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Sunday, June 27, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Larry Stone / Baseball reporter
Art of baseball: Managing by "The Book"


MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Mariners manager Bob Melvin checks his notes before a recent game. Today's managers often review statistical analysis to determine ideal matchups.
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You will not find the book (or, more accurately, The Book) on Amazon, no matter how adroitly you manipulate their search engine. Even the most massive Barnes and Noble outlet doesn't stock this tome, revered though it may be.

The curators of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown have done their due diligence, and it simply doesn't exist. Except, of course, in legend and reputation.

"Ah, the book that has never been written," said Jim Gates, Hall of Fame head librarian. "It's a topic that comes up here all the time: Who wrote this damn book, and where is it?"

The authors of baseball's much-quoted and perpetually referenced "Book" are anonymous, and the contents, as mythical as they are mystical, have evolved constantly over time. And yet this hypothetical masterwork has served, over the past century-plus, as the guiding principles for generations of managers — the invisible bible of baseball, governing both the strategy and ethical standards of the sport.

"When someone does things by The Book, it takes all the imagination and creativity out of what they do," said Mike Hargrove, former manager of the Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles. "But there's also a reason The Book is there. It's based on sound principles."

However, the soundness of those principles has become subject to increasingly fierce debate, much to the chagrin of every old-time manager who ever preached the gospel of playing for a tie at home and a win on the road, and never, ever, making the first or third out at third base.

"The Book" can be roughly defined as the accumulated knowledge of the sport, distilled into bite-sized chunks of wisdom: Guard the line late in games, bring in a left-handed pitcher to face a left-handed batter, don't play the infield in early in the games, sacrifice the runner into scoring position late in the game, and, for the love of Connie Mack, never put the winning run on base intentionally.

Few managers, even those who rarely stray from convention, want to be known as a "by the book" manager, which conveys an image of a mindless automaton. Longtime manager Chuck Tanner, who won a World Series title with the Pirates in 1979, scoffed, "The Book is nothing but a piece of garbage. My book is me."

Managers of the stature of Tanner, Earl Weaver, Billy Martin and Whitey Herzog (and currently the likes of Tony La Russa, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella) have much more latitude to go against The Book. Phil Rizzuto used to say that Yankees manager Casey Stengel could look in a player's eyes and tell if he was going to get a pinch-hit.

"I don't think The Book ever entered my mind," insisted Roger Craig, who won the 1989 National League pennant managing the San Francisco Giants. "I managed by instinct. You go by what your club can and can't do, and the same thing with the team you're playing, and then make your decisions."

Still, most managers over the years have adhered to Hargrove's belief: "When I was managing, I saw a lot of managers go against The Book, and a lot of times it didn't work; it put his team in a bad situation. The thing is, if you go against The Book regularly, sooner or later you'll get burned."

But while the principles of The Book remain, to many managers, inviolate, some of those principles have changed over time, through innovation or, more commonly, by the advancement of statistical analysis to prove former truisms to be faulty at best and downright inaccurate at worst.

Furthermore, the crucial section of The Book that deals with etiquette is still the arbiter of inscrutable ethical dilemmas regarding such weighty matters as beanball retribution (one of yours for one of ours), excessive celebration (style too long after a home run and expect a fastball in the ribs) and inexcusable piling on (don't bunt with a five-run lead). Yet those mandates have changed over time, as well.

The Book remains, however, a vital reference point. When a manager tries something unorthodox, announcers are always quick to point out how they are courageously "going against The Book." And when a conventional move backfires, the skipper can always justify it with a shrug and a nod to The Book.

"To me, it's the way to keep from anyone questioning what you do," said Phil Garner, former Milwaukee Brewers and Detroit Tigers manager. "It's an easy answer, and a way to avoid some of the tough decisions."

Just how tough are those decisions? Noted baseball scholar Leonard Koppett, in his seminal, "The Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball," wrote: "Baseball's basic tactics and strategy are simply not that complicated. If there is any significant advantage to be gained by a maneuver (like sacrificing after the first man gets on late in the game with the score tied), all baseball people know it with equal thoroughness."

