Published Oct. 26, 2019
I am going to forewarn you. You’re about to be exposed to an old-timer talking about the old days in a very old-timey way. Click away now, all who choose not to roll your eyes.
The Boston Red Sox, reportedly, have hired someone named Chaim Bloom to be their new chief of baseball operations. He’s being poached from division rivals in Tampa.
He’s 36 years old.
In the 1960s, we had the British Invasion—pop culture icons who came from across the pond to steal away our wholesome, American teenage girls’ hearts.
Now we have the Millennial Invasion in baseball.
Hot stove leagues, smoke-filled rooms
When Bloom was born, the Tigers were just one year away from their magical 1984 season. Chew on that for a moment.
In my day (I warned you!), no big league baseball team had a general manager younger than 60 or a field manager younger than 50. No skippers were hired with zero managing experience. Of course, they were all former catchers, so that hasn’t really changed.
The general managers were cigar-chomping, chubby men who sat in rooms every December with other cigar-chomping, chubby men and amid the smoke, they cooked up trades at the winter meetings.
There were no analytics. Players were swapped based on gut, and the backs of their trading cards. Sometimes, personal relationships with players entered the fray.
The GMs of my day were wheeler dealers. You didn’t dare come home from the winter meetings without making at least one trade. And the players dealt weren’t chopped liver. As an adolescent baseball fan (as I was), whenever you’d hear the words “blockbuster trade,” your blood would race. Who’s going where? Who’s getting who?
I’d immediately try to envision the traded players in their new uniforms, and couldn’t wait for spring training, when images of the boys of summer in their new duds would start to materialize.
Managing based on chubby guts
And the field managers? Also chubby, with weathered faces that screamed, “I managed for 10 years in Double-A, three years in Triple-A and now here I am, FINALLY, in the big leagues.” Their faces were virtual road maps of their careers. Not one of them looked like they had lived an easy life.
The skippers in the dugout wouldn’t know a computer printout if it bit them in the you-know-where. If they had “books” on players, they were all in their head, curated from prior situations.
Pitchers were summoned from the bullpen not because of what the 30-something GM had on a spreadsheet on his tablet, but by what the manager had lived through in the past. Maybe—and I know this isn’t popular nowadays—the move was made based on a hunch. Remember those?
Today, MLB is filled with GMs who are the same age as the players. The field managers haven’t piloted their kids’ Little League teams, let alone anywhere in professional baseball.
The San Diego Padres, who have been wandering around in baseball’s desert for decades, are bringing in a roving instructor named Jayce Tingler to be their new manager. Hey, why not?
The Chicago Cubs, no less, have hired David Ross, their catcher of just a few years ago (2016 World Series team), to manage their contending club. Ross’s previous managing experience? As much as you and I have.
The Cubs, of course, are run by Theo Epstein, who sort of started the “boy wonder” thing with GMs, some 15 years ago with the Red Sox.
The Tigers tried that, by the way, when they hired 32-year-old Randy Smith in 1995. That didn’t go so well.
Zero experience doesn’t mean success
The recent fetish baseball has with hiring managers with zero dugout experience has spotty success, at best. Tigers fans still have PTSD over Brad Ausmus. The Phillies just canned Gabe Kapler. Yet the Cardinals did OK with Mike Matheny, since fired. The Red Sox won a World Series with Alex Cora. But mostly, the zero dugout experience guys haven’t fared so well that it should be a copycat thing that other teams try to replicate.
To be young and inexperienced is all the rage in baseball now. Why? Because the gut feeling has been replaced by metrics. Hunches and instinct are frowned upon.
Advanced analytics, in the business world, are used everywhere as predictors of behavior—whether by consumer or by entire industries. So why should baseball be any different?
I understand. Times have changed. Baseball is slowly being squeezed of its human observation. Hall of Fame credentials, every year, appear to be more based on WAR than on the eye test. Managers don’t dare make a move that isn’t supported by a hard drive.
The Tigers, interestingly, are still old school. Their GM is old. Their skipper is old. They have only in the past few years beefed up their analytics department. And they lose. A lot.
So I’m not here to say that things were necessarily better in the old days. I just know that the old days provide fond memories. I’m not so sure that, 25 years from now, graybeards like me will look back at today’s game, with its parade of relief pitchers and home runs and strikeouts, and wax nostalgic.
But that’s just me.