The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers

The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers

by Bill James
The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers

The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers

by Bill James

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The man Newsweek once called “the guru of baseball” offers profiles of top managers, sidebars, statistics, and snapshots of each decade.
Widely considered to be one of the greatest minds in the history of the game, Bill James has changed the way we think about the sport of baseball. In this chronicle of field generals, strategists, and occasional cannon fodder, James writes with piercing insight about the men who hold what may be the most important spot in the dugout.
For nearly forty years, James has led the vanguard of how we measure the game. From sabermetrics to his Baseball Abstracts, James has influenced even the casual fan all the way up to the top brass. Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, however, is the manager, and Bill James has penned a guide on some of the most innovative and renowned men to ever hold that position.
Some of the game’s greatest managers have been Hall of Fame players who put down a bat and picked up a lineup card: Frank Robinson, Mel Ott, Joe Cronin, Tris Speaker, and Rogers Hornsby. Others have achieved greatness from their ability to assemble legendary teams: Billy Martin, Tommy Lasorda, Connie Mack, Joseph McCarthy, Dick Williams, and Leo Durocher. Here, Bill James explores the history of the manager, and its evolution from 1870–1990, in a decade-by-decade chronicle, examining the successes, the failures, and what baseball fans can learn from both.
The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers is a thought-provoking, entertaining, and seminal guide to a vital part of the national pastime, written by one of its most groundbreaking iconoclasts.
“A delightful collection that will satisfy baseball fans of all ages.” —Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626812635
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 02/06/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 603,954
File size: 20 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

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Decade Snapshot: 1870s

Most Successful Managers:

1. Harry Wright

2. Dick McBride

3. Bob Ferguson

Harry Wright was, in essence, the only successful manager of the decade, the completely dominant manager. His Boston Red Stockings won the National Association in 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1875, and won the National League in 1877 and 1878.

Most Controversial Manager: Bob Ferguson

Others of Note:

George Wright

Albert Spalding

Cal McVey

Bill Craver

Stunts: In the 1870s the rules didn't require the manager to name his lineup until the players actually came to the plate. Cap Anson would often wait to see how the first inning developed before deciding whether he would hit third, fourth, or fifth.

Typical Manager Was: Just an experienced player.

Percentage of Playing Managers: 68%

Most Second-Guessed Manager's Move: I could be wrong about this, but my impression is that the business of second-guessing manager's moves is a relatively late development in baseball history. Nineteenth-century fans had no expectation that the game would pivot constantly on small strategic decisions, and thus no concept of the manager as a chess player.

Until 1905 virtually all games were completed by the starting pitcher, except for a few games when the pitcher was beaten up early and the game was lost. The sacrifice bunt didn't become common until 1890, and pinch hitters were so infrequently used that until 1905, you could lead the league in pinch hits for the season with three.

Lineups were basically constant, and in the 1870s most teams used only one or two pitchers. Without pinch hitting, pinch running, pitching changes, or sacrifice bunting, the second-guesser's field of opportunities was tremendously limited.

Chicago owner John Hart did quarrel openly with Cap Anson about Anson's dislike of the sacrifice bunt, but as a general rule, even when these things did develop, it took some time for fans and reporters to be familiar enough with them that they felt qualified to say what the manager should have done.

This is not to say that fans and media of the nineteenth century gave managers a free ride, because they certainly didn't. The nineteenth-century concept of a manager was of a leader, a teacher, and a man who could find good ballplayers and get them to come play for him. If, in the eyes of the fans, the team didn't have much "fire" or didn't make the plays they were supposed to make, that was held against the manager, and the manager was often skewered in the press. But that criticism never focused on strategic decisions in the way that it would in the twentieth century.

Evolutions in Strategy: Far too numerous to discuss. The rules were still changing very rapidly at this time, basic stuff like the number of balls and strikes and the dimensions of the field. Under these conditions, strategies could be dominant one year, obsolete the next. The "fair/foul bunt," a sort of swinging bunt which bounced once in fair territory, then rolled into foul territory, was tremendously important for two or three years, but disappeared when the rules were changed to make it a foul ball if fielded in foul territory.

Harry Wright in a Box

Year of Birth: 1835

Years Managed: 1871–1893

Record as a Manager: 1,225–885, .581

Wright's teams were 225–60 in the National Association, and 1,000–825 in the National League. He managed Boston in the National Association/National League from 1871 to 1881, Providence in 1882 to 1883, and Philadelphia from 1884 to 1893.

