Matheny, Farrell in October spotlight
A manager's every move is dissected, analyzed during the postseason
BOSTON -- The participants in the 2013 World Series are enjoying an off day before getting back at it Wednesday in Game 6 at Fenway Park. For the Boston Red Sox, it's a chance to take a few ground balls, pop into the trainer's room for some treatment or just bask in the ambiance of their home park. For the St. Louis Cardinals, who have no workout on the docket, the off day provides an opportunity to have a quiet dinner and take stock of the challenge that awaits them in trying to overcome a 3-2 Series deficit.
For Boston's John Farrell and St. Louis's Mike Matheny, the respective managers, the absence of a game on the schedule brings a respite from life on the griddle. But rest assured, it's only temporary.
Both managers have endured their share of scrutiny in their World Series debuts. Farrell was the focus of everyone's attention in Game 3, when he failed to execute a double-switch and left Mike Napoli on the bench while reliever Brandon Workman batted against reliever Trevor Rosenthal and his upper-90s fastball. Farrell won stand-up-guy points for owning up to the oversight, but it didn't do much to negate those "John Farrell had a very bad day" storylines.
A day later, it was Matheny's turn to take some grief for his pitching decisions. In particular, he was second-guessed for allowing Lance Lynn to pitch to David Ortiz rather than bringing in lefty specialist Randy Choate -- and then replacing Lynn with ground-baller Seth Maness, who promptly served up a three-run homer to Jonny Gomes.
The shifting momentum of the Series was evident again in the postgame news conferences following Boston's 3-1 victory Monday. While Farrell did his best to temper the euphoria from Boston's end, Matheny winced over a question about Ortiz's World Series MVP chances and possible flaws in St. Louis' roster construction. Would the Cardinals have been better served carrying an extra bat rather than pitchers Shelby Miller and Edward Mujica, who have yet to appear in the Series? Matheny did his best to dance around that one.
The veteran perspective
The emotional swings and demands on a manager are never higher than at this point in the season. And nobody understands that better than the guys who've thrived and survived under the glare of baseball's biggest stage.
Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Ozzie Guillen -- three former managers with a combined eight World Series rings -- have watched the ebbs and flows of this year's Series from varying perspectives. Torre and La Russa both work for commissioner Bud Selig's office, while Guillen is doing radio broadcast work for ESPN Deportes. They can empathize with the 2013 managers, while simultaneously watching their former professional lives flash before their eyes.
"They're both cut out of the same mold," La Russa said of Farrell and Matheny. "They had well-deserved reputations as players for being competitors and good teammates, and they earned a lot of respect points. It's a learning process, and they have to understand that when something doesn't work, [the critics] are gonna get you. I was always taught to treat your compliments like your criticisms, look in the mirror and do the best you can. It's really that simple. That's how you survive."
World Series: Cardinals-Red Sox
Complete coverage of the Cardinals-Red Sox series. More »
The general consensus is that life is more challenging than ever for managers in the postseason now. After three-plus hours of matching wits in the dugout, they're hauled into an interview room and forced to explain their rationale for various moves in language that's pithy enough to entertain and concise enough to enlighten. Any sign of defensiveness or irritation will be closely monitored and construed as an indication that the manager is getting tense and making his players uptight.
These days, everyone has the latitude and the forum to express an opinion -- whether it's the former big leaguer turned studio analyst or Joe Fan venting his frustration on Twitter. The constant information flow produces a cacophony of noise that can be difficult to ignore.
"Everybody who loves baseball is watching you," Guillen said. "There's only one game in town -- only one in the country -- and everybody has a different way of looking at it. If you make a mistake during the season, only the people in your town are second-guessing you. Now it's everybody in the stands and on TV and the radio. And it's more critical and specific."
Said Torre: "To me, it's all about blame. I remember the old days in the New York Daily News, they would have goat horns. 'Who'll be the goat today?' It's always been that way in baseball. But the media come from so many places now, it can be a little overwhelming sitting in that interview room when you have things firing at you from all over the place."
