Catching is breeding ground for managers

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Gary Carter wants to manage someday, and he almost got hired this winter -- by the New York Yankees' organization, no less.

Carter said he came within "an eyelash" of the job at Triple-A Columbus, and it's no wonder he was considered. He's got Hall of Fame credentials and a winning personality, plus he's well positioned: When it comes to managers these days, plenty of former catchers are catching on.

"It makes sense," said Carter, now a New York Mets' roving instructor. "What you do behind the plate translates well into what you have to do in the dugout."

Must be. Of the 30 big league teams, nearly half -- 14 -- have managers who caught in either the majors or minors.

"That's high, but it doesn't surprise me," said new Seattle manager Bob Melvin, who caught for seven major league teams. "If you think any one position would be the leader, it would be the catchers."

Besides, it's hard to argue with success.

The last seven World Series champions all were managed by ex-catchers. Mike Scioscia steered Anaheim to the crown last October, Bob Brenly won with Arizona the year before, Joe Torre took the New York Yankees to four titles, and Jim Leyland, who caught in the minors, won with Florida in 1997.

"It's been that many?" Leyland wondered. "That's quite a streak."

Bobby Cox is the last non-catcher to guide a club to the championship, doing it in 1995 with Atlanta.

Ned Yost caught for 14 seasons before coaching under Cox for another dozen years. Now he'll try to impart some of that knowledge as Milwaukee's new manager.

"As a catcher, I think you're so involved in the game," he said. "You have to know the opposing team's strengths and weaknesses, what pitches they can hit, what pitches they can't hit."

"In situations, what are their strengths? Where do they hit? Do they steal? Do they run? Do they bunt? You're always watching your defense," he said. "And then you've got to know your pitchers' strengths. You've got to know what can he do in certain situations. What does he think that he can do in certain situations? In reality, what can he do? So it's just that you're into all phases of the game and it just sets you up for managing."

Bob Boone, Tony Pena, Jeff Torborg and Bruce Bochy are among those who made the jump. Maybe that's why every AL team and most NL clubs have at least one catcher on their staff, and some even have two or three.

Rick Dempsey and Elrod Hendricks both caught a lot of years for Baltimore before becoming coaches with the Orioles.

"It seems easy for a catcher to make the transition because it's more suited to the temperament, I guess," Dempsey said. "You've got to be a tough guy to be a major league manager, and behind home plate, if you're any kind of good catcher at all, you've got to be tough back there."

Former All-Star Lance Parrish rejoined the Detroit staff as a coach under former teammate Alan Trammell. To Parrish, it's not unusual to see so many of his backstop brethren in baseball.

"It doesn't surprise me. The catchers are the smartest guys in the game, c'mon," he said with a grin.

Several former catchers who managed last year but didn't get rehired -- Jerry Narron, Luis Pujols, Joel Skinner and Bruce Kimm -- quickly found work as major league coaches this season.

"I don't think it's necessary that you be a catcher to be a good manager," Brenly said. "But I think the demands of the job lend very well to crossing over to running a ballclub."

A couple of other newly hired managers, Cleveland's Eric Wedge and Oakland's Ken Macha, caught in pro ball.

"I think it's a great trend. I hope it continues," Bochy said.

Chances are, it will.

Count Joe Girardi of the Cardinals and Brook Fordyce of the Orioles among the current crop of catchers who hope to manage.

"I had the benefit of learning a lot from Joe Torre when I was with the Yankees. A lot of times, I'd find myself down on his side of the bench, trying to absorb how he did things," Girardi said. "One of the attractions of signing with St. Louis was the opportunity to learn from Tony La Russa."

Fordyce also keeps busy on the bench when he's not playing, thinking about all the possible moves a manager might make. There's a lot to keep track of, and being a catcher helps.

"They say we wear the 'tools of ignorance,"' he said, "but we're pretty smart."

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