you’ll have to read the book.
    Mr. David M., Beyer: Agreed.
    MJ: Great minds think alike.

  • lizzie

    MJ – yes, that would be the PERFECT scenario, if it would actually go that way. But the fact that you and I would not put any pressure on him does not mean the fan base as a whole (and the press) wouldn’t either. And that’s what I’m worried about. I’m not looking for a win next year. Neither are you. Maybe even no one at VFTB. But the press folks are, and the drunks in the stands that you and I have already decided to avoid! And that’s where the “no pressure” part tends to fail.

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