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WORLD SERIES

A Leading Question

Many top managers are former catchers, but not everyone thinks there is a connection

October 21, 2002|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Both of their big-league experiences were tinted in Dodger Blue, but Angel Manager Mike Scioscia learned his craft from behind the plate while San Francisco Giant Manager Dusty Baker was in the outfield.

So does that give Scioscia any sort of edge in the matchup of managers in this World Series?

This much is certain: In recent seasons, some of the most successful managers have been catchers, beginning with Joe Torre, a former catcher who led the New York Yankees to the World Series championship in four of the last six seasons.

The manager who beat Torre last season was Bob Brenly of the Arizona Diamondbacks, himself a former catcher. And the manager who knocked the Yankees out this year? Scioscia, of course.

Jim Leyland, a successful manager with the Pittsburgh Pirates before leading the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship in 1997, was a former catcher.

But there are no absolutes. Among Hall of Fame managers, Tom Lasorda was a pitcher, Casey Stengel was an outfielder and Sparky Anderson was an infielder.

Big numbers on the field don't necessarily translate into big numbers for the man calling the shots from the dugout.

Ted Williams was arguably the greatest hitter ever. As a manager, there's no argument. He wasn't great, or even exceptional. In three of his four seasons managing the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers, Williams lost more than 90 games, losing 100 in his final year. And his teams never finished higher than fourth.

Walt Alston, a first baseman in his playing days, struck out in his only major league at-bat. Yet he was the most successful manager in Dodger history, winning four World Series and lasting 23 seasons at the helm.

So do catchers have some sort of advantage when it comes to managing?

"Not necessarily," said Tim McCarver, a major league catcher for 21 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and briefly with the Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox before becoming a broadcaster.

But having said that, McCarver proceeded to enumerate reason after reason why catchers might have an edge.

"I believe that catchers have a unique opportunity to be good managers because of what they have gone through," McCarver said. "Now I'm not trying to paint them as martyrs, but they have taken a beating behind the plate, so they understand the physical woes of the game.

"But they also understand the mental aspect. Most managers do not necessarily understand how to call a game. The pitcher thinks differently than the manager. They come at the catcher from both sides, so he learns patience."

The catcher finds himself with the best view in the stadium once he puts on the pads and mask and crouches behind the plate.

"He sees the whole field," McCarver said. "He can see if the center fielder got a good jump on a ball. He can see how the infielders pinch in. He can see how the first baseman and third baseman guard the lines late in a game. And he gets to watch the great hitters from only two feet away. He can see how they plant their feet. He comes to understand that a slider will go further than any other pitch when it is hung. He gets an understanding of all these elements that go into a game."

Conversely, McCarver said other players tend not to get involved in aspects of the game that don't directly concern them.

"Why are there not more pitchers who make good managers?" McCarver said. "Because while catchers have a peripheral view of the game, pitchers are myopic. Theirs is a solitary existence. They are concerned with what they have to do."

Lasorda, of course, disagrees.

"That is a slam to pitchers," he said. "Pitchers are smart. They have to know the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing hitters. They have to know where everybody is in the field. They have to look at the runners.

"I know some catchers who were so dumb, when they were giving signals, they had to look down to see how many fingers they were flashing."

Ultimately, Lasorda said, it comes down to a desire to learn the game.

"When I sat on the bench," he said, "I would always ask my manager why he was doing things a certain way."

McCarver said he wasn't just picking on pitchers.

"They are not alone," he explained. "What is a first baseman primarily concerned with? His hitting. Do you think the center fielder gives a bleep if the second baseman's footing is not right on the pivot while turning a double play?"

Torre agrees that catchers are more plugged into the game.

"I think you have to be aware of more things as a catcher," the Yankee manager said. "You see everything develop right in front of you. A catcher probably has more of a relationship with a manager because pitching is such a big part of the game."

That's not necessarily a good thing.

McCarver recalled being summoned to the mound by the manager when a pitcher was struggling.

"How's he throwing?" the manager asked.

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