Managerial Experience: Does It Matter?

It is a foregone conclusion that Jerry Manuel is a lame duck and will not be returning to manage the Mets in 2011. That said, the search is on for his replacement … though, we don’t know whether that search will be conducted by Omar Minaya or someone else. In the meantime, we fans can speculate all we want, and argue for our favorites. It is certainly more interesting than discussing the Mets team right now.

One subject of heated debate recently is the level of experience that the next Mets manager should have. Some think it should be someone with many years of proven leadership at the MLB level; others think it’s time to bring in someone new — the idea being that the Mets need someone with fresh ideas and who may not fit the current corporate mold that has been established by owners and GMs throughout MLB who refer to their clubs as “the product on the field”.

Following is a random selection of current and former MLB managers and the experience they had prior to managing a big-league team.

Tony LaRussa
about 1 year minor-league managerial experience
1/2 year MLB coaching experience

LaRussa was a AA manager for half of 1978 before being promoted to the White Sox big club as a coach when then-manager Bob Lemon was fired. He returned to the minors as AAA manager in 1979, but was brought back up to the bigs and named manager when player-manager Don Kessinger was fired after 106 games. Love him or hate him, the rest is history: 32 years as an MLB manager, over 2600 wins, 5 pennants, 2 World Series wins, 12 first-place finishes.

Walter Alston
13 years minor-league managerial experience
0 years MLB coaching experience

Alston managed off and on in the minors as a player-manager from 1940 – 1953 before being named manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. He remained in that position for Brooklyn and later LA through 1976, winning over 2000 games, including 4 World Championships, and 7 NL pennants, and eventually was voted into the Hall of Fame.

Lou Piniella
0 years minor-league managing experience
0 years minor-league managerial experience
2 years as MLB coach

Piniella was the Yankees’ batting coach before becoming their manager in 1986. He was promoted to GM in 1988 but returned to the dugout later that season after firing Billy Martin. In 1990 he managed the Reds to a World Series Championship over a talent-laden Oakland A’s club. Piniella went on to manage the Mariners to three first-place finishes in 10 years, including a record-breaking 116-win season in 2001. He then spent a few years in Tampa Bay before guiding the Cubs to consecutive first-place finishes in 2007 and 2008. All told he has managed in the bigs for 23 years, winning over 1800 games.

Joe Girardi
0 years minor-league managerial experience
1 year of experience as MLB coach

Joe Girardi spent most of his post-playing days as a broadcaster before spending one year as Joe Torre’s bench coach in 2005. He was then hired as the Marlins’ manager, and to this day I remember clearly an interview he did with Michael Kay in March 2006, when Girardi told Kay that his team’s goal was “to win the World Series”. Kay was flabbergasted, citing the team’s youth and MLB-low $14M payroll, saying to Girardi, “but Joe, you have to be REALISTIC!”. Girardi’s response was very serious: “our goal is to win a world championship”. As it turned out, Girardi pushed the young Fish to a surprising 78-84 record — not great, but much better than anyone expected — and was named the NL Manager of the Year only weeks after being fired. He went back into the broadcasting booth before accepting the job as manager of the Yankees. One of the first concerns upon being hired as skipper in the Bronx was that he would have a hard time adjusting to the high-salaried, big-ego veterans on the Yankees in the pressure-cooker of NYC, since his only experience was with a bunch of low-paid kids in Florida. As you probably know, Girardi was the manager when the Yankees won the World Series in 2009.

Billy Martin
1/2 year minor-league managerial experience
2 years MLB coaching experience

The fiery Martin was a third-base coach for the Twins before spending half a season managing their AAA club in 1968. In 1969 he became Twins manager and won the division title. In the process of that successful season, however, he punched out one of his pitchers and was fired after the season. He was out of baseball until the Tigers hired him as manager from 1971-1973, where he led them to a division title in 1972. Later, he moved on to the Yankees where he won a pennant in 1976 and a World Championship in 1977. Though he had a crazed, controversial career, he also won over 1200 MLB games through 16 years as a manager.

Terry Francona
4 years minor-league managerial experience
1 year MLB coaching experience

Francona managed one year of A ball and 3 years at the AA level, winning “Manager of the Year” honors in 1993 before moving on as a third-base coach for the Tigers in 1996. The next year he was named manager of the Phillies, where he spent 4 lackluster years before heading to Boston. He’s won two World Series Championships as skipper of the Bosox.