JONATHAN DANIEL / GETTY IMAGES
Dusty Baker, Chicago Cubs manager, has a track record that allows him more latitude in going against The Book.
There has been considerable variance of opinion over time on a manager's worth, ranging from the self-importance of legendary Giants manager John McGraw, who said in the midst of the 1921 pennant race, "I think we can win it, if my brains hold out," to the Phillies' Paul Owens, who once claimed in the 1970s that the toughest part of managing was "standing up for nine innings."

Said Tanner: "I used to tell the players, 'I'll take credit for all the losses, you take credit for the wins.' Once, we lost three in a row, and (Kent) Tekulve said to me, 'You're getting a lot of credit these days.' "

Sparky Anderson, a Hall of Famer, is one of the leading minimizers of a manager's importance, without any apparent disingenuousness.

"The public is so fooled," he said fervently in a phone interview. "They think, 'Oh, boy, the manager won this or that.' What did he win? Nothing. The players did all the winning."

When it came to the manager in the opposing dugout, Anderson said, "The only ones I worried about were the ones with talent. The guys with no talent, I'll let them be Einstein; they're not going to beat me."

That opinion may be gaining more steam as the influence of The Book becomes increasingly influenced by the stat book. Though this is not a new phenomenon — Dodgers owner Branch Rickey hired a statistical analyst, Alan Roth, in the 1940s — never before have the statistical trends of baseball been so scrutinized and codified.

Whereas Baltimore's Weaver in the 1970s was canonized for the index cards he kept on individual players, now a whole body of mathematical analysis, sabermetrics, has left no stat unturned. Managers have at their disposal notebooks filled with all the stats possible — each pitcher's success against each hitter (and vice versa), broken down to every variable — day, night, two outs, men in scoring position, etc.

"If there's ever going to be a bible in baseball now, that's what it is," Hargrove said. "You have it on the bench. You look at the lineups before the game starts and target people to use in tough situations that day."

Whereas managers almost universally cite their "gut feeling" as the antithesis of blindly adhering to The Book, the statistical revolution threatens to mute the efficacy of pure instinct.

"I like data," said Piniella, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager. "That starts the process. Within that data, you sprinkle in your personal knowledge of the pitcher-hitter matchup, who you think can hit whom, what type of lineup works better against a certain pitcher — in other words, the baseball part.

"A lot of managers talk about 'gut.' I don't like that. I would explain gut as knowledge. If it's just 'gut,' I don't buy it. I don't trust my gut. I do trust my gut if it's based on knowledge. If it's just a hunch, I don't trust hunches. Baseball, to me, is a percentage game. You can go against the grain occasionally, but you'd better keep the percentages on your side."

Grady Little, former Boston Red Sox manager, learned that lesson with a vengeance last year. Before Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, Boston general manager Theo Epstein, a Yale grad weaned on statistics, showed Little data that detailed how pitcher Pedro Martinez routinely fell apart after the seventh inning.

As Red Sox fans don't need to be reminded, Little nevertheless chose to stick with Martinez in the eighth inning, as the Yankees tied the score in a game they eventually won in the 11th inning. Little followed his gut and paid with his job, getting fired shortly thereafter, allowing the Red Sox to install a more stat-friendly manager, Terry Francona.

The Red Sox, who hired the patron saint of sabermetrics, Bill James, to serve in baseball operations, are one of a handful of teams at the forefront of the statistical revolution. The Oakland Athletics helped pave the way, not just under GM Billy Beane, glorified in the book "Moneyball," but rather his predecessor, Sandy Alderson.

When Alderson and his protégés — Beane, Bob Watson, Ron Schueler, Walt Jocketty, as well as second-generation GMs like Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi — required that their managers go by The Book, it's more often the Bill James Baseball Abstract or The Elias Analyst.

"Managers are being told how The Book is being rewritten," said Alan Schwarz, author of the illuminating new book on the evolution of statistics in baseball, "The Numbers Game."

"A lot of them now are being hired by GMs who lay down the law more strongly. The manager's job, and the cachet, is being greatly diminished. They're not an all-knowing guru. He is in some ways a glorified babysitter."

