Spring Training: Bryan Price
So when the Cincinnati Reds promoted him from pitching coach to replace Dusty Baker as manager last fall, my only question regarding the decision was why more teams don't hire former pitchers and pitching coaches to be managers. Price is one of only three former pitching coaches (or former pitchers) currently managing a major league team, and the other two have been very successful. San Diego's Bud Black was named manager of the year in 2010 while Boston's John Farrell took the Red Sox from last place to a World Series championship in his first season there last year.
I get why catchers are popular managerial choices but with such a track record, why not hire more ex-pitchers?
"I think there has been some thinking that pitchers might not have total understanding of the complete game," Black said. "That might have deterred some executives to say, 'Let's go with a position player as a manager and we'll have the pitching coach handle all our pitchers -- basically half the roster -- and that's how we'll comprise our staff.'"
"That said, I do think there are a lot of pitchers who have the leadership ability, the intangibles, all the qualities of a leader to manage. Pitchers have those qualities, too. They aren't just inherent to position players. I think leadership is all about what that particular person has and his ability to lead. And that comes from anywhere. A second baseman, a left fielder, a pitcher, a catcher -- it doesn't matter."
Black and Farrell aren't the only pitchers who have been highly successful managers. Tommy Lasorda managed the Los Angeles Dodgers to four World Series appearances, winning two of them (along with two manager of the year awards). Dallas Green managed the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series championship in 1980. Bob Lemon managed the New York Yankees to a World Series championship in 1978. Roger Craig took the San Francisco Giants to their first World Series in 27 years in 1989.
Sure, there have been former pitching coaches who failed as managers. Former Tampa Bay manager Larry Rothschild lost 90-plus games each season before the Rays fired him early in the 2001 season. But he also was managing an expansion team and the Rays averaged even more losses (98) the next four seasons under his successors, Hal McRae and Lou Piniella.
"We don't know if Larry was a great manager or not because he didn't have any [good] players," Price said. "He didn't have any pitching, I know that. They couldn't pitch. What are the expectations when you're with a new franchise?"
The point is, there are good pitchers-turned-managers and bad ones. But there have been enough good ones to provide plenty of incentive to hire more. After all, you often hear that pitching is anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of the game. So why not have someone in charge who really understands that? As Price says, "When you get a knock on a manager, a lot of times the knock is that he doesn't know how to run a pitching staff."
Of course, success as a pitching coach can also be an obstacle toward becoming a manager. Black says that if a team has a good pitching coach, it might be reluctant to move him out of that position.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said he didn't look at it that way when he hired Price.
"Pitching is so important and Bryan is such a great pitching coach and a good leader -- I saw he had the attributes to be a good leader and communicator -- but he's still going to have an eye on the pitching.
"It just puts more emphasis on the importance of pitching because we have a manager who understands pitching and was great at it as a coach and hired a coach [Jeff Pico] to carry on his philosophies."
Not that all pitching coaches want to be managers. "We always thought Dave Duncan would be a great manager, but he just never wanted to get involved in that," said Jocketty, who was the St. Louis general manager for 13 years. "He was happy just as a pitching coach."
Although he interviewed for the job of Seattle manager at the Mariners' request in 2004, Price said he wasn't interested in becoming a manager until fairly recently. As much as he enjoyed being a pitching coach, he says he needed a new challenge. The opportunity came last October when the Reds fired Baker.
Jocketty said he and Reds CEO Bob Castellini had an informal talk with Price last fall. Afterward, Jocketty told Castellini that he didn't see any reason to interview anyone else. Price was the man he wanted to manage the Reds.
"I could see working with him the last four years that he not only had the respect and relationship with the pitchers, but also with some position players," Jocketty said. "That was evident right away after the decision -- the position players jumped on board and said this guy is a great communicator and great leader.
“"I think they all saw what he did with the pitching staff and felt he could continue that through to the rest of the club."
I could see working with [Bryan] the last four years that he not only had the respect and relationship with the pitchers, but also with some position players. That was evident right away after the decision [to hire him as manager] -- the position players jumped on board and said this guy is a great communicator and great leader.” -- Walt Jocketty, Reds GM
Price readily admits that he doesn't know that side of the game as well as former position players do. Just like position players don't know pitching as well as he does. The key for each is surrounding themselves with smart, capable coaches who do know the other facets of the game.
"The manager has to delegate to his staff," San Diego general manager Josh Byrnes said. "So if his expertise isn't in an area, he can look to his staff. So I wouldn't think it's an issue going forward. I do think that a catching background is big because you're covering both halves of the inning. But to the extent that you're not a catcher, I don't think whether you're a pitcher or an infielder is really an issue at this point."
"Look, I don't have any credibility as a hitting coach or an outfielder or a base stealer," Price said. "So that's why these guys in the room next to me are so important. I can talk with them about pitching and situational baseball and how to best use our personnel. But I'm not going to go into the cage and work with a hitter or go out in the outfield and talk about footwork on a base hit to center. Those are things I'm just never going to do. But I want to be around and see it. And be a part of it and understand what guys are doing.
"You guys will have questions about what's going on with a guy who is struggling and that's something I should know. I should know what we're doing to help. But it won't be me going into the cage and saying 'Line up your knuckles' or 'Get your elbow up.'"
Price never reached the major leagues as a pitcher, but he says that never posed a problem for him as a major league pitching coach.
"I thought about that when I got hired in Seattle [in 2000]," he said. "That I would have guys challenge me because I didn't play in the majors. And it was never an issue. There was never a single time that someone said, 'What do you know? You never pitched in the major leagues. You don't know what it's like to be in my situation.'
"So I don't anticipate that will be a problem [as a manager]. I really don't think that's where the concern should be."
The key is not having big league experience as a player, but providing leadership and building relationships with players that will bring out the best in them.
"It's interesting. The last three years I've had pretty new managers," Reds infielder Skip Schumaker said. "Mike Matheny in St. Louis, Don Mattingly was fairly new when I went over to Los Angeles, and now Bryan Price. What strikes me about them all is they're born leaders. Leadership is something that can't be taught. You either have it or you don't.
"And you need that to control ego and talent, and everything else in major league baseball. And Mike Matheny 100 percent has it. Don Mattingly has it. And Bryan Price 100 percent has it."
We will see how Price does as a manager but I expect he'll be excellent. There certainly is no question that his years as a great pitching coach gave him the necessary credentials and skills.
"Hopefully," Price said, "10 years from now the Reds will have won a lot of World Series and people will say I was a great choice."