NOTE: This article makes reference to current season standings in the MLB. Please note the date on which the article was written, as rankings are subject to change throughout the season.
When writing about sports, it can be easy to focus on the athletes. For evidence of this, simply look at every recent article on this site that isn’t about sports betting. In football, we’ve written about the recent NFL Draft and about the controversies currently plaguing the league. In basketball, we’ve written about the four teams currently competing for a spot in the 2015 NBA Finals. In baseball, we’ve written about Pete Rose and his chances of getting reinstated and entering the Hall of Fame. Even back when we wrote about the most valuable teams in the MLB, there was a great emphasis on the players who add the most to that value.
More general articles have focused on players, whether talking about their undervalued skills or about their overinflated egos. Heck, even the insanity of some fans was turned into the focus of an article a while back. And this isn’t all that surprising. When you go to a game, the two main focal points are likely to be the players out in front of you or the fans cheering (and occasionally booing) alongside you. But while both of these human elements are crucial to your enjoyment of the game, you shouldn’t forget about the people driving those players to put forth the effort that spurs your excitement.
We’re talking, of course, about the coaches. And while football and basketball coaches are a little more visible on the sidelines, it can be easy to forget about the MLB managers in the dugouts. We won’t say they’ve never gotten a mention on this site before (to say so would be patently untrue), but it’s high time they received a show of respect for driving the teams who have given us so much entertainment throughout the season thus far.
Not all of the five MLB managers listed below have made this list for the same reasons, nor are these the only MLB managers worth talking about. But here are some of the ones that stand out for one reason or another.
1. Dan Jennings – Miami Marlins
Former GM Dan Jennings is the newest of all the MLB managers on this list, having just been named as Miami’s new field manager at a press conference this past Monday. Jennings was hired in something of a last-minute decision, as the Marlins were seeking a replacement for Mike Redmond, who lost his position just one day prior following their third loss in a row to the Atlanta Braves. Miami also fired their bench coach, Rob Leary.
In some ways, the firing was not completely unexpected. Mike Redmond has only been with Miami for a few years as a manager (he is a former catcher for the team) and, despite having extended his contract to 2017, they have reportedly been shopping around for replacements for a while now. With Redmond already on the edge of losing his position, the Marlins’ loss to Atlanta sealed the deal. Since Redmond was hired in 2012, the Marlins have won 155 games while losing 207.
Michael Hill, president of the team’s operations, had looked at three of his assistants prior to landing on Jennings for the job. Two of these were Hall of Famers, Tony Perez and Andre Dawson. He also looked at former Miami left fielder Jeff Conine, who false reports had briefly named as Redmond’s replacement.
While Jennings may not have been most people’s first guess in terms of who would replace Redmond (even his own mother has reportedly referred to the decision as a “crazy” one), he is not without his experience. He has been involved with the MLB since 1986, having worked as a front office official as well as a scout. Furthermore, he has been in Miami’s front office since 2002, longer than some MLB managers have been involved with their teams at all. The downside is that he has incredibly limited experience as an actual manager. In fact, his most recent coaching experience was in the 1980s, when he managed Mobile, Alabama’s Davidson High School. He was fresh out of college at the time.
A concession should be made that numerous MLB managers have taken the reins without any actual coaching experience, but Jennings is one of the rare few not to have a historied career as a player behind him. While he attended spring training in 1984, he has never played an actual game as a professional player. Some believe that this might make him a subpar replacement for Redmond, although Jennings does have a fair bit of experience in the team’s player development. He is entering into his new position with a positive attitude, excited to do what he can to help the team.
Interestingly enough, if history means anything, the Marlins might be able to push ahead of their current ranking. In 2003, Miami fired Jeff Torborg, who started the season with a win-loss record of 16-22 (identical to their record at the time of Redmond’s firing). When he was replaced by Jack McKeon, the team went on to win the World Series. Baseball has always been one of the most superstitious sports around, so hopefully fortune will smile on Jennings as he takes on a new role outside of the front office.
2. Joe Maddon – Chicago Cubs
Joe Maddon has been one of the more notable MLB managers around for quite some time, largely because of his proclivity for being somewhat outspoken. He has a gift for saying exactly what he’s thinking, which is fine since he often has some pretty valid points. For instance, he was one of the first people to voice his opinion when Kris Bryant’s agent criticized the Cubs back in March for their financial dealings and their handling of Bryant on Opening Day.
Maddon’s response: “Agents are supposed to say things like that.” It’s a pretty golden response when you think about it. Not only does he appear fair and just by defending agent Scott Boras, but his response simultaneously manages to take focus off the Cubs’ office and whether or not they handled Bryant’s situation the right way.
