With news Wednesday that Joe Girardi had signed a contract to stay on as manager of the New York Yankees, any delusions that the Chicago Cubs would find their new skipper in short order seem to have faded. That’s for the best. While Girardi is a fine manager, and certainly would have been an upgrade over Dalue Sveum, he would have been something far short of an inspired choice. He’s an obvious candidate. He’s a popular guy. He’s a conventional choice. He would not, in all likelihood, have been the right one.
That’s because the good managers very, very rarely come from the pool of 10-year big-leaguers, no matter their reputation. While the most famous managerial names of the past decade-plus generally do have substantial Major League experience, the best in the business—Joe Maddon, of the Rays—never got past Single-A.
What does a really great manager usually look like? Sparky Anderson, that’s who. Anderson played a single big-league season, in 1959, but by age 30, in 1964, he was managing in the minor leagues. He had a fistful of successful seasons in various farm systems, then got his first big-league managerial gig at age 35.
They also often look like Earl Weaver. Weaver never saw the big leagues, became a minor-league skipper at 25 and took over the Orioles a month shy of his 38th birthday.
One more example: Bobby Cox. Compared to Anderson and Weaver, Cox was an All-Star, though in absolute terms, he played just two mediocre seasons with the Yankees. He got a later start as a manager, not taking over even a minor-league team until he was 33. Still, like Anderson, he took over a big-league job from which Dave Bristol had just been dismissed, and like Weaver, he managed his first big-league game roughly a month before turning 38.
The best managers ever aren’t on their second career. They had truncated or star-crossed playing careers. They managed their way up the ladder, not getting a big-league gig after just a few years as a special assistant or hitting coach. Most importantly, for my money, they got their start young.
That’s what the next great manager will look like, too. That’s the model. So instead of getting bogged down in Girardi Watch or wondering whether the front office most prefers to pilfer Brad Ausmus, A.J. Hinch or Rick Renteria from the San Diego Padres, I went leafing through the listings of minor-league teams, seeking a guy who fits our profile.
I found five. All are currently managing at the Double-A level, and their ages better approximate 40 than 35, but that’s what we have to work with under the current structure. Here are my managerial candidates for the Cubs:
Andy Barkett – Jacksonville Suns
Barkett, 39, played a slice of 2001 with the Pirates, collecting 14 hits in 46 ast-bats. Since then, he’s been a minor-league journeyman, then coach. He managed the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate for the last three seasons.
Kevin Boles – Portland Sea Dogs
Only one manager in modern baseball history has achieved that position without ever having played professional baseball. It was Kevin Boles’s father, John. The elder Boles managed the Marlins in the second half of 1996, then again from 1999 until late May 2001. It wasn’t always pretty, thanks to the talent with which Boles had to work, but he did an admirable job.
Kevin was a 42nd-round draft pick by the Cubs in 1998. (He was also born in Chicago, in 1975.) He played just a single season, in the New York-Penn League, before retiring as a player, and he began his minor-league managerial career at age 25, in 2000. He’s managed the Sea Dogs since 2011, and has been climbing the ladder in the Red Sox system since 2008, when he helmed Low-A Greenville.
This is the guy, by the way. He’s absolutely my choice. The others listed are just to cover the bases.
Andy Green – Mobile Bay Bears
Green, 36, is a former Diamondback and Met, and spent 2007 playing in Japan. He’s a little green in terms of managerial experience, but he’s had great success in Mobile.
Matthew LeCroy – Harrisburg Senators
The Senators won the Eastern League championship under LeCroy’s stewardship in 2013. That was his fifth season managing in the Nationals’ system. He’s 38 years old, and given the type of player he was, one would expect a minimum of foolish bunting or hitting-and-running from his teams.
Jeff Smith – New Britain Rock Cats
Smith will turn 40 in June 2014. He played eight seasons in the minors, as a catcher, but never saw the big leagues. Beginning in 2006, he’s managed his way up the ladder for the Twins. He had stunning success in both the Midwest and Florida State Leagues, though three years in New Britain have been unkind in terms of winning games. He’s probably the second-best candidate on this list, although his inability to win at the Double-A level thus far (much of which might be driven by factors outside his control) does raise a red flag.
This is where great managers come from. If you’ve heard of the guy, he’s probably not a good managerial candidate. Kevin Boles would be the ideal hire for the Cubs, with his (loose) Chicago ties and his (fairly strong) familiarity with key front-office personnel. He’s young, his parentage is encouraging and he has earned a long look. He’s unlikely to get one, but if the Cubs hired him, I would do the backflips so many had reserved for Joe Girardi’s welcome parade.Next post: Cardinals Advance to 2013 NLCS with Win Over Pirates
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