When most people watch a baseball game, they take for granted the fact that the Manager and his entire coaching staff are wearing the same uniform as their players. They have numbers, some of them even wear spikes and wristbands. Though they look like they haven’t done anything athletic in years, they are dressed as though they might need to join the game at a moment’s notice. It’s one of those things about baseball that I hope never changes.
Think about it though. You don’t see football coaches dressed in full pads, wearing a helmet as they call in plays from the sidelines. George Karl isn’t required to wear his Denver Nuggets uniform as he paces in front of the bench at an NBA game.
MLB.com columnist Alden Gonzalez wrote an article on Friday that I thought addressed an interesting topic. It’s an article worth reading, one in which Gonzalez asks the question, “Will there ever be another player-manager?”
The topic sprung up out of the social network’s combining the news of Tony LaRussa retiring and Albert Pujols‘ Free Agency. People were wondering if Pujols was capable of filling both the role of superstar franchise player and manager. While it’s insanely unlikely that would happen, it reminds us of what was once a fairly common part of professional baseball.
In the early days of the game, it happened quite a bit. There were 106 player-managers in the 1800s. A total of 221 individuals have served dual roles on their teams in the history of baseball, and 59 of those guys are Hall-of-Famers. However, only six of those have taken place in the last 50 years. The last guy to do it was Pete Rose, who was the player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-1986.
Of the six player-managers over the past 50 years, none of them have lasted more than three seasons. Frank Robinson lasted two years, and the other four only held the dual role during one season.
The player that Gonzalez featured in his article was Don Kessinger, who spent four months as a player-manager for the Chicago White Sox in 1979. Kessinger said that the task was much more difficult than he could have imagined. The job of a manager, especially in today’s world, is difficult enough. Trying to perform as a player at the same time was just too much.
I can relate in a sense from some personal experience. When I was growing up, my dad served as a player-manager for a team of college baseball players every summer (think Cape Cod league). What started out as a great idea and a feeling of being the best man for the job of playing center field and managing turned into an overwhelming escapade. He ended up quitting both.
The article made me wonder if the Royals had anyone on their roster who would be capable of handling both roles. Now, in no way am I advocating that the Royals get rid of Ned Yost. I thought I needed to state that first.
Historically, the last name that comes to mind would be Mike Sweeney. As a former catcher and team captain, it seems that if he were interested in managing any of those awful teams, somebody would have let him. He possessed the traits of a good manager and was an All-Star on the field at the same time. It would have been interesting to see if he could have done a better job than the men who managed him during his years in Kansas City.
If you take out the uncertainty of who will or won’t be on the 2012 Royals roster, let’s look at the 2011 roster and see who might fit the bill.
What about Jason Kendall? He’s served the most time in the major leagues, and as a catcher, as been a leader on the field and in the clubhouse throughout. He is someone that I could see becoming a manager down the road, so I think he would be capable.
Bruce Chen would be more of a player’s player-manager. His personality might make him more capable of handling the stress that comes along with juggling managing responsibilities with player duties. Plus, he’s a starting pitcher, so he would really only need to worry about deciding whether or not to take himself out of a game every 5th day.
Of the current Royals, I think that I would make Jeff Francoeur my player-manager. Frenchy is beloved by all, is an upstanding citizen, and has seven years of MLB service. He had to deal with the pressure of stardom at a young age, and has dealt with a great deal of adversity to get to where he is today. He is one of the most consistent players to wear a Royals uniform, and just might be the guy who could do this if needed.
So, will there ever be another player-manager? Sadly, I think that the article and those who contributed are right, that it probably won’t happen again. I could see it happening under dire circumstances, like an entire coaching staff being fired or walking out minutes before a game and one of the players having to fill that role. Like many things in America’s Pastime, the player-manager is more than likely gone forever.