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.