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Baseball Notes

The managerial ranks

La Russa, Francona at the top of the order

By Nick Cafardo
May 31, 2009
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In March 2008, with the help of scouts, front office people, players, and coaches, this reporter rated the managers 1-30. Here's a revised list, with previous rank in parentheses.

1. Tony La Russa, Cardinals: One of the best player evaluators, he amazingly keeps his team in the race and always maximizes performance. His body of work and current success put him in the top spot (4).

2. Terry Francona, Red Sox: Two championships in five years, and in contention again. Scores high with communication (3).

3. Jim Leyland, Tigers: Made a lot of roster changes after a disappointing '08, but he has the Tigers performing at a high level (1).

4. Bobby Cox, Braves: Probably the most respected manager in the game by his players. A fundamentally sound skipper (2).

5. Joe Torre, Dodgers: Tough times with the Manny Ramírez situation, but he can still take adversity and turn it into a positive (5).

6. Mike Scioscia, Angels: Survived a massive list of injuries to his pitching staff, and free agent losses like Mark Teixeira and Frankie Rodriguez. His teams are always well-prepared (6).

7. Charlie Manuel, Phillies: Easy does it, but he does it. Somehow wins with an average pitching staff. Great teacher of hitting (12).

8. Joe Maddon, Rays: State-of-the-art manager. Smart, innovative, and one of the great communicators (21).

9. Lou Piniella, Cubs: Facing adversity with injuries and underperforming key players. Hasn't changed his style; master motivator (10).

10. Dusty Baker, Reds: Experienced motivator whom players adore. Has the ability to minimize tough situations, as he did for many years managing Barry Bonds in San Francisco (11).

11. Bruce Bochy, Giants: Gets a lot of respect for his in-game maneuvers, knowledge of the game, and general demeanor (7).

12. Ron Gardenhire, Twins: Has a system that emphasizes fundamentals and personal responsibility. Players seem to flourish in the environment he creates (13).

13. Ken Macha, Brewers: Had a solid performance with the A's and has the Brewers near the top in NL Central with a subpar pitching staff (NA).

14. Cito Gaston, Blue Jays: Yep, the Jays are fading, but the two-time World Series winner has done a terrific job through the injuries and a thin roster (NA).

15. Joe Girardi, Yankees: The guy with the highest payroll always has the most to prove. Our panel was impressed with how he took a bad early situation and has regrouped (19).

16. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox: Emotional leader has had to deal with a diverse roster of young and old. Had the high of a championship in 2005, the in-between of last season's early playoff exit, and so far a challenging season with underachieving pitching staff (14).

17. Ron Washington, Rangers: Has advanced from his early days, when he was overwhelmed. An improving roster and farm system helps, and he does a good job juggling lineups and keeping players fresh (28).

18. Jerry Manuel, Mets: Runs the team with a nice, steady hand, but he'll always be judged by whether the Mets make the playoffs, and last year that didn't happen. Not the best tactician in the game or with his bullpen (NA).

19. Trey Hillman, Royals: Like Washington, he has an emerging roster and can teach young players. Has transformed the Royals from hapless to hopeful (29).

20.Eric Wedge, Indians: Tough going since winning Manager of the Year in '07. GM Mark Shapiro has taken responsibility for most of the downturn, but Wedge bears some blame (8).

21. Bud Black, Padres: To have this team around .500 after the misery of '08, and with a challenging roster, Black deserves credit for keeping it together (17).

22. Fredi Gonzalez, Marlins: Loves the teaching aspect, but the rap is he doesn't manage the game well. Works well with younger players (27).

23. John Russell, Pirates: Got his rookie season out of the way and is now considered far more savvy in his second season. Younger players are progressing and the Pirates seem less pathetic (30).

24. Dave Trembley, Orioles: Good communicator and motivator. The recall of catcher Matt Wieters "might make him smarter" according to one American League GM (26).

25. Bob Geren, A's: Poor Geren got a new offense, but injuries have decimated this team again. Hard to judge him when the A's constantly change direction (25).

26. Cecil Cooper, Astros: Has the rap, true or not, that he throws players under the bus in the media and never fully has their trust. On the positive side, he emphasizes discipline (24).