Let’s face it, Maddon doesn’t care about politics. He cares about baseball. That’s why, also back in March, he made the news for his stance on home runs. He felt that players disgraced the dignity of the sport by pimping homers, and he openly said so. And while some point out that his players showed off regularly when Maddon was in charge of the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s hard to disagree with his view that players should “act like they’ve done it before and that they’re going to do it again.” When you think hard about that soundbite, you start to realize that he basically found the nicest way of saying “shut up and do your jobs.”
Of course, Maddon being one of the more outspoken MLB managers around can lead to some issues. As mentioned above, his stance on “pimping” makes him look like something of a hypocrite when you compare it to his Tampa Bay career. But he’s also recently taken a somewhat odd stance on the issue of batting practice. He has reportedly allowed his players to go close to a week without practicing their swings because, as he puts it, they “swing the bat way too often.”
There are two problems with this. First of all, there’s the sheer logic of his stance that “if they’ve been swinging all year, it doesn’t really matter.” If you follow this statement to its logical conclusion point, then you might say that no athlete should ever practice during the regular season. But then, there’s also the fact that the Wrigley Field renovations (which have been underway for years) include the addition of new batting tunnels. Are we supposed to believe these are just for the visiting teams?
So Maddon can be a little outspoken, which sometimes is for the best and other times can put his credibility on somewhat shaky ground. But like many notable MLB managers, there is no denying that he cares about his team. In fact, he’s so personally invested in the Chicago Cubs that his Aunt Geneva’s hoagie recipe is now being served at the concession stands in Wrigley Field. A number of baseball stadiums have signature concession items, but it’s hard to imagine that many of them come from the manager’s own family. Maddon is a man who cares.
3. Craig Counsell – Milwaukee Brewers
Earlier in the season, the NY Daily News posted an article about MLB managers who might be getting the axe if they didn’t step up their game. Not only did they mention Mike Redmond, who we have already covered, but they also mentioned Ron Roenicke of the Milwaukee Brewers. And they were right to do so. Much like Redmond, Roenicke wound up getting cut from the team earlier this month, just a couple of weeks before the Marlins ditched Redmond.
His replacement is Craig Counsell who, much like Dan Jennings, has no professional experience as a manager. What he does have, however, is fifteen years of experience on the diamond. And some might wonder, much as they are with Jennings, what Counsell is doing in the position. After all, Roenicke had over a decade of coaching experience before he got canned. And that was in addition to a playing career that stretched across half a dozen teams from 1981 to 1988. Counsell may have more experience looking at the game from a player’s perspective, but will he be able to turn things around for a team that couldn’t prosper under a coach with an overall winning record at Milwaukee?
No matter what, he’s going to have his work cut out for him. At the time of Roenicke’s dismissal, the Milwaukee Brewers had a losing record of 7-18. While they had played less games than the Marlins had at the time of Redmond’s dismissal, they were doing proportionally worse, having won only about 28% of their games as opposed to Miami’s 42.1% win record. And at the time of writing, they are still the second-lowest ranked team in the MLB with a record of 15-25 (or 37.5%). That’s a higher percentage, but not by much.
Of course, if you subtract Roenicke’s season standings from the current ones, you’ll see that Counsell is breaking even. He’s winning about as many games as he’s losing, which isn’t ideal but is still pretty ideal for a guy with less experience than his predecessor. And unlike Jennings, he’s spending more time talking about the players than about himself. That says a little bit about his outlook as a manager, and what it says is that he’s the exact type of guy you want in the dugout, a guy who’s looking out for his team rather than just expressing his ability to do so.
Granted, maybe this is an unfair comparison. After all, as we stated above, Counsell spent a number of years as an athlete. He knows the importance of paying attention to his teammates rather than just himself, and he’s undoubtedly bringing some of that to his position as Milwaukee’s new manager. And that’s not just conjecture—even as manager, he still refers to the Brewers as his teammates.
Craig Counsell might only be on this list because he’s currently managing the second-lowest ranked team in the MLB, but he’s doing so with a winning attitude that could mean great things for the Brewers going forward. And hey, the Brewers were in last place up until last night’s win, so he might finally be making an impact. Counsell’s bringing some of the instincts he learned as a player to the table, and he seems to have a positive view of the team and its players. Hopefully for Milwaukee, his attitude and his instincts will be enough to turn things around for the rest of the season.
4. Mike Matheny – St. Louis Cardinals
Whereas Craig Counsell made this list due to managing the team with the lowest ranking at the time of writing, Mike Matheny gains a spot for the exact opposite reason. Yes, the National League currently boasts the distinction of containing the teams with both the lowest and highest rankings in the MLB, meaning that Mike Matheny is technically one of the most successful MLB managers of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. Matheny said last year before the Cardinals lost a potential spot in the 2014 World Series to the San Francisco Giants that their best offense was ahead of them. He just didn’t realize how far ahead.