Gil Hodges
0 years minor-league managerial experience
0 years MLB coaching experience

Hodges was traded by the Mets to the Senators in 1962, and Washington immediately made him their manager. He remained manager through 1967, then was hired as Mets manager in 1968. He was in charge when they accomplished something notable — their first World Championship in 1969.

Davey Johnson
4 years minor-league mangerial experience
0 years MLB coaching experience

You may know that Johnson was the last Mets skipper to win a World Series. He managed an independent minor league team to a championship and managed three Mets minor league teams to league championships before taking control of the big club in 1984. Johnson managed 14 years in MLB, winning over 1100 games. His teams finished first or second in 12 of those 14 seasons.

Art Howe
0 years minor-league managerial experience
3 years MLB coaching experience

After an 11-year career as a utilityman, Howe was hired as Bobby Valentine’s coaching staff in 1986. He spent three years under Valentine before being named manager of the Astros in 1989. Howe spent 12 years as an MLB manager, winning 100+ games in back-to-back seasons immediately before becoming manager of the Mets in 2003. His previous experience, success, and room-lighting smile wasn’t quite enough to cut the mustard in Flushing, as we remember all-too-well.

Jerry Manuel
2 years minor-league managerial experience
7 years experience as MLB coach

Manuel had two years’ experience in the minors before becoming the third-base coach for the the Expos in 1991. He remained there in that position through 1996, then became Jim Leyland’s bench coach in Florida in 1997. Immediately after the Fish won the World Series, Manuel was hired by the White Sox to be their manager. Through six years at the helm, Manuel finished second four times, third once, and first once. The one time he finished first (2000), the Sox were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, swept in three games by the Mariners — but, he did earn the honor of “AL Manager of the Year”. Manuel was out of MLB until he was named to Willie Randolph’s coaching staff in 2005. All of his experience as a manager and coach at the MLB level was the main reason the Mets felt he was fit to lead the team after Randolph was fired.


After looking at the varied levels of experience of the above managers, it’s hard to say whether managerial experience at the minor-league or coaching time at the big-league level is any indicator of future success as a Major League manager. Some guys who were very successful managed several years in the minors, but had no experience coaching in the Majors; others had zero or little experience at either level; and then you have the guys the Mets recently hired who had many, many years of experience (and success) — but it didn’t turn out well.

Bottom line? The type and amount of experience is not necessarily relevant to predicting future success — in fact, manager-picking appears to be something of a crapshoot.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. MarathonMet August 19, 2010 at 8:53 am
    Great post.

    The Mets problem is the threesome: involved owner, gm and manager. The owner will probably choose to stay, so the issue will be who will the next gm and manager be.

    • marathonmet August 19, 2010 at 1:34 pm
      To follow up this post, I would make the following question: how does managerial experience combine with GM experience?

      Just for the sake of making asumptions, I would imagine that a GM would have to have plenty of experience to go on a limb and hire an inexperienced manager, unless of course, he really knew him and felt he was the man.

      On the other hand, if the GM is more business oriented and with less baseball experience, I would guess that he would try to combine with a manager with vast experience.

      With these asumptions in mind, I would think that Backman would need a GM with experience who could vouch for him, while a guy like Bobby V is ideal for a buisness background GM.

      Which is best for the Mets?

  2. Bill August 19, 2010 at 11:10 am
    Isn’t the managers’ effect on the game minimal anyway? I mean I know that Manuel has made some (well a lot of) borderline retarded moves this year, but its not like this team is a world beater that he is holding back. I think our main problem is that we just aren’t that good right now, and because of mismanaged spending we won’t be (without a yankee-esque spending spree) for the next few years. We should try to take the long view for once, shed some payroll, and play for 2012.
    • Mark from Manhasset August 19, 2010 at 7:18 pm
      So you think Tom Lasorda, Bobby Cox, Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella, Tony LaRussa, Billy Martin, and Bobby Valentine all had “minimal effect” on their teams through the years? They were just lucky to have awesome teams that knew how to win?

      And do you think that the 2007 and 2008 teams could have made it into the playoffs with better leadership? Or did Randolph and Manuel have no responsibility for those two collapses?

