Managerial water hazards

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

July 15, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

For the Detroit Tigers' Sparky Anderson, managing a big-league club is less a walk in the park than a trip across a river.

"First, you're on the left bank, where you're establishing yourself, for five to seven years," said Anderson, a 25-year managerial veteran. "Then, you're crossing the water and you have to get through the piranhas. That's you guys [the media], and that takes two years. Once you get to the right bank, you're home free."

Anderson, who has won three World Series and five pennants in stints with the Tigers and the Cincinnati Reds, long ago reached that right bank of bliss and security.

But getting there seems to be increasingly tougher for today's managers.

"Managing today is more difficult than 15 or 20 years ago," said Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella. "Today, you have to have much more patience and you don't always have the time."

Piniella, who guided the Reds to a world championship in 1990, points to the influx of young players as the prime factor causing managers to lose their hair and maybe their jobs.

"We used to have a saying. You learn how to play at the minors, and when you get up here you're ready," he said. "Now, you're rushed through the minor leagues and you develop and learn at the major leagues. If the development doesn't come soon enough to help the team win, the management is fired and there's a whole new group coming in."

During Seattle's recent three-game visit to Baltimore, Piniella was forced to start two pitchers, Roger Salkeld and Jim Converse, under the age of 24 and neither possessing even a half-year of major-league experience. Both lost, and Salkeld was sent back to the minors this week.

However, Piniella personally pushed for the Mariners to call up 18-year-old shortstop Alex Rodriguez, the first player chosen overall in the 1993 amateur draft, suggesting that experience may be important but that talent is crucial.

Rodriguez, who had played only a half-season with Seattle's Double-A team in Jacksonville, Fla., had just two hits in his first 11 at-bats last week with the club.

Mariners reliever Goose Gossage, a 22-year veteran who is now with his ninth team, recalled how his first manager, Chuck Tanner, then of the Chicago White Sox, was able to relax and let his players discipline themselves.

"Tanner's thing was, 'I'll treat you like men as long as you act like men,' " Gossage said. "He was tough, but you could do what you wanted to do as long as you did your job and you went about your business as a pro. Guys today can't always do that."

Perhaps a manager's greatest skill is the ability to shrug off a loss and see the big picture.

Said Piniella: "I don't enjoy losing. I never have, and I never will. It took me about three or four years to put things in perspective. That's what we're in it for: to win. Baseball's a long grind. It's 162 days, Saturdays and Sundays and holidays. What makes it fun is watching your team come out of a game playing well and with a W."

Through the All-Star break, only the California Angels have made a managerial change this year, substituting Buck Rodgers for former Florida Marlins pitching coach Marcel Lachemann on May 17, though the Boston Red Sox's Butch Hobson, Chicago Cubs' Tom Trebelhorn and White Sox's Gene Lamont are rumored to be under fire.

Lachemann, who never has managed before, has noticed a major difference in the job descriptions of the two posts he has held.

"The problem with managing is you don't get to know your players like you do with coaching," Lachemann said. "When I was a pitching coach, I knew their problems because I dealt with them day-to-day. The time constraints as a manager don't allow you to do that."

But those who have reached the right bank of Anderson's managerial river, have learned how to master all the components of the game -- making players and the front office happy, dealing with the media and coping with the fans -- and stay afloat.

The man whom many point to as the best at this task is Tony La Russa, whose A's won three straight American League pennants from 1988 to 1990 and the World Series in 1989.

Said Eckersley, a 20-year veteran: "It's a new age, and Tony, in particular, represents that age. He's great at knowing so many people and how they think. He's the best."

La Russa said: "I would recommend it [managing] without reservations, no matter what. If you can somehow be connected with this game, you're very fortunate. I know I am."

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