But while Matheny might be managing one of the best teams in the majors right now, he isn’t without his concerns. The Cards have lost a few games recently, and it seems that the trouble may have started late last month when starting pitcher Adam Wainwright was pulled from a game against the Brewers. Once it was discovered that the source of his injury was a torn Achilles tendon, it was announced that he would miss the rest of the season. Since then, Matheny has noticed that his starters have been playing far fewer innings than they were before.
Wainwright’s injury could have easily spurred Matheny to push his team relentlessly, but he’s actually shown himself to be much more understanding than that. Earlier in the month, he gave two of the Cardinals’ best batters, left fielder Matt Holliday and third baseman Matt Carpenter, a day off after they’d boasted high percentages over the course of sixteen games within sixteen days. He saw this move to be advantageous in two ways; not only would it give two of his best hitters some much needed rest, but it would also allow some relievers a chance to shine in a starting position.
In fact, Matheny has placed a pretty strong emphasis on this idea of resting the players who need it while giving others a chance to improve. During the recent three-game series against the Cleveland Indians, Matheny stated that he planned to use the DH spot to rotate some of his players and give a few players some more at-bats. And while the Cardinals lost one game and barely won another, their 8-3 win in the first game of the series demonstrates that his plan might have worked to an extent.
And if you’re wondering why Mike Matheny seems to be putting such an emphasis on the balance between resting some players while giving others a chance to grow, you need look no further than our above entry on Craig Counsell. We stated that Counsell knows how to treat his players because he’s been in their position, and Matheny is no different. That’s why he’ll bend over backwards to defend Yadier Molina when someone posts an article criticizing his catching skills. Having won four Gold Glove Awards during his catching career, Matheny knows exactly what Molina is up against.
You might be thinking that Matheny only stands up for players like Molina out of team bias, but think again. Much like Counsell, Matheny appears to value the camaraderie he has established with his players. So much so that he has continued to support pitcher Shelby Miller, who now plays for the Atlanta Braves. It’s possible that some MLB managers might lose interest in a player who no longer dons their jersey, but Mike Matheny isn’t one of them.
5. Bryan Price – Cincinnati Reds
With this year’s All-Star Game taking place in Cincinnati, it stands to reason that the Reds’ manager, Bryan Price, would play a role in the proceedings. He will be one of two coaches for the National League, which isn’t much of a surprise since the hometown manager is pretty much always given a coaching position for the All-Star Game.
But if you read that NY Daily Post article we linked up above, then you already know that the All-Star Game has little to do with why Price is on this list. If anything, Price is on this list because it’s simply astounding that he’s going to be around for the All-Star Game in the first place. At the time of Redmond’s firing from the Marlins, Price had only two more wins than Redmond had for the season. He’s a little closer to breaking even, but there’s no telling how that may change as the season progresses.
Part of the problem may be that, like a couple of other MLB managers on this list, Price just doesn’t have any real managing experience. He spent as much time as a pitching coach as Counsell spent as a player, but there’s more to managing baseball than selecting pitchers (even if pitchers can be pretty important in the world of sports betting). And while the Reds maybe haven’t lost quite as many times as they could have, Price has still made some profoundly questionable decisions as their manager. And those decisions mostly revolved around selecting pitchers, so we’re back to where we started.
Oh, but don’t let us fool you into thinking that Price’s incompetence is the only reason he’s such a notable liability. That would just be silly. No, he also appears to suffer from a demonstrably severe case of trucker’s mouth. Of course, we say this with apologies to our trucker friends, since we’re sure that none of you have ever cursed out a reporter while dropping 77 F-bombs in the course of five and a half minutes. For those of you who don’t like doing your own math, that averages out to one variant of the F-word every 4.9 seconds, give or take.
But wait a second, because that math isn’t even accurate. That’s based on the article linked in the above paragraph. If you actually listen to the audio from the interview, you’ll see that it takes a bit longer for the tirade to begin. Once it does, the frequency of the bleeps is pretty high. And pretty much everything that isn’t bleeped out consists of Price telling Enquirer reporter C. Trent Rosecrans that it isn’t his job to tell people what’s going on with the Reds. He also states that the Enquirer’s decision to publish information about the absence of catcher Devin Mesoraco is “making my job f***ing harder.” Although, as Rosecrans points out, Mesoraco hadn’t been on the bench for a week and a half. Assuming the other teams’ managers are doing their jobs, they probably would have noticed.
Before we go too hard on the guy, that was almost a month ago, and he did apologize. For the language, not for having no idea what a reporter’s job is. So why are we talking about it now? Because, as we said earlier, it’s astounding to think that a loose cannon with minimal coaching skills is set to coach an All-Star game for no other reason than the fact that the game happens to be in Cincinnati. It’s great that the MLB values tradition and all, but it’s time to either buck this particular convention or simply cut Price from the Reds’ payroll. He’s not good for their reputation, and he isn’t spectacular for their win rate. They don’t need him.