Managers for Whom He Played: None.

Characteristics As a Player: He was a center fielder and pitcher, strong, fast, very smart, and with an outstanding arm. He was not a great player; he was good. He is believed to have been the first pitcher to throw a changeup.


Harry Wright was, in essence, the first manager.

Wright was born in England, but his family moved to the United States when he was a baby. His father, Sam Wright, was a professional cricket player and was employed by a New York City cricket club as a club pro.

In about 1855 baseball had a surge of popularity in New York City. Wright played both cricket and baseball, was a member of the New York Knickerbockers baseball club, and was one of the better players in New York. According to Baseball in Cincinnati (Harry Ellard, 1907), "Harry Wright, so well known in baseball circles in the early days, was previous to his coming to Cincinnati the bowler for the New York Cricket Club, working only during the summer at $12 per week, and at his trade (that of jeweler) during the winter, but in August, 1865, he was engaged by George B. Ellard, at a salary of $1,200 a year, to play in the same capacity for the Union Cricket Club, which position he held until November 22, 1867, when he was engaged to act as pitcher for the baseball club at the same salary."

Like his father, Wright had become a club cricket pro. The Union Cricket Club in Cincinnati arranged matches against other teams, both in cricket and baseball. A cricket match goes on for several days, and the public didn't have much taste for that; they drew better when they tried baseball — thus, in 1867, the Unions decided to switch to baseball.

Baseball teams in this time were organized into the National Association of Baseball Players. The NABP extolled amateurism, although many of its players had phantom jobs, and were in fact professionals. Wright persuaded the Union club, in 1868, to add six of these quasi-professional players.

This gave the Unions the best team in Cincinnati. Wright and some friends designed their uniforms, which had long pants and bright red stockings; the sox would eventually give their name to two major league teams. Flushed with success, Wright approached the new president of the team, a Cincinnati lawyer named Aaron Champion, and attempted to persuade him to abandon the pretense of amateurism, and put together a professional team of the best baseball players in the country.

Champion was uncertain at first, advancing the commonly held belief that the public would never accept athletes who played for money, and also expressing the fear that the professional team would be blacklisted by the NABP. Wright argued, however, that the NABP rules were pure hypocrisy, since there were dozens of professional players around the country, and also that the Association lacked the ability to enforce its rules.

Wright prevailed, and was authorized to hire a team of professional baseball players, the first openly professional team. Champion financed the venture by selling $15,000 stock in the team, and Wright, by the spring of 1869, had nine baseball players under contract.

In 1869 the Cincinnati Red Stockings went on a grand tour, playing 57 games, 56 of which they won, and the other of which ended in a tie; this is, of course, one of the most celebrated events in baseball history. This provoked another wave of popularity for baseball, and businessmen from other cities began to bid for the best players as a matter of local pride, trying to build up their teams to compete with Cincinnati. Major league baseball is an outgrowth of this competition.

The Red Stockings won another 27 games in 1870, finally losing to the Brooklyn Atlantics; they would lose 5 games before the 1870 season was over. They also failed to show a profit, despite their dominance on the field, and Aaron Champion was ousted as president of the club. The team began to break up, the best players being lured away with better offers.

Throughout 1869 and 1870, the rift between the NABP and the amateurs grew increasingly sharp, and on March 17, 1871, Wright and some other prominent baseball men formed a new organization, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. Later that spring a group of businessmen in Boston contacted George Wright, Harry's younger brother, and asked him to come to Boston and be the "manager" (meaning captain and business manager) for their team in the new professional league. George Wright, twelve years younger than Harry, was the best player on the Cincinnati team, and probably the best player in baseball at that time. George, however, didn't want to try to be both a player and a manager, and recommended to the men in Boston that they hire Harry to be the manager.

Harry accepted. According to George Wright, in an interview with the New York Sun in 1908, "His first move was to go to Rockford, Illinois, and sign A. G. Spalding, the Rockford pitcher, Ross Barnes, their second baseman, and Fred Cohen, their left fielder." Continuing to add outstanding players, and playing cohesively in a way that no other team did, the Boston Red Stockings dominated the National Association, winning the competition by such margins that other teams began gradually to lose interest. In 1875, the last year of the National Association, the Red Stockings were 71–8, 15 games better than any other team.