27. Manny Acta, Nationals: Trying to juggle a young rotation, a poor bullpen, and a good lineup in a poor environment (18).

28. Don Wakamatsu, Mariners: Has done a good job changing the culture and making players accountable. Solid during a game, but the sample size is small (NA).

29. A.J. Hinch, Diamondbacks: Former farm director was a controversial selection to replace Bob Melvin because he's never managed. The hope is his knowledge of the young players will lead to success (NA).

30. Jim Tracy, Rockies: A 562-572 record with the Dodgers and Pirates isn't stellar, but he is a good, solid manager who can run a game. Replaced the fired Clint Hurdle, who went 18-28 and had lost the team (NA).

Ortiz salutes his skipper

A few questions for David Ortiz:

I've asked you about your slump for the past few weeks, so I'm changing the subject. Our theme is managers. You've had a few - Tom Kelly, Ron Gardenhire, Grady Little, Terry Francona. Who's the best?

DO: "Francona is unbelievable. He might be the best handler of players I've ever seen. He gives you confidence. He's the best. He'll have a young kid here from the minors and before he sends him back he sits with him and he explains everything the kid needs to do, man. When they come back, they come back strong. That's because of him."

How about Gardenhire and Kelly?

DO: Gardenhire was good, but when I had him, he was just starting out. The guys over there like him. Kelly, he was a good manager and he had success way before I was there. But he didn't know how to handle young players. He wasn't positive. With him, he was tough, and I guess what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. You can learn that way, too, but you didn't get any confidence from him."

What style do you think works best?

DO: "If you want to have a winning team, Tito's style. He's won two championships. When he came here, man, he brought young guys and old guys together to be a team. That's hard to do sometimes. Listen, I'm a DH, so I watch the whole game. I watch how Tito handles situations. I watch how Brad Mills gives his ideas. I watch DeMarlo [Hale] and Tim [ Bogar] and it's unbelievable what they do during the game and what they do in every single situation. That stuff you don't see other coaches and managers do."

How has Francona been with you during your slump?

DO: "It's been the toughest thing I've ever gone through, and every day he comes over and tells me how much he believes in me. You don't know what that means to a ballplayer going through what I'm going through. When I'm done with this game, he's one of the people I'll always remember."

A bit of a National embarrassment

If a Lakeland, Fla., man was selling steroids to the Washington Nationals, as he claims, this is proof that steroids don't work. Or, the Nationals got the generic brand.

Seriously, Richard Thomas was busted at his home with $200,000 worth of steroids that he said he was pumping to players from all teams in all sports, naming the Nationals and the Washington Capitals prominently. Major League Baseball indicated it will conduct its own investigation.

The Nationals can't seem to avoid bad publicity, from the Dominican money-skimming scheme, to general manager Jim Bowden's resignation, to an ugly start to this season that has prompted comparisons to the 1962 Mets.

The Nationals need a management overhaul, but it won't come in time to deal with Scott Boras for San Diego State phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg. Boras will enter those talks with a tremendous advantage, knowing the Nationals 1. have already committed to drafting Strasburg and 2. have to pay up.

On the field, the Nationals can't win anything, including instant replay, coming out on the losing end of two reviews against the Mets.

There's a general apathy about the team in the nation's capital, and that's not a good thing after MLB steered the Expos from Montreal to Washington. The Nationals ought to be a source of pride for the league, but right now it's kind of embarrassing.

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Manny Ramírez an All-Star? Do fans not care about performance-enhancing drugs?; 2. Will Wally The Green Monster have to wait as long as Jim Rice did for induction into the Mascot Hall of Fame?; 3. OK, yes, I will miss the Metrodome; 4. With all the concern about bad weather in April in Minneapolis, the Twins would not have had a rainout yet at Target Field if it had opened this season; 5. How about Omar Vizquel as a fill-in shortstop for the Red Sox until Jed Lowrie comes back?

Updates on nine
1. Corey Hart, OF, Brewers - Teams looking for a corner outfielder have targeted him as a possible solution, and the Brewers need a starting pitcher. The Tigers, Giants, and Red Sox either have scouted Hart or discussed him.