The notion of stats may be anathema to an old-schooler like Sparky Anderson, who harrumphed, "I see guys go to their book on the bench, and I say to myself, 'Wait a minute. You've got two eyes here. Why look at a book? For what?' "

And yet Anderson might not be as old-fashioned as he thinks: "Always remember this: Your eyes tell you everything. Your heart tells you nothing. Your heart gets you in trouble."

James would not disagree, nor would Weaver, whose disdain of the sacrifice bunt has been verified. In fact, way back in 1963, an article by an early statistical analyst named George Lindsey showed that sacrifices were less efficient than letting the batter hit away.

Weaver's Fourth Law, delineated in his classic "Weaver on Strategy," was prescient: "Your most precious possessions on offense are your twenty-seven outs."

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox consults his lineup card before a game earlier this month.
That falls in line with the current infatuation with on-base percentage, a tool that many teams are increasingly using to inform player acquisitions.

"When you're talking about The Book, it's not that stats are against The Book; statistics have refined The Book," Schwarz said. "Statistics have transformed the way people have handled their bullpen. Certainly, we'll see over the next four or five years more of an appreciation of the out. Sandy Alderson and (A's statistical analyst) Eric Walker turned everything backward. It's not that you score runs with hits; you score by avoiding outs."

Many have pinpointed Ned Hanlon, legendary skipper of the late 19th-century Orioles, with developing many of the rudimentary elements of The Book, such as the hit-and-run, platooning, left-right matchups and strategic bunting, though Hanlon more likely just refined what was already being done by other managers.

Hanlon, in turn, passed the knowledge on to a series of influential skippers who played for him, including McGraw, Hughie Jennings, Wilbert Robinson and Joe Kelley.

"The Orioles of that era did do things differently," said Gates of the Hall of Fame. "But that's only what you're finding in print. Who knows the oral history and folklore to that point?"

Over the years, various managers have challenged, defied and contradicted The Book, including Bobby Bragan, who in the 1950s was ahead of his time in molding his lineup by statistics. Stengel popularized platoons, Gene Mauch was zealous in his use of the sacrifice to play for one run, and La Russa revolutionized the use of the bullpen to isolate the closer exclusively for the ninth inning.

Then there was Martin, who was liable to do anything.

"You know why Billy was so tough? Because he had no fear," said Anderson admiringly. "He'd just let it go."

Added Craig: "Martin was crazy. You never knew what the hell he was going to do. Once we (the Tigers, for whom Craig served as pitching coach) were playing in Oakland. They had the bases loaded, and he put the squeeze on. One time he put the hit-and-run on with the bases loaded. He never went by The Book."

These days, The Book is being almost single-handedly revamped by Barry Bonds, whose dominance is causing managers to do things that would have made their forefathers cringe — walking him intentionally as the potential tying or go-ahead run, walking him even though it moves runners into scoring position, and even, in one remarkable display of respect by then-Arizona manager Buck Showalter, walking him intentionally with the bases loaded.

"All rules are off," Hargrove said. "There is no book with Barry."

Added Tanner: "He gets walked all the time and people say, 'That's not right.' What do they want me to do, let him beat me? I wouldn't be afraid to walk him with the bases loaded if I had a two-run lead. I used to say (Willie) Mays was the greatest player I'd ever seen. Now I have to put this kid right beside him."

Anderson said he would pitch to Bonds "if he went to a notary public and notarized that he would never take a bat to the plate. If he takes a bat, it's first base."

Anderson recalled instructing his Tigers pitchers never to give Ken Griffey Jr. a strike during his Seattle heyday, once causing a frustrated Griffey to give Anderson an obscene gesture. And while managing the Cincinnati Reds, Anderson routinely pitched around Willie McCovey, who teased the manager by putting out four fingers every time he saw Anderson.

"One time, after we had clinched the division, I told him, 'Willie, I'm going to make you a deal: I'm going to pitch to you, and you'll know why I should be in a sanitarium if I continue to pitch to you.'

"Well, he hit the ball into the waves. I told him the next day, 'Now you see exactly why I don't pitch to you.' "

You could write a book.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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