I attended a Baseball Prospectus/Pinstriped Bible Pizza feed in the heart of Times Square last night and had the chance to talk with some engaging and very bright baseball writers and fans. The only drawback was that I didn't get to talk to even more people than I did. As it was, I hung out with Chaim Bloom, Alex Ciepley, Jim Gerard, Murray Markowitz, Jay Jaffe, Cliff Corcoran, Steven Goldman, David Pinto, Nick Stone, Steve Keane, John Kay, Derek Jacques, Repoz, and a kid named Justin. Joe Sheehan will be in town to do a Prospectus book signing in Brooklyn in two weeks and I hope to keep the conversations flowing then.
Interestingly, two topics that a group of us touched on are examined in the local papers this morning. The first is the case of Willie Randolph--one of my favorite players as a kid--and how he has had a difficult time making the leap from coach to manager. As much as the guys at my table agreed that Randolph seems like a decent, if taciturn guy, none of us had much sympathy for him. Murray Chass explains why:
Perhaps, too, he would have served himself better had he managed in the minor or winter leagues to gain experience. An ardent family man with four children, Randolph nobly didn't want to leave them for long periods and burden Gretchen, his wife, with their sole care, but others, like Tony Peņa and Lee Mazzilli, benefited from minor league managing.
"I'm glad I did it," Mazzilli, the rookie Baltimore manager, said about his three years in the minors. "When you're sitting behind that desk, it's a whole different ballgame."
Randolph notes that Lou Piniella didn't have to coach in the minors, but that is not the point. If he were to give up his cushy job next to Torre, and manage in the minors for a few seasons, I think his chances of getting a big league job would increase dramatically. As it is stands, I don't have the impression that Randolph is burning to be a manager. If and when he does, I think he knows what he needs to do to better his chances.
The other Yankee coach that was mentioned was Don Mattingly. Alex Ciepley--who covers the Cubbies, but was raised in Mattingly's home town in Indiana--asked what kind of coach we thought Donnie Baseball would be. The general feeling was that he would do well. He was a popular teammate when he played, and he comes across like an empathetic guy. John Harper talked to Mattingly yesterday, and reports:
"Every player struggles, I don't care who they are," Mattingly said. "I went through that. I know those feelings. That's when I want to be there to help guys. These guys are all successful, and I'm not trying to change them. Sometimes you just need to listen to what a guy is saying, find a way to get him believing in his swing again."
Players say Mattingly is the ideal hitting coach because he has so much knowledge and so little ego. With that in mind, Joe Torre says he believes Mattingly truly will make a difference.
"They love him," Torre said, speaking of his players. "Everybody knows what kind of player he is, but they know what he's all about too. He's all about helping these guys, whatever it takes. Not to say other coaches we've had here weren't good, but because of who he is, Donnie gets in their heads a little more as far as the nuances."
Further, Mattingly admits that one of the reason modern ballplayers are so productive is because of their dedication to physical fitness (unlike Mr. October, Mattingly is not about to touch the steroid issue):
"The game has changed because of the way these guys work out," Mattingly was saying yesterday. "I don't worry about what these guys are doing to my numbers, or anything like that. I just wish I would have had a personal trainer when I was playing.
"I told Jason (Giambi) the other day, 'That's the one thing I would do different if I could. I'd hire a guy myself.' I think these trainers make a difference. If I'd had one who was putting me through workouts for the core muscles and all that, it might have made a difference as far as my back. I worked out but it's different when you've got somebody pushing you."
It's nice to hear a former player actually sticking up for the contemporary players. Obviously, Mattingly is not in a position to trash them, but his comments are sensible, and that may be why he'll be very good at his job.