By the time he returned home, it was almost 4 a.m., and Scott was mentally and physically exhausted. He flopped down on his bed still fully dressed in his clothes. He didn’t want to think about the insurmountable task he had just taken on, so he didn’t. He dropped right off to sleep.
What he also didn’t think about was setting his alarm for the next day.
* * *
Scott’s landline phone awaked him yet again. He checked who it was: Todd Dowell, the Tigers’ bench coach.
“Hi Coach Dowell.”
“Hi, Scott,” he answered. “And you can call me Todd from now on.”
“Congratulations on that, by the way.”
There was a pause.
“Do you want to come to the game?” asked Todd.
Scott glanced at his clock, and jolted with horror. He was supposed to have been at the field twenty minutes ago.
Scott silently spat a curse out and told Todd he would be right there. He threw on a fresh pair of clothes and jumped in the car, driving 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, taking illegal turns, and cutting other cars off to get to Comercia Park as soon as possible.
While he wasn’t breaking every driving law known to the state of Michigan, Scott was trying to adjust to his new role as manager. He had to at least figure out the lineup for the day. Tom Wolfe, the team’s number three pitcher, would start on the mound. That much he knew, since it was Tom’s turn in the rotation. Past that, though, was up to Scott to decide.
Scott snuck into the park through a secret entrance so as to avoid the media. Normally, he would answer their questions, but he couldn’t today. He was late, he had too many thoughts to coherently express to reporters, and he had just woken up. When Scott walked into the clubhouse, he was nearly an hour late. To avoid any uncomfortable stares from his—players? Teammates? Both, he guessed—he ducked into the manager’s office—now his office. It was official. The nameplate that bore “Bob Douglas” had been removed, and “Scott Owens” had replaced it.
Scott had no idea what to do. Should he just put up the lineup that Bob Douglas had been using? However, then he would get a Bob Douglas- like result. That wasn’t what he wanted.
Sabermetrics are what brought me here, Scott thought. Screw it, if it makes you join it, then use it. Scott tried to do a play on the old “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” expression there, but it didn’t quite work out.
However, he now had his knew management philosophy: numbers, numbers, and more numbers.
Scott opened up the computer on his new desk, and went to the primary source of it all: Bill James. He went to his website and began educating himself on the intricacies of the subject, visiting FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus as well, among others. Scott was good with numbers: he had a degree in mathematics from University of Missouri, for which he had gone to and played for over four years. He delved deep into the world of WARP, VORP, and more acronyms featuring every letter of the alphabet. Within a half hour, he had given himself a crash course in sabermetrics, and got to work on the lineups.
A traditionalist might have looked at the Tigers lineup before and thought it was fine. There was speed and contact at the top, power in the middle, and some more speed and players more adept with the glove than the bat at the bottom. However, the numbers revealed this to be ineffective. In fact, a one-size-fits-all lineup like the one Bob Douglas had been promoting was a flawed idea entirely. Scott tailored his lineup to the specific game, and he planned to do that for the rest of the season.
Soon, Scott had the new and- hopefully- improved Tigers lineup in his hands. He emerged from his office and found the team—his team—sitting there, staring at him.
Scott realized that although he had spent all this time getting ready for the game, he had prepared absolutely nothing to say to this band of players he was now in charge of.
“Hi everybody,” he said, awkwardly. He heard a few mumbled greetings returned.
“I’m Scott, as you know,” he laughed a forced laugh, which was not returned. “I’m your new manager, which you probably also know. But you don’t have to call me ‘Coach’ or ‘Skip’ or ‘Mr. Owens’ or anything—you can just call me Scott,” he informed them, briefly remembering his conversation with Todd Dowell.
“I’ve shaken things up a bit,” he continued. “I think—no, I know—that we can get up to first place in the division. I’m not going to go into that shtick about giving 110 percent, because I know you all do already, and if you don’t, well, you better damn should start, because 24 other guys are counting on you to do so. We made it to the World Series last year, and we’re a better team now than we were then. Our win-loss record’s going to show that real soon.”
He paused, feeling proud of himself because pep talks were things that Bob Douglas never did. He then scraped his mind for more things to say that would gear his team up, but couldn’t think of any.
“I’ll be trying out different guys in different roles, different spots, so if you don’t see the reason behind what I’m doing, just come up and ask me,” he finished, somewhat anticlimactically.
“Let’s go win a ball game!” he added, clapping his hands. With that, everybody headed out to the field for the national anthem.
