New Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais has filled out as many lineup cards as Queen Elizabeth II, and one fewer than Ted Turner.
The former Atlanta Braves owner, whose team was in the throes of a 16-game losing streak, appointed himself a temporary skipper on May 14, 1977. Although he had no background in baseball, Turner figured the job couldn’t be too tough.
“If I’m smart enough to save $11 million to buy the team,” he said, “I ought to be smart enough to manage it.”
Citing a baseball policy prohibiting owners from serving as managers, then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn forced Turner to step down after one game. But here’s what stands out about Turner’s brief managerial career: He made a preposterous move that worked.
Trailing Pittsburgh, 2-1, with a runner on first in the ninth inning, Turner called on Darrel Chaney to pinch hit against lefty John Candelaria. A switch hitter who had little success batting on either side, Chaney never had been called upon as a right-handed pinch hitter. But he connected on a line drive that bounced off the artificial turf for a ground-rule double.
Had the game been played on a grass surface, the runner from first scores, it’s a tie game with Chaney on third, and Turner is hailed for his gutsy, unconventional strategy.
I thought of Turner when the Mariners announced Friday that Lloyd McClendon’s replacement would be somebody who has never managed at any level. A big-league catcher for 11 seasons, Servais remained in baseball as a roving instructor whose specialty would become player development.
Mariners All-Star outfielder Nelson Cruz has cited the influential role Servais took in revamping Cruz’s swing when both were in the Texas Rangers organization. Major league managers aren’t typically required to meddle in the hands-on technique stuff — that’s left up to the instructors — but the role of the manager is changing.
Managing is a more comprehensive job than it used to be. Serving as a bridge between the front office and the fans, the manager is part stats analyst, part psychologist, part public-relations coordinator and part tactician. The idea of calling upon Darrel Chaney (career batting average: .217) as a right-handed pinch hitter in the ninth inning of a one-run game is vetted, these days, with the bench coach.
Experience not only isn’t a necessity on a manager’s résumé, it might even be a liability. Ex-Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg worked his way as a manager through their farm system from the bottom rung, riding buses in rookie league through Triple-A. He was a name, with a plaque in the Hall of Fame, and when the Cubs had an opening after Lou Piniella resigned, they chose …
The trend of hiring inexperienced managers has not been verified as wise. The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t miss a beat when Mike Matheny took over for Tony La Russa, but Robin Ventura (Chicago White Sox), Brad Ausmus (Detroit Tigers), Walt Weiss (Colorado Rockies), Craig Counsell (Milwaukee Brewers) and Kevin Cash (Tampa Bay Rays) all lost more games than they won in 2015.
So did the Miami Marlins’ Dan Jennings. In a maneuver best described as Turneresque, the general manager decided the best option to replace Mike Redmond was, ahem, Dan Jennings — a guy who never had coached a team since high school suddenly was calling the shots.
To be fair, the checkered results of his first-time-on-the-job predecessors are irrelevant to Servais. What’s relevant is that he’s in synch with general manager Jerry Dipoto, and apparently in synch with presumptive bench coach Tim Bogar, who has loads of managing experience.
Servais will be introduced Monday in Seattle with the cleanest and yet most meager managerial record there is: 0-0.
If not for a ground-rule double that took a high bounce off artificial turf, Ted Turner might have retired with a managerial record of 1-0.
Which is to say, just about anybody can manage a baseball team for one day. The trick is to manage a baseball team every day, to manage all the layers between, thick and thin, and to survive a casualty rate that has made Scott Servais the ninth Mariners manager since 2002.
May the force be with you, Scott, but know this: If you call upon a consistently overwhelmed batter to pinch hit in the ninth inning of a one-run game, you will be grilled until charred.
Unless, like, he hits a line-drive double.