Tom Kelly was only 36 when he took over as Twins manager, hired by 33-year-old GM Andy MacPhail, so this isn’t the first time young brainiacs seemed to be taking over baseball.
But as the Twins search for a new manager for just the third time since appointing Kelly in 1986, the face of the modern managerial hire has changed, trending younger again, with less major league managing experience and more reliance on analytics.
Last offseason, five of six teams that switched managers went with considerably younger hires, each with no previous major league managing experience.
In came Dave Martinez (age 53 when hired by the Nationals), Mickey Callaway (42, Mets), Gabe Kapler (42, Phillies), Alex Cora (42, Red Sox) and Aaron Boone (44, Yankees).
Out went Dusty Baker (68 when fired), Terry Collins (68), Pete Mackanin (65), John Farrell (54) and Joe Girardi (52).
The one exception was the Tigers, who hired former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire four days before his 60th birthday. That decision had some Detroit fans wondering if the team had hired a dinosaur.
“I’m only 59, dude,” Gardenhire said at his introductory news conference. “I don’t mind being called old-school because we all learned to play baseball old-school. But we also know a lot of new ways out there.”
Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine have been vague about the exact qualities they are seeking in Paul Molitor’s replacement. But candidates probably should be well-versed in analytics and open to working closely with the front office. Building a cohesive coaching staff is a must. Speaking Spanish would be a bonus.
Past is prologue
This isn’t the first managerial search for Falvey and Levine, though it’s the first time they will make the final decision.
Levine was an assistant GM for Texas in 2014, when the Rangers hired Jeff Banister as manager. According to the Dallas Morning News, three other candidates were Cora, Torey Lovullo and Kevin Cash.
Now Cora is an AL Manager of the Year candidate for the Red Sox. Cash, 40, made a strong case for that award himself after leading the surprising Rays to 90 victories.
And Lovullo, 52, was the NL Manager of the Year last year for Arizona. If that name sounds familiar to Twins fans, that’s because Lovullo was the other finalist four years ago, when then-GM Terry Ryan hired Molitor as manager. Ryan also interviewed Cleveland first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. during that search.
Alomar, 52, and Falvey worked together in Cleveland. Alomar was reportedly the other finalist when the Indians hired Terry Francona in 2012, a time when Falvey was the team’s director of baseball operations.
If the Twins were to hire Alomar this time, he would become baseball’s fourth Latin American manager, joining Cora, Martinez and White Sox skipper Rick Renteria.
The Twins have several Latin American players in their inner core, including Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco and Jose Berrios.
Asked about the possibility of hiring a bilingual manager, Falvey didn’t cite it as a must but said, “It’s certainly a quality we talk about with our [coaching] staff.”
Changing job description
MLB.com columnist Richard Justice has seen how the managing job has evolved over the past three decades. He once covered Earl Weaver’s Orioles for the Washington Post. Now, Justice said, the model is A.J. Hinch, who led the Astros to their first World Series title last year.
Hinch is a former major league catcher with a psychology degree from Stanford. He landed his first big-league managing job with Arizona in 2009, at age 35. Hinch has drawn rave reviews for his ability to squeeze the most out of Houston’s players, and he has been a bridge to the team’s front office.
“That wall that once existed between the manager and general manager no longer exists,” Justice said. “There is information flying back and forth all day long, e-mails, texts, memos and all that.
“The front office is going to have an input into your lineup, it’s going to have input into how you play out the game, the game plan that night and they’re going to review everything you do.”
This hasn’t made it strictly a young man’s job. Oakland’s Bob Melvin (56) and Atlanta’s Brian Snitker (62) are in Manager of the Year discussion, while Francona (59) and the Chicago Cubs’ Joe Maddon (64) remain among the most respected skippers in the game.
But it’s becoming rarer for managers to get recycled from team to team, with Hinch, Gardenhire and Colorado’s Bud Black being recent exceptions. More often, these jobs are going to first-timers.
“Obviously you hire a young manager, he’s probably going to do anything just to get the job,” Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer said. “If you get an old manager, they might be set in their ways. They may listen to analytics, but they may not embrace them.”
Others, such as former Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez, have a more hardened view of how that is playing out across the sport.
“The people who are running these ballclubs,” he said, “think that the manager is the guy that exchanges the lineup card before the game, and that they can figure out everything that is going to happen upstairs.”
Martinez remembers when it worked the other way, with managers forming organizational philosophies from the field upward.
“It’s too bad,” Martinez said, “because maybe we have forgotten how important Bobby Cox and Billy Martin and Ron Gardenhire and Tom Kelly were to the running of those organizations.”