Big league playing experience is not a prerequisite for being hired as a major league manager, as evidenced by the six current managers who never made it to the “show’ as players: Fredi Gonzalez (Braves), Terry Collins (Mets), Joe Maddon (Rays), Buck Showalter (Orioles), Jim Leyland (Tigers) and Manny Acta (Indians). Several other current managers had short, unspectacular careers, consistent with the long-standing notion that marginal players make the best managers.
Nonetheless, the group of managers heading up major league clubs at the start of the 2012 season can be assembled into a pretty fair starting lineup.
C: Mike Scioscia (Angels). Another old saw about managing is that catchers are well suited to the job. A look at the current set of major league skippers offers no reason dismiss this thought. Seven current managers played catcher, but only Scioscia was a stand-out as a player. Joe Girardi (Yankees) and Mike Matheny (Cardinals) both held down starting positions for several years, but neither came close to Scioscia’s 23.7 WAR, which he accumulated during 13 years with the LA Dodgers. Girardi, Matheny, Bruce
Bochy (Giants), Ned Yost (Royals), Bob Melvin (Athletics) and Eric Wedge (Mariners) each earned less than five WAR for their playing efforts.
1B: Don Mattingly (Dodgers). He was an MVP, a six-time All-Star and a nine-time Gold Glove winner, and although I am not among the people advocating Mattingly’s Hall of Fame candidacy (largely on his brief peak and less-than-elite OBP), there’s no denying that he was a first-rate ball player. As the only first baseman among the current crop of MLB managers, he’s a natural for this starting lineup.
2B: Davey Johnson (Nationals). Like Mattingly at first base, Johnson is the only current MLB skipper who played second base. With Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger, Johnson was part of the celebrated Baltimore infield of the late ’60s and early ’70s. A four-time All-Star, Johnson saved his best season for 1973 when he hit 43 home runs for the Atlanta Braves.
3B: Robin Ventura (White Sox). Hired this off-season as Chicago’s field general despite having no previous managerial experience, Ventura will be returning to the organization where his playing career began. In ten seasons with the Sox, Ventura won five Gold Gloves and was a consistent offensive force in a lineup that also included Frank Thomas and Tim Raines. Ventura’s best season was 1999, his first with the Mets, when he hit .301, had an OPS of .908 and won his sixth Gold Glove. Brad Mills (Astros) is the only other third-sacker among current MLB managers, and he was a replacement-level player who had a very brief career with the Montreal Expos.
SS: Ozzie Guillen (Marlins). Shortstop was the primary defensive position of five current MLB managers, but Guillen is the natural choice to be in the starting lineup, mostly on the strength of his defensive skills. Never an offensive force, Guillen was a .264 hitter with little power. Nonetheless, he held the starting job for the White Sox for more than a decade, with more than two-thirds of his career 15.9 WAR earned on defense. Bobby Valentine (Red Sox), Ron Washington (Rangers), Dale Sveum (Cubs) and Ron Gardenhire (Twins) all played shortstop, but they did so at or near the replacement level.
LF: Dusty Baker (Reds). Baker had an interesting career arc. His talents were visible early in his career, when he hit .304 and slugged .501 in his age-23 season with Atlanta in 1973. He did not top 130 in OPS+ again until 1977 (age 28), and then did so again in ’80, ’81 and ’82. His peak years were ’79 through ’85 (ages 30-36). He earned a solid 34.8 WAR for his career.
CF: Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks). The signature moment in Gibson’s career was his World Series home run off Dennis Eckersley. He won the MVP in 1988, his first season with the LA Dodgers, and on the strength of that season and the previous several years in Detroit, Gibson was poised to make a run at a Hall of Fame career. But from 1989 forward, Gibson was barely more than a replacement level performer. Still, he
accumulated 37.1 WAR during his 17-year career. Although he played far more as a corner outfielder, Gibson played more than 300 games in center, making him best suited to hold that position in our managers-only starting nine.
RF: Clint Hurdle (Pirates). Hurdle had one of the most disappointing careers of any major leaguer, not because he was a poor player, but because of the astronomical expectations that came along with his arrival with the Kansas City Royals in 1978. If you strip away the expectations and take an objective view, what you can observe is a short career to be sure (less than 1600 plate appearances) but not an unproductive one. His career .341 OBP and .403 SLG made for a 105 OPS+, making Hurdle a slightly above average performer with the bat. If not Hurdle in this starting lineup, the other choices are Charlie Manuel (Phillies), Ron Roenicke (Brewers) and Jim Tracy (Rockies), all of whom had short, undistinguished careers as MLB outfielders.
SP: Bud Black (Padres). Few major league pitchers become major league managers. Among 2012 skippers, only Black and John Farrell (Blue Jays) were MLB pitchers. Black was not much more than a .500 pitcher at 121-and-116, but his ERA+ was above average at 104, and for much of his career he was a serviceable second or third starter. He earned 19.6 WAR over his 15-year career. John Farrell has a somewhat less impressive pitching resume. He made only 109 starts in an eight-year, injury-interrupted career. Although certainly not an ace with his 36-and-46 record, Farrell was not a push-over, either. For his career, he averaged more than six innings pitched per start.
DH: Although the managers making up this lineup are drawn from both leagues, their talents are best suited to playing under National League rules – no DH required. If forced to send a DH to the plate, this team would be hard-pressed to produce a batter with anything near league-average offensive production. Take your pick from among Girardi (72 OPS+), Washington (79), Valentine (85) and Roenicke (92). All were more likely to strike out than to strike fear in the opposing pitcher.