The Tigers were opening an interleague series with the Marlins. Although they were playing the game at Comerica Park, they were not considered the home team. The series was originally scheduled for Marlins Park, but an oncoming hurricane in the Miami area made playing there too dangerous. So, Major League Baseball had moved the set of games to Detroit, although the Marlins would still get the last licks of every inning.
There was quite a bit of murmur about Scott’s lineup changes. For starters, he had benched Rodrigo Manuel, who had been starting in center field all year. Luke Gibbons and Darrell Flagler, the starting right and left fielders, respectively, had been swapped, so Gibbons was now in right and Flagler was in left. Of course, the batting order itself had been completely turned on its head. No longer was it organized by power, speed, and contact. To the casual baseball fan, it seemed to have no rhyme or reason at all.
Hakashima Hayashi, the third baseman that usually batted sixth or seventh, led off, and promptly struck out. Former eighth and fifth hitters Bud Ross and Luke Gibbons both grounded out.
Scott was thankful that Bob Douglas had made every player, even the pitchers, memorize all the signs for the defensive alignments. Douglas probably had some purpose in mind for doing this, but Scott didn’t think it was because he believed he would get fired and one of the team’s relievers would have to take his place.
He gave the signal for the alignment he wanted; yet, still, Tom Wolfe did not pitch.
“Scott? The pitch signal?” prodded Todd Dowell.
“Oh, yeah,” Bob Douglas liked to call games for pitchers oftentimes, relaying the signal for the pitch he wanted to the catcher. Scott hated this, as he thought it was micromanaging the game. Scott didn’t even know what signals Douglas for each pitch. “Come on, Tom, Bud, here we go,” he simply said, clapping his hands and trying to convey to Bud to call his own game. Bud got the message and put down some fingers for Tom.
Tom wasn’t his best that day, and he fell behind quickly. The game stood at 4-1 when Scott decided to pinch-hit Rodrigo Manuel, the player he had benched, for Tom, since there was no DH in this National League game. Manuel hit a double but was stranded there without scoring.
Tom was so preoccupied with trying to figure out what shift to put on for Marlins slugger Lino de la Cruz that he forgot something very important.
“Uh…Scott?” asked Dowell. Scott, too deep in thought, did not hear him.
Scott finally returned to earth. Standing on the mound was Rodrigo Manuel, now the pitcher since Scott had forgotten to put another pitcher in his place. In fact, he had forgotten to even warm somebody up.
It was too late to warm anybody up, and he didn’t want to send any pitchers out there cold, so Scott put himself in there instead. He had a difficult time without a proper warm up, giving up two runs. That was all the scoring for the game. The Tigers lost 6-1.
Scott was exhausted. He didn’t know that managing was such hard work. He was completely drained. How he would do this over the course of the season, he had no idea.
Later that night, Scott found himself watching highlights of the game on SportsCenter. He saw the footage of Manuel standing cluelessly on the mound, people trying to prod Scott from his musings, and finally Scott rushing out to pitch. He sighed. This was going to be a long season.
To be continued…
As Tigers’ second baseman Tim Tucker popped up for the final out, Scott peered out of the bullpen, squinting so he could see the numbers on the scoreboard. He couldn’t make them out. The eyes that had served him so well for 37 years were finally failing him. He was reluctant, though, to get eyeglasses or even contact lenses.
He asked Craig Hunter, a fellow bullpen mate, what the score of the game had been.
Hunter unfurled his massive 6’7 frame, giving Scott a sideways look and spitting out a wad of dip.
“A lot to a little,” the big man rumbled, and ambled off. Scott took one last glance at the scoreboard before he did the same. He was able to make out a “0″ for the Tigers and something in double digits for the Royals.
Scott was, once again, disappointed. It was only early June, and the Tigers looked to be kissing any chance for a playoff spot or even a winning record goodbye. They had dropped to 20-39 with this loss, and were falling far behind the division leading White Sox. What really stung was that the Royals, who had just creamed them, weren’t even that good, either—they themselves were a paltry 25-36.
On his way to his car, Scott stopped by the manager’s office. Bob Douglas was a small, sad man, and did not look like an athlete. He had, however, been a scrappy second baseman for many years with the Cubs and later with the Angels. He had managed the Orioles for a few years and was moderately successful there. He had not, however, done well in his year and a half as the manager of the Tigers.
“Hey, skip,” greeted Scott. “Do you have any plans to use me tomorrow if the situation comes?” Scott had been pitching a lot recently, but he felt like he had some innings in his arm.
“Just be ready,” muttered Douglas. “Good night.”
