By Sweeny Murti
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Even with no managerial or coaching experience whatsoever, Jerry Hairston, Jr. has emerged as a real candidate to be the next manager of the Yankees.
“I was a coach when I was a player,” Hairston said of his 16-year career (with nine teams) that was built mainly as a utility player, a role he says he had to play manager in his head to know when his chance to impact the game was coming.
“I was thinking along with my manager and the other manager every day,” Hairston said.
The 41-year-old Hairston recalled playing manager with the player that sat next to him on the Washington Nationals bench in 2011. That would be Alex Cora, new manager of the Boston Red Sox.
I called Hairston — a Dodgers TV analyst the past four years and a member of the 2009 Yankees World Series championship team — a few days ago to chat about this year’s Fall Classic and his managerial aspirations, since his name emerged somewhat surprisingly to take over the job Joe Girardi held for the last 10 years.
Hairston hinted at his candidacy without actually confirming it to me, saying “I might be making some trips back east now that the World Series is over.” But I came away thinking that in today’s game he is certainly what many teams are now looking for in a manager — a strong communicator with a strong base in analytics.
Hairston is a third-generation major leaguer whose teammates have included Cal Ripken, Jr. and Derek Jeter. He also has mentored younger stars like Bryce Harper and Cory Seager, so it’s hard to argue he doesn’t know the game or how to connect with players.
In his role with Dodgers TV, Hairston’s daily talks with manager Dave Roberts has taught him the value of both numbers and relationships. Roberts has been hailed as a master of both in leading L.A. to the postseason the last two years and to the National League pennant this past season.
Hairston was a Communications & Broadcasting major at Southern Illinois. But with baseball headed in this direction for a couple years now, he took it upon himself to learn the value in the deeper statistical knowledge. And if he only knew then what he knows now …
While studying analytics of his own career with the assistance of a professor at Texas Tech University, Hairston discovered that he batted .380 and slugged .514 on the first pitch.
“I wish I had known that when I played — I would have been a Hall of Famer!” Hairston said laughing.
Instead, he was stereotyped as a hitter who needed to work the count and use his speed, and became a career .257 hitter with a .692 OPS. Somewhere between .692 and Cooperstown is probably a more realistic outcome if he had played in this data-driven era.
The proper combination of analytics and the human element is what he learned by watching both Roberts and his good friend, Luke Walton. Walton, himself, is steeped in old-school knowledge (from his dad, Bill, a basketball Hall of Famer) but has bought into the new-age data as a coaching tool, first as assistant and fill-in coach with Warriors and now as head coach of the L.A.Lakers.
These are the kinds of people hired to run teams now, and Hairston has put himself in the mix. All that is well and good, but could he handle New York? When I think back to Hairston’s three months as a Yankee in 2009, I have one vivid memory.
On Aug. 31 of that year, the Yankees were playing the Orioles in Baltimore and Hairston was starting at third base. Andy Pettitte set down the first 20 batters before an error by Hairston with two outs in the seventh inning ruined his bid for a perfect game. Pettitte finished with 8 innings of two-hit ball in the Yankees’ 5-1 victory.
As reporters filed out of Girardi’s office towards the clubhouse after the game, Hairston was walking towards a back room that was off limits to media. As we got closer, Hairston stopped me and said, “I know you guys need to talk to me. I’m just going to get some food and I’ll be out in two minutes.”
And then he came out as promised, stood in front of his locker, and owned up to the error with veteran accountability. It sounds like a small thing, but players have shied away from reporters over much lesser things. One incident doesn’t make you battle tested, but it was a test he passed that night with flying colors.
Will Hairston be the next manager of the Yankees? If so, will he be a good one? That’s still to be determined. But for a guy who has never managed a game in his life, he seems to have a lot going for him.
Please follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN