A Major League Baseball team has a general manager, a manager, and coaches. If you are watching a game, you may see the manager in the dugout, instructing players, talking to coaches, or writing on a lineup card. What do baseball managers do?
Baseball managers conduct and oversee all the on-field operations of a Major League Baseball team. This includes things such as:
- Lineup Construction
- In-game substitutions
- In-game strategy
- Leading Practice and On-field Instruction
- Answering Media Questions
A baseball manager is also relied upon to set the tone and conduct of a Major League clubhouse. This may range from things like setting the time players are expected to be in the locker room before a game to overseeing the conduct of players while they are in the locker room.
Baseball managers are leaders, and their style and personality often set the tone of the clubhouse and dugout. Most players prefer managers that create environments that are player friendly and allow them to relax. That said, managers – like any leader – also need to have enough discipline to keep things structured and operating in an overall positive way for the baseball club.
There is a lot that goes into being a Major League Baseball manager. Let’s discuss these issues deeper. What do baseball managers do?
What Do Baseball Managers Do?
Baseball manages are responsible for all on-field operations of a Major League Baseball team. They are responsible for the tone and conduct of the dugout and clubhouse. Also, they meet with the media on an almost daily basis to discuss team-related issues. The list of responsibilities includes things such as:
- Lineup construction
- In-game substitutions
- In-game strategy
- Setting clubhouse policy
- Leading practice and on-field instruction
- Answering media questions
- Being mindful of long-term goals
- Creating an atmosphere of excellence
Let’s go through each of these one by one to discuss them in more detail.
A baseball manager will set the lineup for a baseball game. This includes both the batting order and where players are positioned defensively.
Major League Baseball managers have the final say in these matters, but like any good leader they take constant input from coaches, players, and even at times members of the front office (like the general manager of the team).
A baseball manager must take into account the current production of individual players, the current health of individual players, the matchup with the opposing pitcher, and the overall morale of the team when putting together a lineup.
Modern day baseball has evolved to the point that most Major League Baseball clubs have advanced analytic experts who also advise the manager daily on what his lineup should be based on the numbers.
Lineup construction is a very important part of the manager’s job. It not only has an impact on the wins and losses of the team, but also impacts the morale of individual players.
Although advanced analytics use metrics to help determine the strengths, weaknesses, and overall value of players, managers are tasked with respecting what the numbers say while also remembering that the players are not robots. Players have personalities and go through highs and lows like any of us do. A manager is tasked with setting a lineup that puts the team in a position to compete at its highest level, while also thinking about individual players and doing whatever he can as manager to constantly motivate and help players be the best they can be.
This means a baseball manager may go against what the numbers say if he feels like it may boost the morale of the team or individual player. In the opinion of many managers, constructing a lineup is as much art as science.
Lineup construction is often a point of criticism among fans when discussing a manager. There are many ways to construct a lineup. There are more traditional ways that have a speedy player at the top, with sluggers in the middle of the order, and then there are more modern ways that rely on analytics.
Advanced analytics have improved the understanding of the sport and have raised serious doubts about the lineup construction habits of past generations. Analytics draw attention to things such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and how the two work in unison to affect wins.
And we must remember that managers are people too, which means they will develop their own personal opinions regarding how lineups should be constructed. Their personal balance between tradition, analytics, and gut feeling will ultimately determine their lineup construction tendencies.
Some fans want managers who rely more on advanced analytics, while other fans prefer more traditional lineups. Regardless of what tactic a manager uses, he will almost certainly draw criticism if the team has a losing streak, even if he has made sound decisions. Lineup construction can be an easy target for fans to criticize.
Lineup construction is also a tool that a manager will use to mix things up if a team is in a long losing streak. Shifting players around both in batting order and on the playing field can help clear the player’s mind and reset the morale of the player and even the team as a whole.
Baseball managers are responsible for in-game substitutions of players. This includes things such as:
- Pitching Changes
- Defensive Replacements
- Pinch Hitters
- Pinch Runners
Baseball managers in the National League must do more in-game substitutions than American League managers. This is due to the fact that pitchers bat in the National League (the AL has a Designated Hitter in the lineup instead of a pitcher).
Because pitchers are not good hitters, National League managers will constantly pinch hit for a pitcher late in the game to put a better hitter at the plate. This causes subsequent defensive changes.
In-game substitutions is one form of in-game strategy, but there are several other types of strategy a manager may use. This includes things such as:
- Defensive Alignment
- Hit and Run’s
- Stealing Bases
- Pitch Outs
A baseball manager may delegate many of these tasks to certain members of his coaching staff, but the manager is still the one choosing overall strategy for the team and has a heavy hand on when to use these tactics during the game.
The manager also has the right to overrule other members of his coaching staff. Some managers prefer to delegate because there is often too much responsibility during the game for the manager alone to shoulder the entire load.
The bench coach is usually the first in line for these types of tasks. A Major League bench coach may handle things like defensive alignment or hit and runs. The bench coach and manager are often situated next to each other in the dugout so they can constantly confer on strategy during a game. Regardless of who actually puts the strategy into place, the manager will be the one that has to answer to the media for any failed in-game decisions.
Every manager is different on how they handle in-game strategy. These types of decisions are often made depending on the personnel of the team. Fast teams will likely steal more bases. Organizations who believe in defensive shifting will have many more defensive alignment shifts throughout a game and a season.
