Catchers Manage to Succeed at Managing
If and when Jim Leyland, manager of The Detroit Tigers, ever decides to hang up his spikes, he’s got a potential replacement for his job waiting in the wings.
Or behind the mask, so to speak.
Of course, with the Tigers now advancing to their second World Series appearance under him in the last six years, nobody’s suggesting for the moment that Leyland is ready to file his retirement papers anytime soon. But when he does, former Tiger All-Star catcher Lance Parrish will be ready.
In a move that didn’t necessarily get much coverage, Parrish was named the new skipper of the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps on October 2, 2012 – the day after the Tigers clinched the American League Central crown with a victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Parrish is certainly well qualified for any managerial gig that might come his way in the future. After retiring he became a roving catching instructor for the Royals during the 1996 season and, from 1997-98, he was a coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Double-A team, the San Antonio Missions. From 1999 to 2001 he was part of the Tigers’ major league coaching staff as a third-base coach, bullpen coach and bench coach.
“I think your catchers have to be some of the more intelligent guys on the field,” said Parrish in a 2006 interview he gave to The Deseret News, in Salt Lake City, Utah, when he was managing the Ogden Raptors. “There’s an awful lot asked of them and there’s an awful lot of the game they have to pay attention to and be involved in and I don’t think too many dummies could be behind there and do a good job.”
“There’s a natural leadership role that comes with catching,” said former catcher Brian Harper in the same article. Harper, who played for seven clubs over his 16 years in The Show, added that “there’s an awareness of the whole game in front of you. Basically, the catcher has the same view as the manager.”
Now the manager of the Chicago Cubs’ A team, the Daytona Cubs, Harper in 2011 skippered the Tennessee Smokies, the Cub’s Double-A minor league affiliate. The year before that, Harper led the San Francisco Giants’ Class A San Jose Giants to the 2010 California League Championship.
There is certainly ample precedent to suggest that Parrish would make a mighty fine manager. Don’t believe me? All you have to do is look no further than this year’s two league championship series to see who was at the helm of their respective squads to realize that ex catchers make for good skippers:
San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy—A catcher for the Houston Astros, New York Mets and San Diego Padres, he also is the only former Padres player to ever serve as the team’s manager, which he did for 12 seasons. As a manager, he won the National League pennant in 1998 with the Padres, and won the World Series with the San Francisco Giants only two seasons ago.
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi—Was a catcher for the Cubs, Rockies, Cardinals and Bronx Bombers and won the National League Manager of the Year Award in 2008 when he took the reigns of the Florida Marlins in his first season. As a manager, he has one World Series title (2009) under his belt.
Jim Leyland—With one World Series title to his credit (the Florida Marlins in 1997), Leyland is a three-time Manager of the Year Award winner, twice in the National League (1990 and 1992, with the Pittsburgh Pirates) and once in the American League in 2006.When the Tigers won the American League Championship Series, in 2006, Leyland became the seventh manager in history to win pennants in both the National and American Leagues. A career .222 hitter in the minors, Leyland was signed by the Tigers as a catcher in September 1963.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny—Rookie manager who this season replaced Tony LaRussa as skipper of the defending World Series champions. A four-time National League Gold Glove Award winner, Matheny is reportedly one of only three catchers in Major League history to catch at least 100 games in a single season without committing an error.Between August 1, 2002 and August 4, 2004, Matheny played in 252 games without committing an error, establishing a new Major League record for catchers. He also set another Major League record for catchers in 2004 by fielding 1,565 consecutive chances without an error.
And Bob Melvin, who formerly managed the Arizona Diamondbacks to the National League Western Division title in 2007, when he was named the National League’s Manager of the Year by the Sporting News as well as Major League Baseball Manager of the Year, would be the odds on favorite to win Manager of the Year again for guiding the Oakland Athletics to the American League Western Division title this year, if it weren’t for the fact that media darling Buck Showalter is probably a lock for that award for having guided the Baltimore Orioles to their first playoff appearance since 1997. A career backup catcher who hit .233 for his career, in ten seasons, Melvyn played for seven different teams.
Lest anyone forget, Mike Scioscia, the former Los Angeles Dodger catcher, was manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim when that team won its World Series trophy in 2002. One year earlier, Bob Brenly was the manager when the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Yankees during the 2001 World Series. And let’s also remember that former catcher Joe Maddon, the well regarded skipper of the Tampa Bay Rays, was named Manager of the Year in 2008, when the Rays, who had the worst record in Major League Baseball in 2007, won the American League pennant. Because of this, Maddon was given the American League Manager of the Year Award that season; he also won the Major League Baseball Manager of the Year Award.
By the way, word has it that some guy named Joe Torre—a former catcher, first baseman and third baseman—also won four World Series trophies for the Yankees over a span of five seasons, in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.
So what’s the lesson here? If you want to win a World Series as a big league manager, become a catcher. It’s an idea that seems to have caught on.
(Douglas J. Gladstone is a freelance writer from New York and author of the book, “A Bitter Cup of Coffee,” which tells the true story of why nearly 900 retired players don’t receive pensions and health insurance from Major League Baseball.)