Even veteran managers can get a little testy when the questions are off-base or overly presumptuous. When Detroit's Jim Leyland dropped a slumping Austin Jackson down in the batting order and moved the rest of his hitters up during the American League Championship Series, he chafed over a reporter's suggestion that he might be panicking. A few hours later, Leyland's decision was validated when the Tigers beat the Red Sox 7-3.
Torre knows the drill from his experience with the New York Yankees during the 2006 American League Division Series, when he was forced to answer a flurry of questions after dropping a slumping Alex Rodriguez to eighth in the batting order against Detroit.
"I came into the room and asked the press, 'Do you know what the first question should have been -- Why isn't Jason Giambi playing?'" Torre said. "I understand that Alex was the lighting rod because of the money he made and all his talent. But it was a tougher decision for me not putting Jason Giambi in the lineup than hitting Alex eighth."
Continuity versus urgency
In October, managers need to walk a fine line between maintaining continuity and displaying the requisite sense of urgency. Torre routinely called upon Mariano Rivera for two-inning saves in the postseason when he had a chance to put a foot on an opposing team's throat, and both managers in this series have summoned their closer for more than the standard three-out save. Matheny called upon Trevor Rosenthal for five outs in Game 3, and Farrell brought in Koji Uehara with two outs in the eighth to earn the save in Game 5.
The postseason is different from the regular season, of course, and managers need to develop an approach that suits their style. It only comes with time. When La Russa broke in as a manager with the Chicago White Sox in 1979, the landscape was populated by Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson, Gene Mauch and other deans of the profession. La Russa noticed that baseball's managerial sages were generally treated with more respect when their moves backfired or failed to pan out, because their career résumés had brought them some added cachet. Younger managers, in contrast, had to earn the benefit of the doubt.
As the years passed, La Russa detected a shift in the prevailing sentiment. When managerial moves were assessed strictly on the outcome -- rather than the quality of the reasoning and logic behind them -- he felt liberated to follow his conscience and instincts and not worry about how his decisions might be received. He credits longtime manager and executive Paul Richards with helping to shape that mindset.
"Paul told me, 'You'll never find out if you're good enough unless you trust your gut and don't cover your butt,'" La Russa said. "You're going to get ripped anyway when something doesn't work out. So you might as well do what you think is right."
Guillen, who developed a reputation for speaking his mind and charting his own course in nine seasons as manager with the Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins, agrees.
"You cannot worry about what people say about you in this game, because then you'll screw up again," Guillen said. "You cannot worry about what the owner or the general manager will say. You just have to worry about how the players will react and how you'll get best out of them. If you think about that other stuff during the game, then you're going to get in trouble."
Fans and media have a right to their opinions, of course, but there's a difference between educated analysis and knee-jerk bloviating on Twitter. That manager who everyone is calling a nitwit is privy to a lot of inside information that might be shaping his decisions. He's not necessarily interested in telling the public that his slumping outfielder has a hand injury or is dealing with personal problems at home.
From his new perch as a special consultant to Selig, La Russa enjoys watching the games and reading the critiques the following day. If he's a little protective of Matheny, his successor in St. Louis, it's because he has spent so much of his life navigating the same challenges.
"I still enjoy how the game is played, watching the coaches coach and the managers manage," La Russa said. "I've come to realize how much fun it is to second-guess. But I don't ever get too serious, because I know those guys in the dugout know more about their personnel than any of us do.
"You may have some really nice information, then you'll look at a [hitter] and see his bat's a little slow and he can't make the adjustment, or it's a little quicker now. There are all those determinations you have to make. There's a place for the metrics and the analytics, but once you take them into the game, that's a big mistake."
After all the planning, strategizing, playing and rehashing, one team is going to win the 2013 World Series, and one will lose. And the manager who comes out on top? He's going to feel more like a survivor.