In-game strategy is one of the more significant ways a manager can leave his fingerprint on a team.
Setting Clubhouse Policy
A baseball manager will govern the clubhouse. This can range from things like:
- how much music is allowed
- how early before games are players expected to report in
- when are family members allowed in
- what do players wear to games.
Some clubhouse policies may be established at the organizational level. Clubhouse policy is one way a manager may attempt to create an atmosphere of excellence.
Leading Practice and On-Field Instruction
Although the positional coaches will handle a lot of the individual drills during practice, baseball managers will roam and oversee the entire operation. This will include stepping in and helping lead certain drills while also at times taking a step back and just observing. Managers will set the practice schedule and dictate how things are ran (with input from coaches).
Managers will also be present for batting practice and most bullpen sessions. Every coach will have his own methods on how to handle players. Most managers will let position coaches deal with players, and then step in when necessary to add instruction or input. A manager also may take time at practice to pull aside struggling players and have conversations with them to clear the player’s head and refocus them.
Team activities on the professional level are very structured because these are professional players being organized and instructed by professional coaches. These coaches and players know what they need to do to succeed and practices are crisp and well-organized. Anything less would be unacceptable at the professional level.
A Major League Baseball practice will include on-field instruction for fielding and base running. If the team is on the road, coaches may discuss park dimensions and any type of unique rules that surround the ballpark. Teams may work on situational defense. Batting practice will be held before the game.
Answering Media Questions
A Major League Baseball manager serves as a face for the franchise to the media. They meet with the media before and after every game. This is a very important part of the job for a manager but is often one of the weakest skills for most Major League Baseball managers.
Answering tough questions takes patience and good communication skills. Unfortunately, most MLB managers are hired due to their perceived baseball expertise and lack many of the skills it takes to interact with the media.
There have been many famous examples of manager meltdowns with the media. One of the most famous is the Hal McCrae meltdown as manager of the Kansas City Royals. McCrae melted down when asked a tough question about in-game strategy after a loss. Here is the video.
A good baseball manager represents the franchise in a positive way. Managers may use the media to motivate players through both positive and negative reinforcement.
Being Mindful of Long-Term Goals
Baseball has a long, 162-game regular season. A baseball season has a lot of short-term goals that exist almost game to game. From a team perspective their may be short-term goals like having a winning road trip or winning a series against a division opponent. Or perhaps a team is struggling in the bullpen so the team focuses for several weeks on trying to iron out defined roles in the bullpen and build player confidence. There is almost an unlimited amount of short-term goals that challenge a big-league team throughout a baseball season.
But for any contending team, a manager carries the challenge of working on those short-term issues while also being mindful of the long-term season goals. This means a manager must be aware of player workload to help reduce the risk of losing a player to injury.
This may cause a situation where a player has to be rested in an important regular season game simply because their workload has been too intense. Short-term it hurts, but long-term it helps protect from injury and ensure that the player will be available later in the year when things matter the most.
Long-term focus takes discipline from the manager. Fans often do not like to see star players rested in big regular season games. Even some players might not like it. But the manager must have the responsibility and feel to properly manage these situations.
Creating an Atmosphere of Excellence
On the micro level, a baseball manager needs to have the skill set to instruct and interact with individual players one on one. But macro-level leadership is perhaps the most important aspect of a Major League manager. Can he foster an environment of accountability and excellence that creates an atmosphere in which players feel motivated and capable to perform at their highest level?
This is easier said than done and often takes years of experience in a Major League environment to understand what players want and need to succeed.
Examples of things that are important to creating a positive atmosphere include:
- Accountability – Set rules that protect the culture and demand players to abide by those rules. This may be things like getting to the clubhouse on time to putting in a certain amount of on-field work. Major League Baseball is full of elite competition. If a player and team does not take it seriously, they do not stand a chance. A baseball manager bears the responsibility of creating accountability.
- Mood – The overall mood of the clubhouse must be positive. The baseball manager needs to create an atmosphere that players and coaches enjoy. This must be done while also being mindful of accountability. A locker room without structure could be fun, but not productive. A manager must find a way to respect the accountability measures he has put in place while also allowing his players to feel loose, relaxed, and happy. The personality of the manager himself plays a large part in this. Is he good with people? Is he open and honest? Does he communicate well? These things matter.
- Team Leadership – The baseball manager plays a big role in selecting any team captains. Some teams choose not to have a designated captain. Regardless, a manager must identify who his team leaders are and allow them to assist him in cultivating an atmosphere of success both on and off the field.
- Confidence – Baseball has deep lows in confidence that very few other sports experience. Hitters can get in extreme slumps. A manager must find ways to motivate individual players and keep player confidence high. This means the baseball manager must have a feel for each of his individual players, knowing what motivates them and how to remove them from low confidence.
- Long-Term Goals – Baseball is a day-to-day grind at the Major League level. For players, the extreme peaks and valleys that occur can derail the focus and make some players short-sited. A baseball manager must make sure that a team carries the focus of season-long goals in the back of its mind even during the day-to-day grind. This will be something that a manager will rely on team leadership from veteran players who can help advise young players on what it takes mentally and physically to compete for an entire 162-game schedule plus the postseason.