  3. gary s. August 19, 2010 at 11:28 am
    with all due respect, do any of the guys that post on this site ever go to citifield?do u know how high the prices for tickets and food and drinks are.It is one gigantic overpriced con game.the con ends if the mets stink every year and the revenues from the ballpark don’t pay the bills.the wilpons are never going to lower prices to non ripoff levels.therefore they have to try and put a winning team on the field so in the words of senile fred wilpon, we can play “meaningful games” in september.if u want to see a lot of young guys play every day, go to pittsburg pirate games.i’m not saying it’s the right way to do things, but that’s the business model the wilpons chose when they built the new ballpark.
  4. gary s. August 19, 2010 at 11:40 am
    let me add one more comment..joe did a great job with the above analysis.but i can almost gaurantee who the next manager of the mets will have nothing to do with mlb coaching or managerial will have everything to do with what person wants to work for the least amount of salary as mgr of the mets for the next few years..that’s why i’ll be suprised if backman is not the guy.
  5. TeufelFan August 19, 2010 at 11:42 am
    While this is definitely a topic worth discussing, what exactly do Walter Alston, Gil Hodges, and Billy Martin have to do with modern managing? None have managed in the big leagues in over 20 years. Heck, Hodges didn’t manage at all during the free agency period, and Walter Alston retired very early into it. Managing in the 1970’s is a completely different game than it is in the 2010’s.

    As for the question you pose, it is probably worth taking a qualitative look at whether experience on a major league bench is beneficial to a manager, though it would be difficult to measure since so much of a manager’s success is dependent on the talent on the field.

    Joe Posnanski does look at this very topic while discussing the firing of Trey Hillman as manager of the Kansas City Royals. Hillman was very highly regarded as a manager after a successful stint managing in the Yankees’ farm system and in Japan, but had zero success managing the Royals, and while that was due in no small part to the poor talent on the field, there was also ample evidence that he had a hard time relating to major league ballplayers, and that was the major league ballplayers in Kansas City! Something to think about should the Mets decide to hire a career minor league manager to take over the team once Jerry Manuel is inevitably sent packing.

    • Joe Janish August 19, 2010 at 10:01 pm
      Walter Alston was a HOF manager who won consistently through 20+ years. Billy Martin led 4 different teams to first-place finishes. Gil Hodges was in charge of the “Miracle Mets”.

      You may disagree, but there are some people who believe that leadership skills are independent of time frame. Yes the game has changed and the players’ motivations are different now compared to 25 years ago but there is the theory that great leaders adjust to the situation accordingly.

      And if you think that Walter Alston or Billy Martin would be incapable of winning in the 21st century, that’s fine, because there are people like Francona, Girardi, LaRussa, and Joe Torre who all succeeded in modern times despite a lack of experience.

      Trey Hillman is an EXCELLENT example of proving my point that experience is irrelevant. Hillman had many years’ experience in the minors and in Japan and it meant nothing because, as you point out, he couldn’t relate to MLB players.

      Kind of like how Jerry Manuel, Jeff Torborg, Dallas Green, and Art Howe all had gobs of experience and it meant zilch.

  6. micalpalyn August 19, 2010 at 4:32 pm
    Nice story Joe. Are you up to surveying the candidates for next mets manager?

    This could be the most important hire in 30yrs. We have a good farm, a good nucleus and new stadium. I PERSONALLY think we are a good manager away from the playoffs. I think in preseason when we were evaluating the WARP (?) of the manager, we were unkind to Jerry and he has not been helpfull.

    On another note: We need to start the ‘extend RA Dickey’ campaign.

    • gary s. August 19, 2010 at 4:39 pm
      RA Dickey is one of the few guys on this team who really wants to win and takes it personally when he loses..we need more players like him and less like beltran and reyes who admits he finds it tough to concentrate every pitch. (what a clown) ..EXTEND THE MAN!!!!
  7. Zack August 20, 2010 at 11:36 am
    The reason why experience doesn’t matter is because managers don’t matter, it all depends on what team they have. if their team overachieves, its because they got lucky and a few of their guys had career years.
    • loge mezzanine August 20, 2010 at 11:40 am
      Take the calculator out of your ass, buddy. Are you 17 years old or have you never played above the Little League level? Or both?

      Experience may or may not matter. But if you’re on the “managers don’t make a difference” bandwagon, you’ll probably be happier reading a different blog.