Scott Servais recently gave a question-and-answer session to assembled media and took questions on everything from Adam Lind to Mike Zunino. You can find the entire transcript here. How a manager talks about baseball is usually pretty indicative of how they will go forth and run the team on a day-to-day basis. Since Scott is new in this capacity, and will, in some aspects, be the actionable piece to Jerry Dipoto's ideals, I think dialogues like this are important to dissect in the offseason for us to better understand the new skipper.
"It's time. It's time to win."
(he must like winning)
Growing up I played a lot of baseball. Between high school ball and the travel team I played for, it was something near a hundred games a season. As things became more and more serious in my baseball career (short-lived) I began taking official visits to schools where I was being recruited to play college baseball. It was all very surreal and manic, and even more so when they would walk up to you after a game you didn't even know they were attending. Scouts and coaches are everywhere and you never knew when one would pop up.
More than anything, this was my first experience as a player being able to sort of "shop" what sort of manager I wanted to play for. Before college, I played serious baseball for essentially six different "managers" who had all different sizes and variations of staffs. What I aim to do with this article is talk about what I looked for, and what many of my teammates appreciated in a manager through Scott's interview.
"The one thing I've not done is I have not managed a Major League team, but I've managed people. I think, when you look at the game and how the game's evolved, it is about managing people and creating an environment that they feel good about coming to work every day and a certain culture along with that. That's what I think I can bring to the Mariners."
There are really two types of managers, one's who think they know the whole game and attempt to get players to fit their mold of "The Game", and managers who understand what they know about baseball is limited and not complete. No single person gets this game. However, baseball is perhaps the headiest of all sports, and what I mean by that is it requires the most-constant mental checking. The failure this game is designed around can ruin even a superstar who lets doubt creep in. There is a certain allure to playing for the manager who feels they know the whole deal. The confidence is enticing.
However, that manager that sees the game as a completed piece in their own mind is the first to bench you the day after you make an error. No hits last night? Maybe you get to pinch hit in the 7th. That manager gets in to his players own heads, and typically only the players who ride a hot-streak for long enough to gain unwavering confidence get regular play. The above quotation from Servais tells me everything I need to know. Baseball is played by people. People need confidence to achieve their peak performance. Servais continues, "It's about the players and putting them in a position to win."
"Nelson (Cruz) is a big part of our team. I'm looking forward to him helping me lead and take care of some things in the clubhouse."
The above lines are sort of the throw-away piece of an answer relative to Nelson Cruz where a reporter was, in my opinion, hoping Scott would give an avenue to pursue if Nellie was currently being shopped around. However, it is almost exactly the most important aspect of a good manager. You have to realize that at the end of the day, the team is playing for each other, not you. Sure, there are managers who inspire and lend to the heart of a club, but the manager isn't digging in to the box with the game on the line and a runner on second. As a manager, you own the clubhouse through player-leaders and never without them.
"The hitting program, the pitching program, what we're doing at the big league level and transferring down to the minor league level is going to be huge to get all those things in place. That's what the good organizations have."
The best managers I ever ran in to had philosophies that their entire staff followed. The worst, and hardest to play for, were those who would ask different things of you than the infield coach and the hitting coach and the pitching coach and so on. The message has to be consistent to maximize a player's ability. Furthermore, this quote just speaks to the new emphasis on player development and, boy, is that peachy-keen.
"Ultimately, Mike has to believe it, and it's Mike's career. We're here to help him, and we'll do everything we can, give him all the tools to be successful, and he's going to be."
One of my favorite parts of this transcript is the constant support Scott is giving for a player that was cast-off in such an odd fashion last season. Early on in the session, he brings up Mike for a full paragraph when asked if he has been talking to guys in the club house. Robbie gets a mention, Nellie, Felix, too, but only for a half sentence. Mike gets a full paragraph of mention and then several questions with specific, positive answers. Think of what sort of message that gives to all the guys on that squad. Scott Servais is not giving up on you.
"Putting teams together and putting people together and creating a culture where everyone can learn."
I'll end with this line. The programs that most impressed me, the managers, and their coaches, were those who didn't view me as a third-basemen, but as a person who played baseball. There are so many aspects of a person's character that create a talented baseball player, that ignoring the off-field growth makes your program archaic. Ultimately, this was likely the failing of Jack Zdurienciek and the managers he hired. I have my own, strong feelings about Eric Wedge, and I'll simply say I cannot imagine him looking to get sports psychologists to help his guys.
Scott Servais, and by extension Jerry Dipoto, seem like a team that will not limit their resources in creating a winning group of people. Both recognize that baseball is played by humans, and thus variable in ways beyond simply the on-field product. With the mindset of creating a culture where everyone is learning, I think the guys in the clubhouse will buy-in as well. There is nothing more inspiring than a manager who is humble enough to admit their own shortcomings. Baseball, at the end of the day, is all about shortcomings.