PHILADELPHIA — The average age of the two World Series managers is 65.5 years old. Last year, 66-year-old Brian Snitker guided the Atlanta Braves to a World Series championship.
A 66-year-old Buck Showalter recently led the Mets to a 101-win season and was named the Sporting News NL Manager of the Year. The Texas Rangers just turned to 67-year-old three-time World Series champion Bruce Bochy, pulling him out of retirement.
“One more for the old dudes,” Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker said upon hearing the news of Bochy’s hiring.
Modern-day MLB front offices typically want managers who are closer in age to the players than the owners. Managing a baseball team is somewhat of a collaborative effort these days with a trend toward young, analytically-inclined, first-time managers. It makes sense at a time when baseball clubs are devoting more and more resources to advanced statistics at all levels of the game.
But 72-year-old Baker and 59-year-old Rob Thomson have led the Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series and it begs the question of whether or not the pendulum is starting to swing back in the other direction.
Could we be seeing a trend toward old-school managers?
It’s tough to be able to say for sure but this much is true: The trends in professional sports are set by the teams that win championships. These two pennant winners are skippered by dudes old enough to have their AARP cards.
Maybe the pendulum isn’t quite swinging all the way back in the direction of older, more experienced managers, but it’s clear these baseball lifers still have a place in the game. So often, it feels like the new-school analytics mindset is at odds with baseball’s rich tradition.
Baker was brought to the Astros in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal. Showalter was brought to the Mets after, well, years of scandal and dysfunction. Both managers have had stabilizing influences on their respective clubs. It’s unfortunate that respected baseball figures have been tasked with cleaning up messes left behind by previous regimes, but it also speaks to their abilities to stabilize unstable locker rooms and change cultures.
Baker and Showalter were both out of baseball before the Astros and Mets hired them. But talk to either of them for more than a few minutes and you’ll understand why they came back. The affable Showalter still loves to talk baseball and think through the lineup, the matchups and the myriad of scenarios that come out of a baseball game.
Baker, a Sacramento native, might have his winery he tends to in the offseason but his laid-back, West Coast demeanor is perfect for the pressure of the postseason. Baker doesn’t panic, so the players in his dugout don’t either.
A few years ago, managers like Thomson might not have been considered for a managerial job. The Phillies interim manager who grew up in a small town in Canada and spent much of his career with the Yankees was another assistant. He wasn’t a hotshot up-and-comer. Thomson had only managed at two other levels before he was promoted to the interim skipper in June: In Australia and in the New York Penn League in the 1990s.
He was hired to be Gabe Kapler’s bench coach in 2018 and remained in the same position after Joe Girardi was hired in 2020. A bench coach acts as the manager’s right-hand man making in-game decisions, so Thomson wasn’t lacking experience. But front offices now want a manager they can manage, so someone like Thomson wouldn’t necessarily be a trendy pick.
Maybe he should be, given that he guided the Phillies to a 65-46 record in 111 games and led them to the World Series. Front offices seem to love first-time managers right now and he fits that bill. His aggressive management in the first two games of the World Series has garnered respect and admiration from many in baseball.
Front offices seem to want a manager they can manage. Veteran skippers sometimes desire a certain amount of autonomy that is rarely granted in professional sports these days. Being able to integrate the analytical information and bridge the gap between the clubhouse and the front office can be an effective formula.
It’s a quiet narrative that people are starting to speak about louder as the World Series progresses.