This wasn’t just Douglas’s reaction to a bad loss. It was his entire persona; he never said much but whatever he did was done so in a cynical manner. As Scott fished out his keys as he walked to the players’ parking garage, he reflected on the first time he met Bob Douglas around this time last season when he had been traded to the Tigers.
“Hi, I’m Scott Owens,” Scott had begun, sticking out his hand. “Pleasure to meet you.”
Douglas lifted his chin up to look at Scott, who stood nearly half a foot taller. He shook his hand without any indication that the pleasure was reciprocated. “Middle relief pitcher?” he asked. Scott nodded, and Douglas walked away.
Scott listened to the radio as he drove home to his Detroit apartment, and he heard Bob Douglas’s name.
“Sports on the half hour, I’m Rick Rockland. After another bad loss to the Royals, the Tigers have fired manager Bob Douglas…”
Scott almost slammed on the brakes. He wasn’t sure what emotion he should have: elation, despair, or shock.
He decided that he was neither happy nor sad at this move: he never liked to see someone lose a job, but a new face was probably needed at the helm of the team.
He just wondered who that new face would be.
* * *
Scott was nodding off in front of the TV when his phone rang. It was George Crawford, the general manager of the Tigers.
“Hi, Mr. Crawford,” Scott answered sleepily.
“Good evening, Scott,” replied the general manager, although it was very nearly morning. “I’d like you to come down to the Tigers’ offices.”
“Yes. The sooner the better.”
“Alright, Mr. Crawford, I’ll be right down there.”
The call had shaken all of Scott’s sleepiness away in a heartbeat. He was now wide-awake. His heart pounded as he hopped in his car and sped to the Tigers’ front office.
This could mean only two things, of course: that he was being traded, or released, most likely the latter.
Scott hoped for the best but expected the worst. After 17 years in the Major Leagues, it was finally over. No team would pick him up again. Why were they releasing him? Sure, maybe his control wasn’t as good this year as it had been before… but he could still get hitters out. He was still the dependable, steady middle relief pitcher he had been for all these years. He had never been a closer, never been a starter—he just ate up the seventh and eighth innings, like he always had.
All of these thoughts running around Scott’s head caused him to nearly drive right past the Tigers’ office complex. Luckily, he slammed on the brakes just in time and turned into the parking lot.
As he entered the building and walked up the stairs to George Crawford’s office, he had the feeling of walking to his death…at least, the death of his baseball career.
He had a sick feeling in his stomach as he opened the door, but was surprised to find not only George Crawford there but also the team’s assistant general manager and a couple advisors. Wasn’t it usually just the general manager who was the bearer of bad news? Why were all these other people here?
Crawford was a big man, a former player himself. However, the rest were small, bespectacled men and women, graduates of the top universities in the country and part of the sabermetric movement who likely had never stepped into the batters’ box or on the pitching rubber.
“Have a seat,” obliged Crawford in a friendly tone. Scott did.
“Scott, we have a proposition for you.”
Proposition, thought Scott. That’s certainly an interesting way of putting it. He began to bury his face in his hands as he said, “And what’s that?”
“We want you to become our new manager.”
Scott’s head shot right out of his face. “Manager?” he repeated dumbly.
“Yes, manager, Scott. We’d like you to replace Bob Douglas, and not just on an interim basis.”
One of the bespectacled men piped up. “We’ve determined through empirical evidence that a young manager that is nearly a contemporary with his players would make the best manager. We conducted an extensive study of all players to see which one would make the best manager, and all of your statistics seem to indicate that you would.”
Scott thought that was the biggest load of bull ever. How on earth could they take his pitching statistics and translate it into how he would fare as a manager? Scott did believe that all of these crazy numbers could indicate a player’s value. However, he was a firm believer that a manager’s skills could not be quantified. For the moment, he decided against arguing this, and asked the more pressing question.
“I’m flattered by this. Should I accept, though, would you keep me as a pitcher?”
Everybody at the table looked at him as if he were insane.
“Of course we wouldn’t,” answered Crawford.
* * *
“Fine, then I won’t accept,” answered Scott. “I’m still a player. I’m not ready to retire yet.”
Crawford sighed big. “Scott,” he started, “You’re just…you’re…”
“You’re control’s not good enough anymore,” interrupted a bespectacled advisor bluntly. “You don’t have the same command. Being a manager would distract you to the point where you just wouldn’t be a viable option out of the bullpen.”
“That may be,” answered Scott, “But I still want to play. If being manager means my career is over, I don’t want that to happen.”
There was some whispering, and Scott was told to leave the room for a few moments.
