High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts on the Right Management Stuff - Rolling Stone
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High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts on the Right Management Stuff

Steve Wynn, George Thorogood, Alice Cooper and more weigh in on America’s pastime


Robin Ventura and Don Mattingly

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images; Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

What makes a great baseball manager? Is it a brilliant tactical mind? A charismatic personality? The ability to inspire your players to play up to (or even above) their abilities? The good sense to stay out of your team’s way and let them do their thing? A deft hand at dealing with the media? Some winning combination of all the above?

Of course, if we knew the exact answer to that question, team GMs would have a much better sense of who to hire (and fire) each year. But there’s still a persistent maxim regarding what doesn’t make a great baseball manager – namely, a great baseball player. The theory goes that major league stars generally make lousy managers, supposedly because guys who regularly achieved at the game’s highest levels can’t effectively relate to (or communicate with) players who are less talented.

The late Hall of Famer Ted Williams remains the poster boy for this adage. One of the greatest hitters in the history of the game, “The Splendid Splinter” had little patience for players who didn’t devote themselves to the science of hitting with the same laser-like intensity he applied throughout his playing career; and since Williams generally regarded pitchers as a sub-human species, he probably wasn’t the ideal guy to handle a rotation. Then again, the tart-tongued Williams didn’t have much regard for managers, either. “All managers are losers,” he was once quoted as saying. “They are the most expendable pieces of furniture on the face of the Earth.” Williams was voted the American League Manager of the Year in 1969, his first season as skipper, after guiding the terminally awful Washington Senators to a surprising 86-76 record. But after finishing 1972 (his fourth year with the Senators/Rangers franchise) with a 54-100 record, Williams himself became expendable; he was fired by Texas Rangers owner Bob Short, and never managed in the majors again.

While Williams might be an extreme example, a glance at a list of the Top 50 managers by winning percentage yields just a handful of truly great former players. And among the 20 managers who have won 1500 or more games, only John McGraw, Joe Torre, Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker were considered stellar talents during their playing careers. On the other hand, legendary managers like Walter Alston, Sparky Anderson, Bobby Cox, Casey Stengel and Tony LaRussa all had less-than-distinguished playing careers, while Joe McCarthy, Earl Weaver and Jim Leyland never even made it to “The Show.”

There continue to be exceptions to the rule, however, with Don Mattingly and Robin Ventura the most recent former stars to take the managerial reins with a notable degree of success. “Donnie Baseball” – who won the 1985 AL MVP Award, three Silver Slugger trophies and nine Gold Gloves while toiling at first base for the Yankees during their 14-season World Series drought from 1982 to 1995 – has kept the Dodgers in or near first place in the NL West during his second season at the helm, despite numerous injuries and a lineup that (Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier aside) is more prone to inducing laughter than nightmares in opposing pitchers. Ventura, a six-time Gold Glove third baseman and perennial long-ball threat with the White Sox and Mets, has likewise kept the White Sox in the AL Central race this year, despite his total lack of prior managerial experience. Perhaps the received wisdom on not hiring former stars isn’t so wise, after all.

So this week, we ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: Which current (or retired) star has the goods to become a top-notch skipper?

Name: Steve Wynn
The Baseball Project
Vocals, Guitar

Well, there are a lot of exceptions to that rule. Don Baylor, Kirk Gibson, Dusty Baker, Joe Torre, Frank Robinson and Lou Piniella all won Manager of the Year awards and all were pretty decent players. Then again, when you look at the other award winners, it seems that there is a pretty big drop-off in on-the-field talent, so maybe the adage is true. He’s not retired, but I think that Derek Jeter will be a good manager when he hangs up his spikes. But that may not be for a few years.

alice cooper

Name: Alice Cooper
Position: Vocals

I always thought George Brett would be a good manager, and I always wondered why Al Kaline wasn’t a manager. Both of them might be too nice of guys. As much as I like Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland, a good manager has to have a stern side that’s all business rather than buddy-buddy. And no manager should be a percentage manager. It takes all of the feel out of the game.

Name: Pete Yorn
Vocals, Guitar

There are two former Yankee greats who I think would make solid managers. First, there’s Jorge Posada — with all the championships under his belt, being able to play in the toughest pressure market while surrounded by so many future Hall of Famers for all those years gives him the tools I feel he would need. Also, I just plain love the guy. Second is Paul O’Neill. Arguably my favorite modern day Yankee, there was nobody tougher. A friend of mine told me a story about when Paul’s grandfather came over from Ireland to claim land. Upon seeing a great plot he literally cut his own hand off and threw it onto the plot, because technically in those days whoever touched a plot of land first owned it.

Name: Steve Earle
Vocals, Guitar

Jorge Posada. He lives and breathes baseball, and catchers make great managers. They’re the only players that can see the entire field, which makes them the only players who see a complete baseball game every day.

Name: Scott McCaughey
The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Guitar, Vocals

Catchers are prone to making good managers, and I think Yadier Molina could be one someday (though he’s still in his prime as a player right now). He just seems to understand all aspects of the game, and I’d have to think he’d handle pitchers better than a lot of managers out there now. And I’d still like to have known how Babe Ruth would have fared, as he really wanted to manage but was never given the chance.

joe pernice

Name: Joe Pernice
Band: Pernice Brothers
Vocals, Guitar

Dennis Eckersley. I’ve heard The Eck do a lot of color for the NESN Red Sox broadcasts. He knows his stuff and sounds pretty skillful when it comes to communicating that knowledge. I bet he’d be a decent guy to manage or have on a coaching staff.

vinnie paul

Name: Vinnie Paul
Hellyeah, Pantera

Michael Young, currently with the Rangers. I think he has a great understanding of the game and its many positions, and his demeanor and mannerisms strike me as that of a world-class manager!

Dale Earnhardt jr jr

Name: Joshua Epstein
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Vocals, Keyboards

Jose Valverde. He has the three traits necessary: Big belly, great nickname (“Papa Grande”) and a big personality.

Name: Ken Casey
Dropkick Murphys
Bass guitar, Vocals

Former Red Sox and Oriole Kevin Millar, because he is a loose guy with a keen baseball IQ, and he always handled the media well.

Name: Scott Ian

Chipper Jones. He’s been the leader of the Braves forever, and could easily step into that role.

Name: Handsome Dick Manitoba

Chipper Jones. So much respect. Hall of Fame career. Beloved player, in the Mattingly mold. And Derek Jeter – whether he hits .190, or .350, he brings the same game face. Evenness, consistency, respect beyond respect, and some of the greatest shortstop numbers in history. Cool under pressure, cool beyond cool. I vote for him to be a great anything he wants to be.

george thorogood

Name: George Thorogood
Band: George Thorogood and the Destroyers
Position: Vocals, Guitar

My choice would be Jeff Conine. He started with the Marlins, and he played with both Marlins teams who won a World Championship. He was a solid contributor to both of those clubs. He reminded me a lot of Lou Piniella when he played – he was always solid, always made the right plays. He has been a winner and will have the respect from the players.

Name: Tom Morello
Band: The Nightwatchman, Street Sweeper Social Club, Rage Against the Machine
Guitar, Vocals

I would throw all of my support behind recently retired fireballer Glendon Rusch – who, in addition to knowing the game inside out, is also an excellent heavy metal DJ and wine connoisseur, so that would definitely pump things up in the locker room.

Dan Epsteins book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging 70s, is now available in paperback.


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