BASEBALL 2014: Rookie managers make up for inexperience with modern thinking

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What is new is the hiring of managers without any coaching experience. Weiss, Ausmus, the Chicago White Sox’s Robin Ventura and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mike Matheny all were hired without having held any coaching responsibilities in the majors or the minors.

Matheny’s hiring might have been the most surprising. A longtime catcher who played for the Cardinals from 2000 to 2004, he was stepping in to replace Tony La Russa the season after the Cardinals won the World Series and would be managing players he once played with.

“He just trusts his players, puts us in positions to succeed as often as possible, takes no credit for the stuff he does great, [and] takes all the credit for the stuff we do bad, which for a manger to do that is selfless,” said Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, who debuted the season after Matheny left St. Louis as a player. “But he’s just a great leader. He has a quiet confidence about him that we all respect, and we want to follow that.”

For decades, the path to the manager’s office was blazed through the minor leagues, and some still take that route. Ryne Sandberg managed the Chicago Cubs’ Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A teams before being hired as the Philadelphia Phillies’ manager in September.

Rick Renteria, hired by the Cubs on Nov. 7, followed a similar trail. He spent 11 seasons in the Florida Marlins’ organization as a manager and an instructor before latching on as the San Diego Padres’ bench coach in 2011.

A former infielder, Renteria tried to address his weaknesses by filling out his staff with coaches of different backgrounds. Among those he hired was Jose Castro, who will help the Cubs with scouting and defense. Castro was Renteria’s mentor in 1998, when Renteria began managing with the Brevard County Manatees.

“If you have people that are supporting you, it makes it a little easier,” Renteria said. “It’s still difficult because you’re still learning who you are. You’re still trying to put yourself, and what you bring to the table, into that position. I think the biggest thing I always brought, quite frankly, was a positive attitude and it’s kind of served me well.”

No weak links

Ventura was 17 games into his first season with the White Sox in 2012 when he faced a classic managerial dilemma. His team was trailing the Oakland Athletics by two runs in the ninth inning, and with two outs and a runner on first, Ventura tabbed Adam Dunn to pinch hit for Alex Rios.

Based solely on the matchup, Ventura thought Dunn, a lefty, stood a better chance than Rios against the Athletics’ right-handed closer, Grant Balfour. Rios was 0-for-3 with a strikeout that night, but entered with an 11-game hitting streak and had three hits in each of the previous two games.

“Coming out of [spring training], I thought he was probably our best hitter,” Ventura said.

“But, he was scuffling at the time” — and the manager paused, shaking his head — “and I knew it when I did it.”

Dunn took the first two pitches from Balfour before a pair of strikes knotted the count at 2-2. On the fifth pitch, Dunn lunged at a 91-mph fastball low and outside. The Athletics won.

Ventura immediately apologized to Rios and promised he would never make a similar mistake.

Earning respect from players may be the most crucial part of a manager’s longevity, and such respect can be affected by more than game management. If a manager loses the clubhouse, he likely will lose his job.

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