Big-league managers need summer vacations like rest of us

John Steadman

July 26, 1991|By John Steadman

Baseball is entrapped in the status quo. It needs to take a look at protecting the mental health of managers. Not all of them are headed for breakdowns but the mounting emotional pressures of the job, especially in a losing situation, endanger their ability to think clearly.

Instead of tying a tin can to a manager it might be in the best interest of all concerned if he could be given time off to clear the cobwebs and restore the charge in his emotional batteries. Why not provide them with an occasional long weekend to go fishing or play golf or for the chance to visit a mountain hideaway?

You know, get away from it all. Umpires, quite properly, are now given such an opportunity during the schedule. They have the chance to relax at the beach or head home to paint the house, fix the roof or enjoy a family picnic.

Roland Hemond, general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, says, "It's not the worst idea I ever heard. The managerial job is

grueling. Long hours, travel, meetings with the front office and other problems inherent with the responsibilities of the position have a way of draining a man. Managing is more difficult than 20, 30 or 40 years ago."

So wouldn't it be advisable that instead of telling a manager his services are no longer desired to merely give him the opportunity to go on a sabbatical from the dugout, where he could sail down Chesapeake Bay or head off to the wonders of the Maine woods or get absorbed in a good book. Then, in a matter of days or weeks, depending on his mental state, he would be able to return to take up the pursuit of making out a lineup and trying to win games.

Hemond believes, in this hypothesis, a manager could turn over the direction of the club to one of his designated lieutenants, while he was away, and it wouldn't interrupt the continuity. The Oriole executive was interested to hear the story Irv Hall, once an infielder with the Philadelphia Athletics, tells about Connie Mack.

"During the 1940s, when I played for Mr. Mack, he would take off the first two weeks in August and go to Atlantic City," said Hall. "Imagine that. It was no different than what bosses where doing in other lines of work. They'd go to Atlantic City for vacation. A funny thing, Mr. Mack, would let his son, Roy, one of the coaches, run the club during his absence.

"Guess what happened? We were a bad outfit but it always seemed we would put together a little win streak. Roy made some of the most unbelievable moves you could imagine. He'd send up what appeared to be the wrong pinch-hitter or bring in a pitcher who didn't figure to handle a situation yet it had a way of working out. We players would shake our heads at the way he went against normal strategy and the good fortune he had."

Last season, Sparky Anderson left the Detroit Tigers when he felt a desperate need to rest. This year, he says, he's taking a different approach. Jim Leyland of the Pittsburgh Pirates had chest pains and the attending medical team asked if he was in a stressful profession.

Another aspect of the job is the old saw about "familiarity breeds contempt." Managers would like to be popular but the business doesn't allow it. Players second-guess managers far more than sportswriters ever do and even mock them when they aren't around to hear it.

As Casey Stengel, the "Old Professor," who knew the best and worst in New York and before that in Boston and Brooklyn, so

aptly put it, "On any team, it probably breaks down like this: Eight players like the manager a lot, eight can't stand him and another eight aren't sure." Such is the plight of running a baseball team. There's no way to keep them all happy. Losing streaks and bad decisions add to the grief. So what's wrong with giving managers a respite, a long weekend or even two weeks off, to enjoy Nantucket Island or Nags Head? It would allow a manager the chance to gather himself, to refocus on what needs to be done and, upon return, possess a fresh new perspective.

Managers, in most cases, would welcome the chance to get away from it all, unless they were insecure and worried about the remote chance of their temporary replacements doing a better job. Of course, there are players eager to contribute to a "vacation fund" for the manager and, in turn, would be so elated they wouldn't even expect a postcard in return.

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