Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
As Carlos Beltrán takes over the Mets -- he'll be introduced as their new manager in a press conference Monday morning -- he joins a baseball fraternity that's rare in today's game:
Beltrán and Don Mattingly of the Marlins are the only current managers who were superstars as players. The ex-players over the rest of the managerial landscape did not have the same kind of big careers, and they certainly didn't make the kind of money Beltrán did.
Whether it's fair or unfair, the number of non-star managers seems to stir debate over ex-stars getting the job. Should anyone care if Beltrán doesn't fit the profile of the scrappy middle infielder who soaked up every detail to get by as a player and now deploys that knowledge as a manager? Or if he's not a shrewd catcher steeped in the calculus of running a pitching staff?
Probably not. There's precedent for players as good as or better than Beltrán becoming managers. Plenty of those were successful.
According to the Baseball Hall of Fame's website, 63 Hall of Fame players also managed big-league teams.
Eleven of those won the World Series. Frank Chance won two as the player-manager of the 1907-08 Cubs. Nine of the 11 were player-managers, back during the time when that was popular.
Bob Lemon of the 1978 Yankees is the last Hall of Fame player to manage a Fall Classic winner, and he and Red Schoendienst of the 1967 Cardinals are the only ones who weren't player-managers.
There have been duds, too. Ty Cobb finished as high as second once in six seasons, though his career record was over .500. Ted Williams started his managing career by going 86-76 with the 1969 Senators, not exactly a powerhouse. But by the time he finished his managing career, he had a .429 winning percentage in four seasons.
Babe Ruth wanted to manage, but famously couldn't get a gig, proving that a Cooperstown resume doesn't automatically get you hired.
Beltrán, who hit 435 career home runs and was a Postseason monster, is not in the Hall of Fame -- yet. He's not eligible for the ballot until 2023, meaning he could be elected during his tenure in the Mets dugout, presuming he's more like Chance as a manager than Ryne Sandberg, who had a .428 winning percentage from 2013-15 running the Phillies, and lasts that long.
Why don't stars try to manage the way they once did? John Thorn, the official historian for Major League Baseball, has a theory.
"Part of it is that superstar players have been paid so well over the last 20-40 years, they have socked away something and to return to active duty at a much-reduced salary is less appealing," Thorn said.
So maybe it says something about Beltrán's commitment to the job that he's willing to take it. Beltrán made more than $221 million, according to baseball-reference.com, during a career than spanned from 1998-2017. He's got to be the richest ex-player to ever become a manager.
Williams had enough money when he became manager of the Washington Senators in 1969, thanks to endorsements with Sears for hunting and fishing apparel, Thorn said. Williams, Thorn added, wanted to be back in baseball.
"Ted Williams was the least likely candidate for managing," Thorn said. "People assumed, and they may assume this of Beltrán, that when you can do it on the field, you have little patience for those who can't."
As a manager, Williams ultimately proved to be more of a specialist -- he adored working with hitters and mostly focused on that, said Rich Donnelly, the longtime coach and minor-league manager who played in the Senators' system and went to spring training while Williams managed there.
Williams' big advice to his pitchers?
"Throw sliders," Donnelly said. "That was a tough pitch for him when he played. But not every pitcher can throw a slider."
"From what I'm told about Carlos, he has a passion for the total game," Donnelly added. "Ted had a passion for hitting and teaching guys how to hit. He used to wonder why guys couldn't hit like he could.
"He took me into center field once and said, 'You're a good athlete, you've got good hand-eye coordination. Why can't you hit? Who taught you to hit?'"
"My dad," Donnelly said. Williams replied, colorfully, that the senior Donnelly was not a wonderful hitting coach. But, Donnelly added, Williams helped him enough that he hit better in Triple-A than he did in high school. Later, Williams recommended that Donnelly become a manager, which jump-started the baseball lifer's career.
So maybe Williams' dugout tenure is a cautionary tale of sorts for Beltrán, though Beltrán doesn't seem to need it. He's always displayed a passion for every facet of the game, and was renowned as a resource for teammates on any kind of skill, a superstar at even the most minute baseball detail.
That's a trait that will probably serve him well now.