Alex Cora and a new wave of suc­cess,

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Nancy Ar­mour Colum­nist USA TODAY

MIL­WAU­KEE – Ex­pe­ri­ence is over­rated.

Or so it now seems in base­ball, where the idea that bigleague man­agers have to first toil in the mi­nors or on some­one else’s staff is go­ing the way of com­plete games. The man­agers of three of the teams still play­ing had lit­tle or no on-field train­ing be­fore get­ting hired, with Craig Coun­sell and A.J. Hinch com­ing out of the front of­fice and Alex Cora com­ing out of the TV booth with a stopover on Hinch’s staff in Hous­ton last year.

“There’s dif­fer­ent ways to get ex­pe­ri­ence in a job, for a job,” said Coun­sell, who was work­ing in the Brew­ers front of­fice when he was hired in 2015. “Any­time you get the big job, what­ever job that is for any­body, I don’t think any­body’s ever com­pletely pre­pared for it. There’s al­ways a learn­ing curve for the big job.

“But I feel like the ex­pe­ri­ences I got did pre­pare me to do this,” added Coun­sell, who played for five teams in his 16 years in the ma­jors. “And I think that’s what a lot of teams are say­ing about the peo­ple they’re hir­ing.”

The trend be­gan al­most a decade ago when Hinch was hired to man­age the Di­a­mond­backs in May 2009 de­spite never hav­ing coached or man­aged a game at any level. In­stead, he’d spent his en­tire post-play­ing ca­reer in the Di­a­mond­backs front of­fice.

(Yes, Joe Gi­rardi was hired as the Mar­lins man­ager in 2005 af­ter one year as a bench coach. But af­ter 15 years as a catcher, in­clud­ing four in the Bronx, he’d for­got­ten more about base­ball than most man­agers would ever know.)

Af­ter be­ing fired in July 2010, Hinch went back to the front of­fice, work­ing as the Padres’ vice pres­i­dent of pro­fes­sional scout­ing. When the Astros were look­ing for a man­ager af­ter the 2014 sea­son, they called on Hinch.

By then, other teams had be­gun warm­ing to the idea that not all man­agers needed to have sim­i­lar ré­sumés. With so much em­pha­sis on an­a­lyt­ics, power has shifted to the front of­fice and less­ened the need for that “old school” man­age­rial ex­pe­ri­ence. Line­ups and in-game moves are now dic­tated as much by numbers as they are by feel.

Since then, the Brew­ers have hired Coun­sell, the Mariners took Scott Ser­vais out of the front of­fice and the Yan­kees lured Aaron Boone out of the broad­cast booth. Cora spent four years as a color an­a­lyst for ESPN and one sea­son as Hinch’s bench coach be­fore the Red Sox named him man­ager.

“It’s not the an­swer key that ev­ery­body can just go to the front of­fice and learn the in­ner work­ings of an of­fice and be good at the man­ager po­si­tion,” Hinch said. “But it is a route. And it’s proven to be some­thing that there’s valu­able lessons to be learned that way, just as there’s valu­able lessons to be learned on-the-job train­ing lead­ing a team. I’m not sure there’s a per­fect way ei­ther way.”

To be fair, it’s not as if th­ese teams have plucked guys off the street or out of beer leagues to man­age. Coun­sell, Boone, Cora all had long play­ing ca­reers, which gave them op­por­tu­ni­ties to study var­i­ous man­agers and how they went about their jobs.

In fact, when the Brew­ers last made the play­offs, in 2011, Coun­sell was on the team but not get­ting much play­ing time. So he ob­served.

“I was do­ing a lot of the think­ing about this stuff be­cause I knew I wasn’t go­ing to play,” he said. “When you’re in that stage of your ca­reer, you do put your­self in that po­si­tion of think­ing about what the man­ager is do­ing. I think that’s kind of nat­u­ral for guys that are on the bench at the end of their ca­reer.”

Is that enough to turn over the keys to a fran­chise?

Boone led the Yan­kees to the se­cond-best record in base­ball in his first sea­son, but his man­age­ment of his pitch­ing staff cost the Yan­kees the Amer­i­can League Divi­sion Series. Maybe that doesn’t hap­pen if he’d spent a year or two on some­one’s bench.

Then again, Joe Mad­don worked his way up the ranks be­fore be­com­ing a man­ager, and his moves nearly cost the Cubs the 2016 World Series ti­tle.

“I can see how the trend is go­ing, be­cause there’s a lot of good stuff out there,” said Dave Roberts, who had front of­fice and coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence when the Dodgers hired him in Novem­ber 2015.

“But you still have to put that right per­son that the play­ers and coaches re­spond to.”

In other words, ex­pe­ri­ence still mat­ters. It’s just that the def­i­ni­tion of it has changed.


Af­ter a 16-year play­ing ca­reer, Craig Coun­sell was in the front of­fice when the Brew­ers named him man­ager early in the 2015 sea­son.

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