Don Mattingly Is Best Ex-Player Managing Today
ALSO: UNSIGNED FREE AGENTS INCLUDE SOME SOLID BALLPLAYERS
IBWAA members love to write about baseball. So much so, we've decided to create our own newsletter about it! Subscribe to Here's the Pitch to expand your love of baseball, discover new voices, and support independent writing. Original content six days a week, straight to your inbox and straight from the hearts of baseball fans.
Reader Reacts to Friday Feature: Former Umpire Al Clark Also Has Vivid Father-Son Memories
I’m moved to write this morning because of the piece written this morning by Paul Semendinger.
What a great and moving piece that anyone introduced to ‘our’ great game by our dads can and certainly will identify with.
In my case, with my dad as a sportswriter, I was introduced to the field of competition from as early as I can remember.
From being 6 and 7 years old and accompanying Dad to a high school field where he was ‘covering’ the game and ME, after the game being able to run around the bases on the field (where the infield dirt blended into my bloodstream where it still flows), all the way to dad ‘covering’ a World Series that I was umpiring and EVERYTHING in between.
From having THAT catch on the side of the house in Ewing, NJ, to him teaching me to ‘keep score’ to him teaching me how to read the agate in the Sunday papers to that very first trip to Yankee Stadium in the middle 1950s to me learning math and statistics and probabilities from Leonard Koppett’s book to Dad’s baseball and umpiring support through the minor leagues to that telephone call I made to him telling him I’m opening in Texas on Opening Day in 1976 to that first time working at Yankee Stadium, me on the field and eying him in the Press Box and me welling up with a lot of pride.
Yup, that’s what Semendinger’s written words brought to the forefront of my thinking this morning.
Obviously if his words and purpose was to bring to his reader’s mind the recall of that reader’s thoughts about their own experiences with their dads and THAT catch . . . well, a job well done!
—Al Clark, Williamsburg, VA
Al Clark was a major-league umpire from 1976-2001. He is the author of Called Safe But Out: a Baseball Umpire’s Journey, written with Dan Schlossberg.
Did you know…
Foreign affairs: MLB will stage regular-season games in Mexico City each year from 2023-26; London in 2023, 2024, and 2026; Paris in June 2025; and Puerto Rico in September 2025 and 2026. There will also be season-opening series in Asia 2024 and Tokyo in 2025 . . .
Spring training games will be played in PR and/or the Dominican in 2024, with World Baseball Classics in 2023 and 2026. Postseason tours planned for South Korea and Taiwan this year and Latin America in 2023.
Players will get $70,000 each for regular-season events in Europe and Asia and $20,000 for Latin America . . .
Because he’s not vaccinated against Covid-19, YES announcer Paul O’Neill might miss his own number retirement at Yankee Stadium Aug. 21. He’s doing remote broadcasts from his home in Ohio but would have to mask up in common areas of Yankee Stadium – and be barred from the clubhouse, interview room, and field area during batting practice.
Why Is Don Mattingly Far And Away The Best Ex-Player Managing?
By Sean Millerick
Earlier this week, I published a piece on the unique connection shared between Don Mattingly and Charlie Montoyo. While I encourage you to find it and read it, for the sake of your edification and my page views, what the special connection boiled down to was the fact the two are the only managers in all of MLB right now that spent their entire MLB careers with one team.
Mattingly did so by dint of a Hall of Fame caliber career in pinstripes with the New York Yankees, whereas Montoyo did so with the much humbler showing of five at- bats with the Montreal Expos.
I stumbled across this while researching another idea entirely, which was essentially which MLB team came out the best when you played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: MLB Manager edition.
I believe the answer to that question is the Boston Red Sox, but I freely admit to losing interest once I realized my beloved Miami Marlins were not the answer, as I thought they might be. You’ll have to check my math on that one.
However, all this fun manager research did put me in the position of taking a really close look at who is currently calling the shots for all 30 MLB teams.
Two things had become painfully clear. Firstly, I really need help, with time management at a minimum and likely a great deal more. Secondly though, and of much more importance and interest, is this:
Don Mattingly is far and away the best former player managing right now.
Frankly, it’s not even close, and hasn’t been for a while. His career WAR of 42.4 is at least 20 points ahead of every active manager except Dusty Baker (37.0), and with all due respect to Dusty, I don’t think it’s heretical of me to say Mattingly was a much better player.
Craig Counsell is next on the WAR list at 22.4, just edging out Mark Kotsay’s 21.3 mark. Counsell and Kotsay were certainly useful contributors in their careers, sometimes as starters, often as role players, and just feel like the kind of player you expect to end up managing a team.
Which brought me to a simple question: why?
Why is it that more superstars, or even just pretty good players, don’t end up as managers? Granted, WAR isn’t everything when it comes to player evaluation.
Mike Matheny has a career mark of -0.5 but won four Gold Gloves. It obviously isn’t a clear prerequisite for quality managing either; Tony La Russa had -0.6 WAR as a player but seems to have figured out how to make it as a manager anyway.
At least six current managers have never had so much as a single MLB at-bat. Still, it seems odd that only one active skipper has anything close to a Cooperstown resume.
And that’s actually been true for decades. Mattingly is one of only five former MVP winners to win a Manager of the Year award, which he picked up after the 2020 season. Kirk Gibson is the only other person to do it this century, and he last managed in 2014.
Courtesy of same great research at Baseball:Past and Present, it would appear that out of the 57 players with 50+ WAR who became a manager, only six started playing baseball after 1960. That’s insane. Put a much simpler way, that means you can probably count on one hand the number of MLB managers ever selected with any kind of enthusiasm in a fantasy baseball draft.