2. Miguel Tejada, SS, Astros - The Astros would entertain a deal for him if they could get a pitching prospect in return. Tejada has made a nice comeback and is hitting very well. Those who have played with him will tell you Tejada, who admitted he lied to Congress about his knowledge of steroid use in baseball, loves the game, loves to play every day, and is considered a great teammate.

3. Gary Sheffield, LF, Mets - As we've expressed before in this space, Sheffield was an excellent pickup for the Mets who still has great bat speed and is now getting that intimidation back in his game. "I always thought if I got to play consistently and played the field that my game was still there," he said. "DHing is tough because you think so much about every at-bat."

4. Joba Chamberlain, RHP, Yankees - So when does the move to the bullpen come? With Chien-Ming Wang ready to rejoin the rotation and Phil Hughes pitching very well, the Yankees' dire need is in relief. The fly in the ointment is that Chamberlain's first-inning velocity has been only 89-91 miles per hour. That seems to be holding up the move. But the other school of thought is that, like Jonathan Papelbon, Chamberlain relies on adrenaline in key moments.

5. Torii Hunter, CF, Angels - Is he the AL MVP of the first quarter of the season? Hunter, who was 10th in All-Star balloting last week (what are these people thinking?), has 11 homers, 40 RBIs, and a .610 slugging percentage and has made mind-boggling catches in center. He was also the guy who stepped up and kept the team together when Nick Adenhart was killed in a car accident. "I'd hate to see where we'd be without Torii," manager Mike Scioscia told reporters last week. "Offensive production comes and goes with guys. But at times where we needed it most, he's been leading the charge. It's not just that. It's the way he plays the game, the way he runs the bases, the presence he brings defensively. He's been vital to us."

6. Gerald Laird, C, Tigers - He got knocked a bit in Texas for his handling of pitchers. Not so in Detroit, where manager Jim Leyland credits him in large part for the turnaround of the pitching staff. "He's doing a tremendous job with a staff that's not easy to catch," Leyland told reporters. "You know, people talk about hitting a 98 or 100 m.p.h. [fastball]; it's hard to catch if you don't know where it's going." The Tigers were second in the league in ERA (3.98) through Friday's games.

7. Gordon Beckham, 3B, Charlotte Knights - The White Sox' No. 1 pick (eighth overall) last June is rising fast through the system. He was moved from shortstop to third base last week and elevated from Double A Birmingham to Triple A Charlotte. Looks like White Sox third baseman Josh Fields should be looking over his shoulder.

8. Jake Peavy, RHP, Padres - Peavy has left a crack open that he would still go to the White Sox. It could happen if there's no trade made with a National League team. The White Sox will surely make that deal again, even if they have to wait until July 31, providing they're within striking distance of a playoff berth.

9. Jeff Francoeur, OF, Braves - One thing that makes sense about Boston scouting the struggling Francoeur is that he's a big Red Sox fan (he used to carry a Red Sox Mastercard until his Braves teammates made him get rid of it). Francoeur has struggled for two seasons now, so we're not sure there's real interest. "That's news to me," said a Sox official. The Sox have to be concerned about Rocco Baldelli's channelopathy, which causes fatigue in his legs.

Short hops
Lefty Kason Gabbard reported that he feels great, and he made his first rehab outing in Fort Myers Thursday. ETA to Pawtucket? "Not really sure," said Gabbard, who was reacquired by the Red Sox from the Rangers last month. "Haven't really discussed it, but I just know my shoulder is great and can't wait." . . . The North Shore Navigators of the New England Collegiate Baseball League start play Thursday against Sanford (Maine) at Lynn's Fraser Field . . . From the Bill Chuck files: "It's not surprising that in 200+ at bats, Adrian Gonzalez, Adam Lind, and Carlos Pena have no sacrifice bunts; what is surprising is none of them having any sacrifice flies. Then again, in 2004, Adam Dunn went sac-free in 681 plate appearances." Also: "Terry Francona went 4 for 8 as a player hitting in the Metrodome and 7-13 as a manager in the dome." . . . Wish Dave Roberts (37), Jose Malave (38), and Tim Van Egmond (40) happy birthday today. Oh, by the way, Manny Ramírez turned 37 yesterday.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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