Interesting conversation in the comment thread to yesterday’s post about how much impact a manager has on team performance. In response to a commenter who asked if I thought managers had absolutely no affect, I said, no, I thought that managers are ultimately limited on the top end by the talent on their team, but that they can do harm by not using their resources optimally, pursuing short-sighted, one-run strategies when they’re not called for and by creating dissension in the clubhouse. All of this, mind you, was set against the backdrop of the Wally Backman situation, so I was not terribly surprised when I received this comment in response:
I hope all the other candidates lead with “My view of it is that while managers can’t really help too much on the top end, they can certainly do harm” That should seal the deal for Wally, he simply tries to win and does.
Which pretty much encapsulates the Backman lobby. “Hire Wally because he’s a winner!” they cry. To which I respond: name me one manager who doesn’t “try to win.” They all try to win. If you ask them what their job is, they’ll say that they try to win. Yet, somehow — amazingly! — there are still bad and unsuccessful managers out there.
Which means that the measure of a managerial candidate, in my view, isn’t solely how badly he wants to win. It’s about whether he’s aware of what a manager can and can’t control in doing so. A guy who is aware of his limitations and his team’s limitations — and strengths, of course — and who doesn’t assume he can win by force of will. The only guy I can even think of who came close to simply willing his team to victory, talent limitations be damned — was Billy Martin. And he wore out his welcome everywhere he went due to being a near-psychopath, by burning out pitchers’ arms and by alienating the players on his team that he needed to help him win over the long term.
None of which, I must add, I can say describes Wally Backman. I have no reason to believe that he thinks he can rah-rah his way to the World Series. Indeed, my guess is that Sandy Alderson wouldn’t have given him a second interview if he gave off such an impression. For all I know, Wally Backman is the most centered, thoughtful managerial candidate in the slate the Mets are considering, and would be, if hired, a revelation. I haven’t spoken to the man, nor have I heard him speak on such matters.
But neither have the Backman backers, and basically the only thing I hear them citing in Backman’s favor is their perception that Backman is “a winner.” That he has passion and fire and all of that. That stuff alone isn’t enough, and taken too far is probably counterproductive to a team’s long-term health.
If Backman gets the Mets’ job it will not be because he has impressed Sandy Alderson that “he tries to win and does.” That should be assumed. It will be because he has shown himself to be a well-rounded candidate, aware of his strengths and his weaknesses, and willing to work within the framework of both of those things, the roster provided and the front office’s philosophy in order to steer the Mets towards winning baseball.
In other news, I hope Alderson chooses someone soon, because I don’t think I can handle five Wally Backman stories every single day.