So why so few? After all, this lack of superstar managing wasn’t always the case. Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, and Cy Young all managed. Pretty sure I remember hearing something about Pete Rose giving it a whirl as well. WAR-wise, 12 managers had a 100+ career as a player. Yet in 2022, we’re tipping our caps to Donnie’s 42.4 mark.
Blame it on television and money.
The opportunities to make money while staying connected to the game are just so much more prolific than they once were. ESPN, MLB Network, Fox Sports, even just RSNs and local radio all provide lucrative positions for former players.
Seemingly every team has also chosen to hire at least one special assistant, largely ambassadorial positions that are just as much about exciting the fans as they are about really contributing to the team. Though some absolutely do offer real value (you’ll never hear me criticize the value of letting any baseball player interact with Ichiro). Teams have infinitely more money to throw around these days.
Consequently, player earnings are also drastically higher, especially for the game’s elite. These people don’t need to work another day in their lives, and for some it’s debatable if their children will have to do all that much either. On that note, baseball unquestionably takes players away from their family more than other sport. If financial necessity isn’t a factor, why hit the road again? It could be that simple.
However, I think a final culprit could be the analytics age. Again, at least six active managers never played. I doubt anyone reading this expects that number to regress.
The MLB manager of the future is much more likely to resemble Jonah Hill’s character in Moneyball than, say, Tom Hank’s slugger-turned-skipper in A League of Their Own. A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but not by much. Managing is hard, and much more cerebral than it once was.
Then again, maybe things start to swing back the other way in the coming years. I wouldn’t bet against Joey Votto making the Hall as a player and a manager. Right now, though? It’s Don Mattingly by a mile at the top.
Sean Millerick is a diehard Miami Marlins fan but still finds cause for hope every Spring Training. He currently writes for @CallToThePen. You can find him on Twitter @miasportsminute.
Some Decent Players Remain Unsigned Free Agents
By Dan Schlossberg
Now that the 2022 baseball season is several weeks old, nearly a dozen decent players remain on the outside looking in.
They’re free agents crushed by the 99-day lockout, their own salary expectations, or both.
Two prominent players who have spent their whole careers in New York top the list.
Michael Conforto, a left-handed hitter with good power and a strong throwing arm, missed the boat when Steve Cohen was doling out top-dollar deals to lesser players.
Brett Gardner, an aging 5’11” veteran no longer capable of playing every day, likewise ended his Yankee career by holding out.
Teams looking for outfield depth, DH help, or experienced bench players could do worse than signing either. But both seem to be seeking far more salary than teams are willing to pay at this point in time.
Then there’s Adam Eaton, still just 33. He’s a little guy at 5’9” but brings speed and strong outfield defense to the table. He’d still make someone an inexpensive leadoff guy.
Best of the still-available infielders is switch-hitting Asdrubal Cabrera, who can play multiple infield positions and provide good pop in the pinch. Plus he has pennant race experience.
Want a first baseman with power? Mitch Moreland, formerly with the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers, might be the guy. He’s a 6’3” left-handed hitter who has also been through the baseball wars.
Another first baseman, Matt Adams, signed with the independent Kansas City Monarchs of the American Association yesterday.
Starlin Castro, a middle infielder, is hoping he finds takers in the majors. But he won’t win any good-conduct medals after an incident got him suspended late last summer.
There aren’t any quality catchers left but there are plenty of pitchers.
Towering lefties Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ have plenty of age and innings on their resumes but could help clubs if they stay healthy. Happ may be 39 but he’s still younger than Justin Verlander, to name another free agent who landed a hefty contract in the latest free agent market.
Jeff Samardzjia, 37, had good runs with the San Francisco Giants as a starting pitcher while Trevor Rosenthal, another righthander, can provide strong relief if he stays off the injured list. Several teams have looked at the latter recently.
Some players, anxious to keep eyes on themselves, even signed minor-league contracts. Julio Teheran, erstwhile ace of the Atlanta Braves, took one a few days ago, for example. So did Kevin Pillar, most recently a jack-of-all-trades with the Mets.
Other free agents, frustrated that clubs across the board were cutting costs, simply retired. Jake Arrieta, a one-time Cy Young Award winner, just joined their ranks.
Had the lockout not happened, the free agent market would have had a logical conclusion rather than a gaping hole. With the negotiating window extended instead of extinguished, Freddie Freeman probably would not have left Atlanta. He said he was surprised when the Braves traded for Matt Olson, ostensibly ending his 12-year run as Face of the Franchise.
Some free agents sign late (see Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel in 2019) but others over-estimate their own value — not to mention club’s willingness to pay.
The betting here is that Conforto will sign somewhere (Philadelphia?) but that most of the others in this article will retire sooner rather than later.
For them, free agency will prove to big a gamble to overcome. Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a writer, broadcaster, and speaker who has been covering baseball since 1969. He prefers The Good Old Days of two eight-team leagues, no playoffs, no interleague play, no DH, no pitch clock, and no instant replay. E.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In eight of the last nine years, new Mets ace Max Scherzer has been top-five in the Cy Young vote, including three wins and a third-place finish last year . . .
Seattle has not been to the playoffs for 20 straight years and has had only six winning records since 2003 . . .
En route to the American League’s 2021 MVP award, Shohei Ohtani had 46 homers and a 3.18 ERA in 23 games started as a pitcher, not to mention 26 steals and eight triples, tied for the major-league lead. But the Angels lost more than they won for the sixth straight year . . .
Ex-Met Noah Syndergaard has looked sharp in the Angels’ rotation . . .
Since they finished 1-2 in NL MVP voting in 2019, Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich have stumbled. Bellinger has hit .195 since and Yelich .234. Bellinger is a free agent this fall but Yelich has seven years left on his extended contract.
Know Your Editors
HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [email@example.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [firstname.lastname@example.org] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [email@example.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.