Commentary

No experience necessary?

Hiring a rookie skipper is risky, but there's reason to believe Ausmus might work out

Updated: October 16, 2012, 9:20 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Hire a manager without previous managing experience in either the majors or the minors?

That hasn't been the Red Sox style. The last time they tried it was with Joe Kerrigan, the pitching coach promoted by Dan Duquette after he fired Jimy Williams in 2001. And we all know how that worked out. Manny Ramirez jumped the team, Carl Everett accused Kerrigan of using a racial slur and Pedro Martinez ripped off his practice jersey and stormed off the field.

Kerrigan would have had more success managing a roster of Pitcher's Pals, the mannequins he used in the bullpen. He was dismissed by the team's new ownership the following spring.

Other than Pete Runnels, who was named interim manager and directed 16 games in 1966 after Billy Herman was fired, you have to go back 80 years to find the last time the Sox promoted a man who had never managed.

[+] EnlargeKerrigan
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe last time the Red Sox hired a manager without previous managing experience in either the majors or the minors was in 2001 with Joe Kerrigan.

That was Marty J. McManus, an infielder named player-manager 55 games into the 1932 season. He finished last that season, next-to-last the following season, and wound up with a .383 winning percentage, or worse than what Bobby Valentine (.426) had in his one season here. McManus would manage again -- the South Bend Blue Sox of the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League. You know, the no-crying-in-baseball league.

So if you want to stop there, inviting Dartmouth alum Brad Ausmus to interview Wedmesday for Valentine's old job would seem to be an odd decision by the Red Sox, who began their managerial search by interviewing Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach and talked to Yankees first-base coach Tony Pena on Monday. The Sox plan to interview Orioles third-base coach DeMarlo Hale on Thursday. Wallach and Hale have managed in the minors, Pena was AL Manager of the Year in 2003 with the Royals before losing 104 games the next season and being fired with an 8-25 record in 2005.

Ausmus is only two years removed from his retirement as a player -- he ended his 18-season playing career with the Dodgers in 2010 -- and the only baseball job he has held since is his current position, a special assistant, baseball operations, with the San Diego Padres.

On the other hand, the most successful manager in Red Sox history -- at least before Terry Francona -- was, like Ausmus, a catcher who had never managed before.

That would be William Francis (Rough Bill) Carrigan, a Maine man (Lewiston) and former Holy Cross star who became the team's player-manager in 1913. Carrigan was just 29 when he became manager, and 32 -- 11 years younger than Ausmus -- when he ended his first go-round with the Sox. In between, Carrigan became the only manager in Red Sox history to win back-to-back World Series titles, in 1915 and 1916.

So maybe it happens just once a century, but if you're looking for an encouraging precedent, that certainly qualifies.

[+] EnlargeMike Matheny
Rob Tringali/Getty ImagesThere is evidence that an inexperienced manager can succeed in the majors. Mike Matheny had never managed before he was hired by St. Louis to replace Tony La Russa last winter. Now his team is in the National League Championship Series.

Here's another, of more recent vintage: Mike Matheny, also an ex-catcher, had never managed before he was hired by St. Louis to replace the legendary Tony La Russa last winter. How's that working out? Matheny has the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.

It was the one-of-a-kind Yogi Berra who made the most plain-spoken argument for why a catcher can become manager and doesn't need experience to do so. This was back in 1963, just before Berra was named manager of the Yankees.

"I've given a lot of thought to managing, but only in the big leagues,'' Berra said. "I wouldn't want to start in the minors. If I haven't been able to learn how to manage in all the years I've been up here, I'll never learn.

"To manage, you have got to be able to get along with your players. I know I can do that. A manager has got to know how to handle pitchers. What do you think I've been doing all these years? I think any guy who has been a catcher for a long time like myself could be a manager.''

Yogi didn't stop there.

"I know some general managers believe you have to have minor-league experience to manage in the majors. I say you don't. How can you learn to manage in the minors? You don't have no bench down there. ... The word for that is personnel, isn't it? Well, you ain't got none.

"Another thing. You don't have no writers traveling with the team. Maybe one. So what do you learn about public relations? And don't tell me a manager don't have to know about public relations. He's the team's best publicity man. The better he gets along with the writers and the fans, the better it is for the club. Look at Casey Stengel. The writers love him. You don't think he don't bring a million dollars' worth of publicity to his team?''

Berra took the Yankees back to the World Series in 1964, his first year as manager. Then he was fired, but that's another story. He resurfaced with the Mets, and in 1973 went to another World Series.

The Red Sox have had their share of catchers who became managers, although the current people's choice, Jason Varitek, has chosen to at least defer returning to the dugout by taking a job as special assistant to the general manager.

Ten of the team's 45 managers were ex-catchers, including the first hired by this ownership group, William Grady Little. Kevin Kennedy, John McNamara, Ralph Houk, Darrell Johnson, Del Baker, Steve O'Neill, Carrigan, Lee Fohl and Fred Lake. All ex-catchers. And Pena caught 18 seasons in the big leagues, four for the Red Sox.

[+] EnlargeBrad Ausmus and John Ely
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokActually, Brad Ausmus isn't totally without experience. As is a Joe Torre season-ending tradition in a game that doesn't affect the playoffs, the retiring catcher got to be the manager for the day in October of 2010.

All four managers currently alive in the postseason are the same: Matheny, Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy and Jim Leyland, with Leyland the only one who never made it to the big leagues as a player. Tracy Ringolsby of FoxSports.com notes that since the wild card was added in 1995, 12 former catchers have managed teams in the league championship series a total of 31 times, led by Joe Torre's 10.

Mark Loretta, the former Red Sox second baseman who currently works with Ausmus as another Padres special assistant, endorsed Ausmus's qualifications to manage last week, saying he and former teammate Mike Lowell, who also has never managed, "would connect well with players, which I think is one of the most important parts of managing.''

Besides, it's not entirely true that Ausmus has never managed in the big leagues. In each of his final two seasons with the Dodgers, Torre designated him as the player to manage a game on the season's last weekend.

"You knew how good Brad was as a catcher. But for me, it's all about the personality," Torre said days before he retired as manager and Ausmus as player. "From the time he stepped in the clubhouse, you could see the leadership ability. His personality is really terrific. He has the ability to manage, and I think he'll be interested in doing that.

"He's very bright. He reminds me of [Yankees manager Joe] Girardi, except a little less stiff, more relaxed."

Rough Bill Carrigan. Brainy Brad Ausmus. Two of a kind?

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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