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MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Many with star pedigrees among new wave of skippers

Many with star pedigrees among new wave of skippers

LOS ANGELES -- Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda were the Dodgers' only managers from 1954 through 1995, winning six World Series and reaching postseason play 16 times. Their combined Major League playing experience consisted of 58 1/3 innings pitched and 15 at-bats -- all of it, but one at-bat, by Lasorda.

The Dodgers' current manager, Don Mattingly, was arguably the game's best player for a five-year stretch in the 1980s.

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The Phillies were managed by Dallas Green when they claimed the franchise's first World Series title in 1980. When the City of Brotherly Love celebrated again in 2008, Charlie Manuel had the reins. Green, a journeyman right-hander, was 20-22 in 185 Major League games, while Manuel, an outfielder, had a .198 career average in 432 plate appearances.

The Phillies are now managed by Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

The times, they are a changin' -- baseball fan Bob Dylan would tell you -- on the top step of big league dugouts.

"Whether you were a great player, a Hall of Famer or a guy who didn't play in the big leagues, you're going to be judged on your skills," said Mike Scioscia, whose 15th season at the helm for the Angels makes him the Majors' longest-tenured current manager. "Your understanding of the game, your preparation, your good fortune in having good players -- those are the things that will determine how you're evaluated."

This is true, but gone are the days when teams and clubhouses were ruled by the authoritative voice of a field commander making it loud and clear that it was his way or Highway 61. Billy Martin, a prideful Yankee, was the exception. Most of those generals who ran things from the 1960s through the 1980s had limited, if any, playing experience, moving up through the Minor League managerial ranks to "The Show."

The prototype now is a relatively young former player -- not far removed from his days of hitting, fielding and, in a few cases, pitching on the big stage -- running the show with a demeanor closer to a corporate head than a ranting old-school skipper.

Mattingly, Sandberg, Kirk Gibson, Robin Ventura and Matt Williams were contemporaries, certified stars. Scioscia, Walt Weiss, Mike Matheny, Brad Ausmus, Bud Black and Joe Girardi could be classified as good to very good players.

John Farrell, Terry Francona, Lloyd McClendon, Bob Melvin, Bruce Bochy, Ron Roenicke, Ron Washington, Ron Gardenhire, Clint Hurdle, John Gibbons, Mike Redmond, Ned Yost, Bo Porter and Rick Renteria experienced enough time in the Major Leagues to have a grasp of the pressures and challenges involved.

Only Joe Maddon, Fredi Gonzalez, Terry Collins, Bryan Price and Buck Showalter did not play in the Majors.

There is nothing resembling an Earl Weaver among them -- not even Gibson, who could be a force of wild nature as a player.

Don Baylor, recovering from right femur surgery after a collapse at home plate during the ceremonial first pitch on Monday night in Anaheim, managed the Rockies and Cubs for nine seasons combined, and was part of a wave that included Lou Piniella, Jim Fregosi, Dusty Baker, Felipe Alou, Cito Gaston and Joe Torre, and paved the way for stars to become managers.

At the early forefront of the movement were the Mets and Angels.

Gil Hodges, a renowned member of the "Boys of Summer" cast in Brooklyn, quietly but firmly guided the Miracle Mets to the 1969 World Series championship. The great Yogi Berra won a National League pennant with the '73 Mets -- nine years after leading the Yankees to an American League pennant. Davey Johnson, an elite second baseman with power in Baltimore and Atlanta, handled the memorable 1986 Mets, blending a wide range of eclectic personalities into a champion.

Hall of Fame player Frank Robinson began his managing career as a player/manager with the Indians in 1975, going on to win 1,065 big league games in leading the Indians, Giants, Orioles and Expos/Nationals across 16 seasons between 1975-2006.

Fregosi, a splendid shortstop in his time, led Baylor and the 1979 Angels to their first postseason appearance, repeating his superb work 14 years later with the Phillies. In Scioscia, twice a World Series-champion catcher for the Dodgers, the Angels have a manager who owns more wins with one club than all but 13 in history. He took the franchise to its first World Series title in 2002, his third season in Anaheim.

The remarkable Hall of Fame class of managers headed to Cooperstown this summer reflects both schools.

Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox didn't need productive playing careers to be marvelous leaders of men. Torre, with his golden touch with the dynastic Yankees, was highly influential in the current trend toward former stars with smoothly confident managerial styles.

When Larry Bowa, as old-school as it gets, looks at Sandberg, he sees a lot of Torre -- just as the Dodgers valued his influence on Mattingly, who coached under Torre.

"It obviously looks like [Sandberg's] personality is very similar to Joe as far as his demeanor on the bench ... and Ryno is very knowledgeable with what he's doing," said Bowa, who worked under Torre in New York and L.A. and is now Sandberg's animated bench coach. "I see this as a good situation."

Showing his adaptability, Sandberg has become more open personally as a manager than he was as a second baseman who had few peers.

"He definitely communicates," Chase Utley said. "One thing I like is he's positive. He hasn't forgotten how difficult this game can be at times. Sometimes the further away you get from the game, the easier it becomes. That's definitely not the case with him."

The Nationals are looking for that same brand of leadership from Williams, a former slugger and brilliant third baseman making his managerial debut as the successor to the venerable Johnson, who retired. Known as the "Big Marine," Williams brought a detailed plan for all 41 days of Spring Training.

"Nothing is natural in this game," Williams, the thinking-man's manager, said. "But everything is poetic in this game."

Black, Scioscia's former pitching coach now in command of the Padres, sees a common thread in the former players taking charge of teams.

"These are highly competitive guys who love the game and the challenges of managing," Black said. "This is a way to keep those competitive juices alive. Organizations, general managers, executives are coming after the guys who have those qualities to manage."

St. Louis has reaped immediate benefits in its decision to replace La Russa with Matheny. A four-time Gold Glove catcher, Matheny has some of his predecessor's style -- and some distinctly his own.

"The Cardinals did a great job finding the right guy," said former St. Louis third baseman David Freese, now with the Angels. "Mike Matheny's done an excellent job with his knowledge of the game and his ability to lead a team."

The player's viewpoint with respect to managers with impressive resumes as players was driven home by Dodgers star Matt Kemp. During his tremendous 2011 season, Kemp bonded with Mattingly, then a rookie skipper.

"He's been there," said Kemp, close to rebounding from ankle and shoulder surgeries. "He knows all the struggles an athlete is going to go through. He wasn't just a regular; he was a star.

"Probably the most important thing for me was Donnie coming here. I'm still learning, and he meant a lot to me. He's always there for you with whatever you need."

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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