After 15 agonizing minutes outside, he was allowed back into Crawford’s office.
“We’ll let you become a player-manager,” Crawford said, “Only if your command shapes up. And after this season, you won’t be a pitcher at all. Does that sound fair?”
“It does,” answered Scott.
“Alright,” said Crawford, “As of about an hour from now, you’ll be the official manager of Detroit Tigers, and the first player-manager in…”
“27 years,” interrupted another advisor yet again. “And the first pitcher-manager in 61 years.”
“Well, there you have it, Scott,” finished George Crawford. “Are you up for it?”
“I’m up for it, alright.”
“Great. See you tomorrow.”
Scott bade his goodbyes to everyone, and headed to his car.
As he plopped into the driver’s seat and turned the key, the full impact of what he had just done hit him.
What have I gotten myself into?
TO BE CONTINUED….
This is a fictional story about the Minnesota Twins baseball team. The Twins are owned by Mr. Nathan, and his advisers are the young scout and the old scout.
The young scout strolled into Mr. Nathan’s office, and was greeted by a blast of red and white. Everything in the office was Minnesota Twins-themed: Minnesota Twins lights, Minnesota Twins tables, Minnesota Twins pictures, Minnesota Twins wallpaper, and, of course, Mr. Nathan’s large desk, with the large Minnesota Twins emblem plastered on the front. All of the pens in the Minnesota Twins cup were all Minnesota Twins pens, and the Minnesota Twins stationary on the desk was held down by the Minnesota Twins paperweight.
The young scout greeted Mr. Nathan and the old scout, already sitting, and sat down in his Minnesota Twins chair. “I see you’ve changed the room,” he said to Mr. Nathan.
“Yes,” said Mr. Nathan, “I hope you like it. I changed everything in the office from our main logo to our alternate one because I was getting a vibe from it. I thought if I changed everything from our original to the other one, it might help us win games.”
As you can see, Mr. Nathan was a bit eccentric.
“We won’t be winning many games if we don’t do something about shortstop,” said the old scout in his gruff, slow tone. The old scout was considerably taller than the young scout, but that wasn’t to say he was of abnormal height. He had been doing what he was doing for 40 years.
“Ah yes!” said Mr. Nathan, clapping his hands together. “Shortstop. As you fine men know, Mike Gregory, our star shortstop, was hit on the wrist by a pitch yesterday, and, unfortunately for us, that caused it to break. He won’t be able to play again this season. I’m afraid it looks like we don’t have many viable options on our bench to fill his shoes, and in order to keep our 1st place standing over Chicago, we need a good shortstop. It is August 22nd, and we would be unable to trade for any players unless it was a waiver deal, and it is hard to find any quality players on waivers. Do you have any ideas?”
Both scouts began at the same time, then stopped, and looked at each other.
“You can go,” said the young scout.
“No,” said the old scout slowly, “You go.”
“Alright. Well, I was thinking that Carter Mathis would be a great choice to fill in for Mike for the rest of the season.”
“Carter Mathis!” exploded the old scout, “No way! Mathis is-“
“Mathis is hitting .321 with 57 steals, and hasn’t made an error at shortstop all season!” the young scout thundered back.
“That’s all very good, but he’s-“
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, please!” interrupted Mr. Nathan. “Why not call this Mathis person up? His statistics seem superb.”
The old scout simply stared at Mr. Nathan, then said “Mr. Nathan, Carter Mathis is 4’11.”
* * *
“Look what you’ve done,” the old scout whispered as they filed into their seats. “The Rangers put Cristobal Valdez on waivers today. We could’ve claimed him, but you made Mr. Nathan pass. Valdez can hit.”
“Valdez can’t field.”
“But Valdez isn’t 4’11.”
“Now, now,” said Mr. Nathan, in his Rochester Red Wings t-shirt and shorts, “This is no time to be quibbling. We had an agreement, remember.”
So they did. Mr. Nathan, the young scout, and the old scout were at Frontier Field in Rochester, New York, home of the Twins’ Triple-A team, to watch Carter Mathis.
“We know,” the young and old scout said, like sullen children.
The agreement was this: if Mathis got 3 hits, stole a base, and didn’t make an error, he would be called up to the major league team. If not, then he would stay put in Rochester, and the Twins would find someone else to play shortstop.
Carter Mathis, standing and waiting to take batting practice, was nervous. He knew that Mike Gregory had broken his wrist, and the Twins needed a new shortstop. He’d heard they’d passed on Cristobal Valdez, so he figured they must be using someone from the organization. Technically speaking, Carter was next in line in the Twins’ franchise to take over the shortstop job.
