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Age Gaps Abound in Baseball

From managers to players to general managers, young and old are having success at the major league level.

April 02, 2006|From the Associated Press

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Bobby Cox is sitting on the bench in a nearly empty dugout, chewing a sandwich and chatting away.

In about 30 minutes, his Atlanta Braves will send 38-year-old pitcher John Smoltz to the mound in a spring training game against a Cleveland Indian team managed by Eric Wedge, also 38.

There are no computer printouts by Cox's side, no charts clipped to the dusty brick wall.

Just lunch.

And baseball.

"I don't know half the names of the GMs anymore," Cox said. "I don't know what the new breed of thinking is, actually."

Entering his 25th season as a major league manager, the indefatigable Cox will turn 65 in May. And these days, he's trying to get a handle on the unavoidable age split all around the big leagues -- and what it means for the game.

For every 70-year-old Frank Robinson (Washington Nationals) and Felipe Alou (San Francisco Giants) at the helm, there's Wedge and rookie Florida skipper Joe Girardi, 41.

On the field, Barry Bonds and Craig Biggio are still going strong in their 40s, playing against baby-faced stars such as 22-year-old Miguel Cabrera and Huston Street.

And while the Texas Rangers made 28-year-old Jon Daniels the youngest general manager in major league history, the Philadelphia Phillies hired old hand Pat Gillick, 68.

Senior citizens, meet the boy scouts.

"I love being around these young kids. I broke in in an era with Nolan Ryan and Buddy Bell, pros of the game. Now I'm around younger guys that could be their kids," said Biggio, still batting leadoff for the National League champion Houston Astros.

"It's fun to see the transformation of being around those guys, and now I'm the old man on the block and you try to lead by example."

Cox and Wedge are good examples that there's more than one way to win.

Under Cox's old-school leadership, the Braves have won 14 consecutive division championships and four NL pennants.

The "old man" obviously has no problem getting the most out of young players. Last season, Atlanta used 18 rookies.

Wedge also had success with a young team, guiding the Indians to 93 wins. They finished second in the AL Central to Chicago -- Ozzie Guillen led the White Sox to a World Series title at age 41.

"I think the game evolves," Wedge said. "I think experience is important. I think knowledge is important. I think feel is important. I think there are a lot of good, young people that are in leadership positions that are doing good things for the game."

One of those people is Daniels, the latest in a growing line of highly educated (often Ivy League) 20-somethings and 30-somethings to be handed the keys to a multimillion-dollar big league ballclub.

The group includes new Diamondback GM Josh Byrnes and Boston boy genius Theo Epstein, frat house president. He took over the Red Sox in his 20s and led them to the 2004 World Series title -- their first in 86 years.

Many more from the MTV generation serve as high-ranking assistants in various front offices.

Under new principal owner Stuart Sternberg, the Devil Rays handed the reins last fall to executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and team President Matt Silverman, with both in their late 20s.

To help them try to turn around a foundering franchise, 55-year-old former Houston GM Gerry Hunsicker was brought in as the No. 2 baseball man, giving Tampa Bay an experienced executive.

"That was a real smart move," Cox said. "As long as they surround 'em with good people, scouts, anybody can be successful."

Some of these kid GMs look as though they'd know more about calculus than a cut fastball. But looks can be deceiving. Many have a head for business and a firm grasp of all the computer-generated statistical analysis now available.

"I think what has changed is that technology has given you so many more resources to work with," Astro General Manager Tim Purpura said. "There's just been such an explosion of data. That's made everybody's lives easier."

Still, he said, there's much more to the job than just numbers.

"Statistics tell you what the player did. They're not necessarily going to tell you what the player is going to do.

"I have to believe that everybody has access to the same information. What matters is how you use it," Purpura said, adding that his team pays particular attention to a player's makeup on the inside. "You can't get that off a spreadsheet."

Which is one reason Cox is concerned about the role of veteran scouts in today's game. Is the grizzled bird dog, with his clipboard, stopwatch and highway map, destined to be phased out like artificial turf?

"They could get lost in the shuffle," Cox said. "I know if I was running an organization, I'd want my scouts out there."

Gillick knows all about good scouting. He built winning teams in Toronto, Baltimore and Seattle before joining the Phillies. Now, after replacing Ed Wade, he's trying to help Philadelphia reach the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

"The thing you learn over the years is to delegate a lot more," Gillick said. "Not that you're not involved, but you delegate. If you have confidence in people around you, then you feel free to delegate."

No matter how old everybody is.

"I hope age is irrelevant in my case," new Detroit Tiger Manager Jim Leyland said.

"I've got good energy. Everybody says I look old. I think I look pretty good for being 61 and going into my 26th year of managing."

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