If there is one thing above all else that made Charlie Manuel the winningest manager in Phillies history, it was that he knew how to manage people. He knew which players needed to be coddled, which needed a swift kick in the $#@, and which needed the manager to just stay away. Whatever the methods, they worked quite well for Charlie Manuel.
Ryne Sandberg does not seem to have that touch quite yet.
Part of it is learning how, when, and why to send a message. That message failed with Domonic Brown, who Sandberg gave the day off on Tuesday for “a little mental break.”
“Maybe a little mental break and start over,” Sandberg said when asked what the struggling Brown needs. “Maybe something will click and he’ll get to where he was.”
It was a fine idea for Brown, who entered the game hitting .218. Charlie employed that approach several times, once benching a struggling Jimmy Rollins in 2009 for four games. Sometimes a short hiatus alleviates the game day pressure and allows a player to recharge the battery.
But “mental breaks” by their very nature last for multiple games. Domonic Brown's mental break lasted just one day. I’m sure Dobo translated it as such, utilizing the time off with extra batting practice and about a thousand swings in the cage, focusing solely on an improved swing without the watchful eyes of a few thousand fans.
The following game, Brown was thrust into the lineup with a brain that was still on its mental spring break. Predictably, with a mind so focused on a singular aspect, he took his offensive struggles into the field. Brown missed a routine fly ball that cost the Phillies a much needed win.
He was benched again the next day.
What should have been a few days off with the manager's backing and an understanding of somewhat steady playing time upon his return ended up being one day off followed by a punishment for a game costing play. It was the difference between showing faith in a player and scolding a player. It is a distinction which Sandberg must learn.
His mishandlings in player management extended to Cole Hamels.
Frustrated by a lack of run support, Hamels chose not to speak to the media following a 4-1 loss to the Cardinals last Saturday. Hamels at the time had pitched to a 1.66 ERA in his last nine starts -- third-best in the majors over that span -- but was personally just 2-2 in those games. His team was 4-5.
Hamels eventually explained his frustrations prior to his start on Thursday, admitting the lack of run support weighed on him. Similarly in his next start, Hamels found himself down 3-2 after the seventh. Hamels, with a reasonable pitch count of 98, was due to bat second in the bottom of the seventh. Ben Revere reached to lead off the inning, making for an obvious sacrifice situation if Hamels remained in the game. Sandberg elected to bat for Hamels with Tony Gwynn...who sacrificed Revere to second. To lift a frustrated pitcher for a hitter who performed a task in which that pitcher was quite adept in a game in which he trailed likely added to the frustration.
It was another error in player management.
Charlie's mastery of these seemingly minor decisions were a big reason his teams performed for him down the stretch. Sandberg does not appear to have that same mastery yet.
Managing players is by no means an exact science. Every manager has a different approach. Yellers and table throwers like Dallas Green and Larry Bowa can be equally as effective as the laissez-faire styles of a Charlie Manuel with the same group of players.
This is Ryno's first full season as a big league manager and much of what he is doing is trial and error. Whether or not his approach was the correct one is open to debate. Regardless of the outcome, these two small examples are hopefully all part of the learning curve.
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