But nobody had informed him of being called up to Minnesota. For tonight, he was still in Rochester, New York.
“I bet it’s because I’m short,” thought Carter. “That’s all everyone ever thinks about-how short I am. I bet some scout somewhere is saying ‘No way! He’s 4’11!’”
Carter Mathis had heard that a lot. He’d always been the shortest kid on the team- in Little League they said he would fail, and he proved them wrong. In high school, they said he would fail and he proved them wrong. They said there was absolutely no way he would even make the college team, and he proved them wrong- not only did he make it, but he was a star player. They said there was no possible way he would get drafted, but the Twins took him within the first ten rounds of the draft.
“Who cares how tall I am?” Carter would always ask himself. “Just because I’m small doesn’t mean I’m uncoordinated.”
In the top of the first inning, in his usual leadoff spot, Carter smacked a pitch through the middle of the infield for a base hit.
The young scout looked at the old scout. “That’s one for me,” he said.
The old scout simply shook his head disgustedly.
Carter attempted to steal second base on the first pitch, and was promptly thrown out. The old scout turned to the young one smugly. “That’s one for me,” he said.
Carter didn’t make an error for the second and third innings, but when he came to bat in the fourth, he struck out.
He did get a hit in the seventh inning, a double over the first baseman’s head.
“He still has to get another hit and steal a base,” said the old scout. Carter then stole second base. “Well, he still needs to get another hit. And that’s unlikely. The way this game is going, they’re not going to play the bottom of the ninth inning.” True. The Red Wings were winning 4-1. That meant they might not have to play the bottom of the ninth and Carter would only have one more inning to get an at-bat, in the eighth inning.
Somehow, that happened. The Red Wings pitcher gave up a three-run home run to an opposing hitter. Now the game was tied, 4-4. Inside, the young scout was ecstatic.
Mathis didn’t come to the plate in the eighth inning, but to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning the team’s number nine hitter hit a triple. Carter Mathis came up next.
Mathis took his stance. “No one believed I could do it,” thought Mathis. “Not my parents. Not my teammates. Definitely not my peers. Not my coaches. And now, the Twins don’t believe in me. I need to prove them wrong. Right now.”
“Baseball isn’t for midgets,” thought the old scout. “Baseball players are supposed to be big, strong men. Dwarves can’t play baseball.”
“Come on, Carter,” thought the young scout. “Show ‘em. I know you can hack it at the big league level. I got cut in college, and the coach told me to come back when I grew a foot. This is your chance to show everybody up who said we couldn’t play baseball.”
Carter Mathis took the first pitch, and swung as hard as he could. What he came off his bat was a hard, crazily hopping ground ball. The opposing third baseman when to his right, and threw to home plate to try to get the runner out before he could score. He couldn’t. The runner was ruled safe. The Red Wings won!
But that was the last thing on the scouts’ minds right then. “WAS IT A HIT OR FIELDERS’ CHOICE?!” they screamed. It all depended on what the official scorer thought. A hit meant Carter Mathis was a major leaguer. Fielder’s choice meant he was staying in Rochester.
After a few minutes of showing happy celebration, the JumboTron in center field showed the words OFFICIAL SCORERS RULING.
“Yes!” exclaimed both scouts.
Then…the screen went blank.
Pure shock erupted on both men’s faces. “Wh…what?” the young scout said feebly.
Mr. Nathan, who had been unusually quiet the whole game, rubbed his chin and said, “Oh, the Red Wings’ owner told me about this. They said the scoreboard was having troubles. They might not fix it for a few days.”
“Then what was the play? Hit or fielder’s choice?” asked the old scout.
“Hmm, I don’t know. How about we ask?” said Mr. Nathan. He turned to the man next to him, a slightly overweight fellow with a black mustache and beard, eating a large pretzel.
“Hey, what do you think that was? A hit or fielder’s choice?”
“Mmm,” said the man, too absorbed in his pretzel to look up and see who Mr. Nathan was. “Well, I’d say it was a hit.” He went back to licking the salt off his fingers.
“Well,” said Mr. Nathan, “There you have it. It must’ve been a hit. I’ll call the Red Wings’ manager right now and tell him to send Carter to Minnesota. Maybe he can make tomorrow’s game against the White Sox.”
The old scout and the young scout simply looked at each other. As said before, Mr. Nathan was a little eccentric.
Two months later, just after the Minnesota Twins had just won the World Series and Carter Mathis had been voted the Series MVP, the old scout said, “It was definitely a hit.”