By Ernie Palladino
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When words like “connectivity” and phrases like “communication level” get thrown around in the middle of the Yankees’ managerial search, it’s not hard to see that a new age has dawned.
The question going forward will involve whether those new ways prove better than the old. And the guess here is that general manager Brian Cashman, whoever he picks among the voluminous list of candidates who have applied for Joe Girardi’s job, may soon long for the old days when managers reigned supreme in their clubhouse.
Simply put, this new-age stuff about getting all cuddly with their players is a lot of nonsense.
Cashman doesn’t subscribe to that line of thinking, obviously. As he proceeds through interviews that started last week with longtime organization man Rob Thomson and may stretch through December as names like Aaron Boone, Dave Cone, John Flaherty, and Eric Wedge among the 18 or so hopefuls, Cashman is clearly looking for a new way.
He wants analytics, which is fine. Baseball long ago adopted numbers that go far deeper than batting average, on-base percentage, and ERA to judge a player’s worth. Girardi used them quite effectively, so there is no reason the next guy should ever look at the Sabremetrical world as anything but normal.
Cashman wants more willing communication with the front office, which is only slightly less palatable. The executives, from GM to player personnel director to scouting chief, should have some input into the major roster decisions of a manager. Some, as long as the mix of different voices doesn’t paralyze the whole operation.
But this apparent desire to hand out warm fuzzies to the players goes directly to the manager’s handling of the clubhouse, and that’s where Cashman’s thinking takes a left turn.
Players don’t need a whisperer.
They need a strong boss, an authoritative presence who won’t think twice about inserting his foot in an underachiever’s posterior.
Of course, that runs counter to the current trend around baseball that favors younger, hipper managers. Shortly after the Mets hired Mickey Callaway, the former Indians pitching coach proclaimed that “We’re going to care more about the players than anyone ever has before, and let them know they’re human beings and individuals.”
Whether that involves a group Kumbaya circle, three hours of daily Zen meditation, or building an aroma therapy room adjacent to the trainer’s office is anybody’s guess. But after old-school Terry Collins lost 92 games last year, Callaway would be better served worrying about how best to generate more runs and get more effective innings out of his pitching staff.
Players feel good about themselves when they win. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how a manager gets them there.
Girardi wasted no time in dressing down Gary Sanchez publicly about his defensive deficiencies. Though the rookie continued to struggle behind the plate, it didn’t prevent him from joining Aaron Judge as a Silver Slugger Award recipient as the best hitter at their respective positions.
It’s unlikely a pat on the back and a few words of consolation over that passed ball that just cost the Yanks a game will transform Sanchez into a Gold Glove backstop anytime soon.
Going back to ancient times, Billy Martin connected with his players, all right. Like the time he wanted to connect his fist with Reggie Jackson’s face in the dugout. Or on the numerous occasions where he Feng Shui-ed the postgame buffet setting in the clubhouse.
Most of his players couldn’t stand him. Yet, they went to three World Series and won two of them during his first of five tours as Yankees manager.
Casey Stengel pushed his buttons — and his players’ — to turn the Yanks into a dynasty in the 1950s. Few of his stars looked back fondly on a clubhouse style that was far from the act the “Old Perfessor” performed for public consumption.
Those were the good old days.
Now, Cashman desires a different direction. He wants a player whisperer.
When he finds that guy, be it a Thomson and his vast experience as administrator and coach that dates back to 1990, or a Boone, who has never managed in his life, he had best hope that the new ways of player communication work.
Otherwise, the players will run all over is hired.
And things turn awfully ugly awfully fast when that happens.
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