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Sound and Vision

Broadcasters Are Managing to Find Way Into Dugout

November 06, 2000|MIKE PENNER

From the deserts of Arizona to the snows of Ontario, the medium is no longer the message, or even the messenger.

No, in the baseball burgs of Phoenix and Toronto, the media are the managers.

That would be Bob Brenly and Buck Martinez, newly named managers of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Toronto Blue Jays. Credentials? Affirmative. They both wore them around their necks as they covered the Met-Yankee World Series for Fox and ESPN. Tendencies? Well, they both have reputations for talking a good game. Although no one, and that includes the people who just hired them, has any idea if they can manage one.

Veterans of the broadcast booth, Brenly and Martinez are rank rookies when it comes to managing baseball teams. Haven't sat in a dugout, except to conduct an interview, since their playing days as mirror-image light-hitting catchers. Haven't aired out an umpire except over the air. Haven't made a double substitution except with a pencil and a score book.

Haven't done much of anything, really, to convince anyone that they're ready for this--except pass a very, very long audition. Both Brenly and Martinez have been auditioning for years, on telecast after telecast, in front of a national television audience that--fortuitously for them--included the front-office decision-makers for the Diamondbacks and the Blue Jays.

In today's era of high-strung high-maintenance ballplayers, Brenly and Martinez possess at least one quality necessary for survival on the 21st-century big-league managerial circuit. And that--to put it into terms even a real estate agent can understand--would be:

Communication! Communication! Communication!

"Sport has become so much a people business and a business of communication," Blue Jay General Manager Gord Ash explained at Martinez's introductory news conference. "If you are able to communicate your philosophy and sell your vision, then I think you can become a successful manager, coach or whatever."

Brenly and Martinez can thank Joe Torre for running interference for them. Torre, winner of four World Series championships in five years with the Yankees, is the prototype of the post-modern major league manager: thoughtful, compassionate, articulate. Torre is also an ex-broadcaster, having spent nearly six years with the Angels as a television analyst, where he exhibited all of those traits night after night under the club's nose--and, after the 1988 season, the Angels hired Doug Rader instead.

There are no new ideas under the sun, so now everybody is scrambling to find the next Torre. Well, everybody except the Dodgers, who were apparently scrambling to find the next Glenn Hoffman. Houston's Larry Dierker also nudged the concept along, moving from the Astros' broadcast booth in 1997, winning three consecutive NL Central titles and being named 1998 NL manager of the year.

Of course, this round of talking-head-hunting conveniently ignores the Padres' 1980 failure with the first booth-to-dugout transplant: Jerry Coleman. The Mickey Mantle of the malaprop, Coleman is a fractured delight on the air, colorizing otherwise drab affairs with such wonders as "They throw Winfield out at second and he's safe" and "There's someone warming up in the bullpen, but he's obscured by his number." Coleman's one-year managerial stint, however, was simply fractured: a 73-89 record, a last-place finish in the NL West.

Now, after years of listening to Brenly and Martinez, baseball will be watching their every move. Should they have a modicum of success--and they should; both the Diamondbacks and the Blue Jays were underachievers in 2000--look for manager-deficient teams to come storming the press boxes of America and ripping the headsets off the hottest prospects in the business.

Among them:

BOB COSTAS

Scouting report: Bleeding-heart purist who would like to turn the clock back 40 years. So would the Pirates, but they just hired Lloyd McClendon . . . Views himself as baseball's Mr. Fix It, making the Cubs a logical fit . . . Uncertain, however, how Costas feels about basket cases . . . Has long imagined a power role in baseball--Commissioner Costas, for starters--so the mundane existence of a big-league manager could prove too intellectually stifling for him . . . Team that hires him would have to keep an interim skipper at the ready. Because we all know how Manager Costas feels about domed stadiums (wouldn't work inside one), interleague games (wouldn't participate in one), wild-card playoff berths (wouldn't accept one) and the designated hitter (would refuse to use one).

GEORGE WILL

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