Interesting take from Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the Minnesota Twins hiring Paul Molitor as manager, suggesting one problem with Ron Gardenhire was the coddling of players, Joe Mauer in particular. Souhan's column included this bit:
When the guy making $23 million a year begs out of the lineup because of a bruise, it’s difficult for the manager to push others to play through pain.
Molitor’s predecessor, Ron Gardenhire, believed in maintaining cordial relations with key players. That approach worked for most of a decade. It appeared to fail in recent years with Mauer.
Can Molitor play the bad guy?
"Yes," he said. "It is a necessary part of the job. But for me, it’s kind of like surgery. It’s kind of the last option. I want to reach people in different ways before that needs to be done. We all know that different players have different buttons that need to be pushed."
Of course, part of the columnist's job is to stir things up, but blaming Mauer for the Twins' problems in recent years is something bad front offices used to do all the time back in the pre-sabermetric days: Blame your best players for a bad season.
Look, did Mauer have a good season by his standards? No. He hit .277 with just four home runs and the move to first base didn't get him into more games as he played just 120. But he also posted a .361 OBP, best on the Twins, and played solid defense at first. That doesn't mean there isn't something to Souhan's comments, but I don't believe not playing through pain is the primary reason the Twins have lost at least 92 games the past four seasons. (That would be the pitching.)
Nick Nelson of the Twins Daily site has a column up on Molitor's hiring and writes,
Helping those young players develop and realize their potential is the primary task in front of the new regime, and Molitor is as well equipped as anyone for that responsibility. He has familiarity with all the upcoming prospects, not to mention those who've already arrived, through his years as a roving minor-league instructor.
By now you've probably heard Molitor referred to as a baseball "genius" or "savant," with various individuals remarking on his unique and useful insights into the game. He has also been lauded by many players for his teaching skills, and for his ability to connect with Spanish-speaking kids in the minors. These are critical strengths considering the nature of the job he's taking on.
I agree with Nick. Molitor will be a successful manager not by getting Joe Mauer to play through a few bruises but in helping the young players develop. I heard an interview with Molitor on MLB Radio and he was asked whether the Twins needed to sign a veteran leader or two; Molitor said the main priority is giving the young players a chance to play and develop leadership from within. I liked that answer much more than the expected, "Sure, we'd love to add a veteran leader."
From Twins Daily, here are more challenges facing Molitor.
One more interesting note: Molitor joins Ryne Sandberg of the Phillies as that rare Hall of Famer-turned manager. Back in the first half of the 20th century that was a common occurrence -- guys like Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were both player-managers and Walter Johnson managed the Senators and Indians for seven seasons (he was actually quite successful, with a .550 winning percentage, although he never won a pennant).
But since 1950, few Hall of Famers have become managers. Ted Williams managed the Senators/Rangers for four years, finishing with a losing record three times. Frank Robinson had a long tenure, managing four different franchises for 16 seasons, but never won 90 games or made the playoffs. Yogi Berra (who won two pennants) and Bob Lemon (who won a World Series with the Yankees in 1978) had some success. Red Schoendienst managed the Cardinals from 1965 to 1976 (plus a couple other interim stints after that) but didn't make the Hall of Fame until 1989. Eddie Mathews, before he was elected to the Hall of Fame, had a short managerial career. Joe Gordon managed in the 1960s and was later elected to Cooperstown.
Anyway, it puts Molitor in rare company. We'll see if his high baseball IQ translates to on-field success.