Manager is the most stressful job in baseball. Every single decision made — filling out the lineup card, knowing who is available in the bullpen, whether to challenge a close call — requires loads of information.
When something goes right, not many people say anything. But if something goes awry? Watch out, media and fans will demand answers. Meanwhile, you have to play counselor in the clubhouse and make sure everyone — the young players and the veterans — is in a good spot in relation to their role on the roster.
While many sit back on their couch with their favorite beverage and their hand in the pretzel bowl and criticize, not everyone can be a Major League Baseball manager. Even some who are hired for the job find out quickly how overwhelming it can be.
Who is the best at it? When I embarked on this quest, I first had to sort out the 30 current skippers. I wound up needing four groups.
Best In Class
If you have one of these guys as your team’s manager, count yourself lucky. This group knows how to communicate with the players and coaches, makes good decisions in the heat of the moment and handles the media pretty well.
1. Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays: Quick, name five players on the Rays. You probably can’t, but that is how the Rays operate. Year after year, Cash pulls together his ragtag bunch of players and contends. They have used openers probably more often than any other MLB team in recent years. It is especially impressive when you see the Rays’ player payroll and compare it to those of the behemoths of the American League East. He won the AL Manager of the Year in back-to-back seasons (2020-21) after two straight runner-up finishes.
2. Terry Francona, Cleveland Guardians: Francona will always be remembered as the manager of the 2004 Boston Red Sox who broke the curse and won the World Series for the first time since 1918, in only his first season with the team. He guided the Red Sox to another World Series title in 2007, but was fired after the 2011 season under questionable circumstances. Since 2013, Francona has been in Cleveland, which has finished in the top two in the AL Central in eight of his 10 seasons, including a World Series appearance in 2016. He has been named Manager of the Year three times (2013, 2016, 2022).
3. Bob Melvin, San Diego Padres: Want to know why the Padres were contenders in 2022? Look no further than the change in managers and bringing Melvin in from the Oakland A’s. A three-time Manager of the Year (2007, 2012, 2018), Melvin — much like Cash — knows how to get the most out of his roster. He won two of his three AL West titles in his first two full seasons with Oakland after replacing Bob Geren during the 2011 season. Managing a roster with a much bigger payroll than he has ever dealt with will be a slightly different challenge, but one Melvin should handle deftly.
4. Buck Showalter, New York Mets: On the surface, Showalter might not seem like one of the best managers in MLB. He has won four division titles in 21 seasons and never made a World Series. But Showalter is one of the game’s best tacticians, which is the reason he is a four-time Manager of the Year (1994, 2004, 2014, 2022). Look at those seasons again; that is a MOY win once in each of the last four decades, all with different clubs. He tied Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa as the only four-time winners of the award. As a weird coincidence, Showalter set up at least two franchises for future success. The New York Yankees in 1996 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 won the World Series in the first season after Showalter’s tenure. He can be a little gruff, but also seems to be able to relate to players.
5. Dusty Baker, Houston Astros: Finally a World Series champion as a manager after winning in 2022, everyone loves playing for Baker. He has managed five teams with varying results, but he provides a calming influence in the dugout. Baker’s bullpen utilization has been criticized heavily in the past, but he finally seems to have figured that out in Houston. In seven of his last nine seasons as manager of three teams, Baker has won at least 90 games. Baker has been named Manager of the Year three times (1993, 1997, 2000).
6. Bruce Bochy, Texas Rangers: Best known for winning three World Series championships in five years with the San Francisco Giants, Bochy is returning to action after three seasons off. He has been praised for his communication skills, which surely will come into play with a new team that has some high-profile acquisitions and newfound expectations. Bochy was the NL Manager of the Year in 1996 with the Padres.
7. Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers: Under Counsell, the Brewers made four straight postseason appearances — including two NL Central titles — before falling a game short of the postseason in 2022. He is adept at handling the different personalities in the clubhouse and managing a bullpen – the keys to the Brewers’ success in his nearly eight seasons as the bench boss (Counsell replaced Ron Roenicke on May 4, 2015). Counsell is the best skipper in the game not to have won a Manager of the Year award. He has been runner-up three times, including 2019 when he became the second person to have the most first-place votes but not win (losing to St. Louis’ Mike Shildt).
8. Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers: As a first-time manager, Roberts replaced Don Mattingly following the 2015 season and has won the NL West in six of his seven seasons, the lone exception being a 106-win second-place finish in 2021. In four of the six 162-game seasons, the Dodgers have won 104 or more games. Now the knock on Roberts’ Dodgers is that they have been to three World Series and only won once, in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Roberts was the NL Manager of the Year in his first season (2016).
9. Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves: Once thought to be just a fill-in before a new manager was found, all Snitker has done since replacing Fredi Gonzalez during the 2016 season is win. As in the last five National League East titles and the 2021 World Series. Snitker is the definition of an organization guy as he was with the Braves for 34 years, mainly as a manager in the minors, before taking over for Gonzalez following a 9-28 start. Much of that perseverance and dedication could be why he is so respected. Snitker won the NL Manager of the Year award in 2018.
Who is in this group? In no particular order: Oliver Marmol (St. Louis Cardinals), Brandon Hyde (Baltimore Orioles), A.J. Hinch (Detroit Tigers), Alex Cora (Boston Red Sox), Rocco Baldelli (Minnesota Twins), Aaron Boone (New York Yankees), Scott Servais (Seattle Mariners), Torey Lovullo (Arizona Diamondbacks), Derek Shelton (Pittsburgh Pirates), Gabe Kapler (San Francisco Giants), and David Ross (Chicago Cubs).
For one reason or another, this set of managers needs to prove something to me.
Take Kapler, for example. He got run out of Philadelphia, then went 107-55 in his first 162-game season with the Giants in 2021, only to fall back to 81-81 in 2022. He might have the hottest seat going into 2023 — along with Cora — considering the Giants don’t want to lose much ground to the Dodgers or Padres in the NL West.
Others, such as Lovullo, is entering his seventh season with the Diamondbacks. In his time there, the DBacks have two second-place divisional finishes and a pair of seasons taking last in the NL West. Why is Boone in this section and not the first one? Despite winning 60.3% of his games with the Yankees, he has never been AL Manager of the Year (highest finish was second in 2019) with the most heavily scrutinized team in MLB. A slow start this season could suddenly put Boone’s job in jeopardy.
Not Enough Data
Most of this is obvious. Matt Quatraro of the Kansas City Royals, Skip Schumaker of the Miami Marlins and Pedro Grifol of the Chicago White Sox are all rookie managers. All three were thought of as managerial candidates going into last offseason.
In a rather unusual happening, Rob Thomson of the Philadelphia Phillies, John Schneider of the Toronto Blue Jays and Phil Nevin of the Los Angeles Angels were interim managers last season who have been given the reins for at least 2023. How these guys do entering spring training as the manager and being able to make whatever other changes to their coaching staff or other daily happenings will influence their effectiveness. For Mark Kotsay of the Oakland A’s, he has a full season under his belt, but with the constantly changing roster that has become too commonplace with this team, the full effect of his impact has yet to be felt.
These three guys — David Bell (Cincinnati Reds), Bud Black (Colorado Rockies) and Dave Martinez (Washington Nationals) — are in no-win situations at the moment and seem to be holding these positions until ownership decides to do something else.
Black could be a manager or pitching coach with a contending team easily. Bell and Martinez? Maybe a bench coach somewhere, but probably not much more than that. And yes, I know Martinez won a World Series with the Nationals. That was more of a team of destiny with breaks that went their way than it was of managing terrific talent to a title. It isn’t any of their fault that the teams they oversee on a daily basis aren’t going anywhere this season.
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Arturo Pardavila III/Wikimedia & Cliff Welch / Icon Sportswire