Was He an Intense Manager or More of an Easy-to-Get-Along-With Type? Wright was not difficult to get along with. He was competitive, of course, but until 1880 he was more of a "captain" than a modern manager. He was a first-among-equals, a team leader who worked with his men.

According to Lee Allen, "he was a decent, quiet man who did not believe in playing baseball on Sunday. In an uncouth age he had the respect of even the rowdiest players and was, in many ways, much like Connie Mack."

The 1893 Reach Guide, writing about Harry Wright nearing sixty, said that Wright "has kept himself in step with the new ideas of the game, and never showed a disposition to cling to the things which were primitive or ancient. As a controller of men he has no peer, and in controlling base ball players successfully he shows unwonted powers, because, as a rule, professional ball players are a rather untractable set. It is Mr. Wright's system to never find fault after a defeat. It is when the team wins that he takes occasion to criticize the player's work, because they will then be in a frame of mind to take criticism kindly. If Mr. Wright, as a manager, has a fault, it lies in an over kindness and a lack of severe methods in dealing with the men."

Was He More of an Emotional Leader or a Decision Maker? More of a decision maker.

Was He More of an Optimist or More of a Problem Solver? He was the ultimate problem solver. He was pro-active in everything, a man who figured out how things should be and began to move them in that direction.


Did He Favor a Set Lineup or a Rotation System? He used a set lineup.

Did He Like to Platoon? Never heard of it.

Did He Try to Solve His Problems with Proven Players or with Youngsters Who Still May Have Had Something to Learn? The form of this question assumes a structure. Wright operated in a more open system. Finding good young players was something he liked to do.

How Many Players Did He Make Regulars Who Had Not Been Regulars Before, and Who Were They? Everybody he signed was, of course, a first-time regular in the major leagues.

Did He Prefer to Go with Good Offensive Players or Did He Like the Glove Men? What was most outstanding about his teams was their pitching and defense.

Did He Like an Offense Based on Power, Speed, or High Averages? In 1869, when the Cincinnati team was on tour, baseball was a very high-scoring game. George Wright hit 59 home runs for the Redlegs, in 58 games, and the team scored an average of more than 40 runs per game.

For reasons that I don't fully understand, this changed dramatically in the following few years. Runs-scored totals fell to modern levels, and home runs became relatively rare.

Did He Use the Entire Roster or Did He Keep People Sitting on the Bench? He dealt with ten- to fifteen-man rosters. There wasn't room to have players sitting around.


Did He Go for the Big-Inning Offense, or Did He Like to Use the One-Run Strategies? One-run strategies weren't really developed until the late 1890s.

Did He Pinch-Hit Much, and If So, When? Nobody used pinch hitters in the 1870s.

Did He Use the Sac Bunt Often? It hadn't been invented.

Did He Like to Use the Running Game? There are no statistics until 1887, near the end of his career.

In What Circumstances Would He Issue an Intentional Walk? Unknown. The intentional walk was used at this time.

Did He Hit and Run Very Often? Hit and run wasn't invented until the 1880s at the earliest, and not common until the 1890s.

How Did He Change the Game? It has been written many times that Harry Wright invented professional baseball. This is an oversimplification; many other men were involved with Wright at each step of the way as baseball made its ten-year transition to open professionalism. Nonetheless, it is certainly accurate to say that Harry Wright made changes in the game far more far-reaching and profound than those of any other manager.


Did He Like Power Pitchers, or Did He Prefer to Go with the People Who Put the Ball in Play? The question doesn't really apply to 1870s baseball. Until 1887, the batter could call for a high pitch or a low pitch. In 1870s baseball strikeouts and walks were relatively rare, and players who couldn't throw hard weren't used as pitchers.

Did He Stay with His Starters, or Go to the Bullpen Quickly? In this era, pitchers could be replaced only with the consent of the opposition, so teams had nearly 100% complete games. Wright was an exception; he did like to make pitching changes. In 1876, the first season of the National League, he used 21 relief pitchers in 70 games, whereas the other seven teams combined used only 29 relievers during the season.

Did He Use a Four-Man Rotation? No, but Wright was closer to a pitching rotation than any other manager of his era. In 1876, when most of the other teams in the National League used only one pitcher, Wright used three. He went with one starter in 1877–1878, but as the schedule expanded rapidly in the 1880s, all teams shifted to using more and more pitchers. Wright was always a step ahead in this march. By the early 1890s he was using a three-man rotation.

What Was His Strongest Point As a Manager? He had an almost phenomenal ability to persuade people to go along with his plans.

If There Was No Professional Baseball, What Would He Have Done with His Life? There wasn't any professional baseball. He invented it.


Decade Snapshot: 1880s

Most Successful Managers:

1. Cap Anson

2. Jim Mutrie

3. Charlie Comiskey

Most Controversial Manager: Comiskey

Comiskey's men in St. Louis pioneered the use of rowdy fans as a weapon of combat. Their fans, egged on by Comiskey and his players, were so abusive that they frightened and intimidated opponents.

Others of Note:

Frank Bancroft

John Morrill

Gus Schmelz

Pop Snyder

Bill Watkins

Typical Manager Was: A young entrepreneur. The game was divided between country boys, many of them with little or no education, and the eastern, urban descendants of the gentleman's clubs which had dominated baseball in the 1860s. The brighter and more ambitious in each group sometimes became managers.

Some of those, like Cap Anson, stayed in baseball until circumstances forced them out. But more of them, best represented by Monte Ward, were on their way to some other destination.

Percentage of Playing Managers: 41%

Evolutions in Strategy: The Chicago club (under Anson) used a play that they called the "hit and run," although there is dispute about whether this was the modern hit and run play, in which the batter attempts to take advantage of the hole created by a fielder's moving, or something closer to the modern run and hit, a simpler play which just involves the runner moving while the batter swings away.

The Detroit team of 1887, National League champions under Bill Watkins, may have been the first to experiment with the sacrifice bunt.There are other claimants.

Evolution in the Role of the Manager: With the exceptions of Harry Wright and Cap Anson, who were both quite remarkable men, the role of the professional manager was just beginning to take shape in the 1880s. Cap Anson was probably the first hard-ass manager in baseball. The managers of the early 1870s couldn't be too hard on their players, because the players could easily move on to other teams, and thus had all the power in the relationship.

Bewildering Options

With a twenty-five-man roster there are 741 billion possible ways for a manager to pick a nine-man lineup. Actually, there are millions of times that many, but what I am saying exactly is that given a set of twenty-five players, there are 741,354,768,000 (741 billion, 354 million, 768 thousand) different ways to choose nine players from those twenty-five.

Once you have chosen the nine players, there are 362,880 options for the batting order, which is nine factorial. Combining these two questions into one, how many ways are there to make a nine-man batting order from a twenty-five-man lineup? The answer is 269 quadrillion — 269,022,818,211,840,000 to be exact. One year, Casey Stengel used them all. No, actually, this is approximately the same as the number of seconds which would pass in ten billion years.

We haven't yet considered the defensive alignment; if we allowed for that, the number of options would be ... well, I don't know, exactly, but trust me, it would be some very large number. For each of the 269 quadrillion possible lineups, there would be, in theory, 362,880 different defensive alignments.

The possible options would shrink considerably if we divided the roster into pitchers and position players. If you have a roster of fourteen position players and eleven pitchers, and you assume that only one pitcher will start, that reduces the options for the starting lineup from seven hundred billion to one billion. If you assume that only certain players can catch, only certain players can play the outfield, etc., that reduces the options further; heck, you can get down to a few million in no time.

Managers get hammered in barroom discussion because, out of the 269 quadrillion options for the batting order, they frequently don't choose exactly the right one. You may wonder what computer analysis has to say about lineup selection, and I will tell you more about the subject a little later. But the first point to make, along that line, is that we can never really be sure what the optimal lineup is. The number of options is so large that it overpowers even the largest and most sophisticated computers. The only way to approach the problem is by whittling down the theoretically possible selections into those which seem reasonable, and then evaluating what seem to be the prime alternatives.


Excerpted from "The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers from 1870 to Today"
by .
Copyright © 1997 Bill James.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Decade Snapshot: 1870s,
Decade Snapshot: 1880s,
Decade Snapshot: 1890s,
Decade Snapshot: 1900s,
Decade Snapshot: 1910s,
Decade Snapshot: 1920s,
Decade Snapshot: 1930s,
Decade Snapshot: 1940s,
Decade Snapshot: 1950s,
Decade Snapshot: 1960s,
Decade Snapshot: 1970s,
Decade Snapshot: 1980s,
Decade Snapshot: 1990s,

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