Dierker and the clubhouse, a brief digression
Dierker’s a guy who shows up in the candidate speculation post, and is my favorite managerial candidate. Maybe not for this team, for reasons I may get into later. The knock on him, in a nutshell, is that his team quit on him and he had to get fired. This is going to illustrate something important that’s too-often forgotten in the discussion of managers… but we’ll get to that.
If you followed those Astros, it’s a little more complicated than just “they quit”. Dierker did well for a while managing his team, because he understood that Biggio and Bagwell were hard workers and didn’t need him to stomp on them over a botched DP. He had a soft touch, I think, which gets managers lauded when it works (“He wasn’t the kind of guy who would bawl you out in front of people, he’d take you aside later and say ‘You see what happened there? Here’s how you handle this next time.'” versus “He’s a fiery competitor who lets you know what’s on your mind.”)
What backfired, was that the team soured badly and almost immediately in his last season. They brought in some players (Meluskey’s been singled out particularly) who didn’t get along with anyone else, there were fights, and the Bs turned on Dierker. A long discontent with his strategic decisions, because Dierker often didn’t play by the book, leaked into the press and guys like Brad Ausmus jumped in with the Bs to slag Dierker.
Now, the crux of their complaints, in my mind, was entirely baseless, but illustrates something important. Like this: Dierker didn’t like walking the #8 guy to get to the pitcher. He’d given this traditional strategy a lot of thought and figured out you were better off taking your chances (and most likely an out) from the #8 guy.
Ausmus hated, hated, hated this strategy. It worked almost all of the time, but the one time in twenty it didn’t, Ausmus would glare at Dierker, bitch at him, carp at the press. Eventually this kind of thing led to Dierker losing the respect of his players and his job.
Which is to say — some thing aren’t worth the fight. Lineups are like that. I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face that lineup construction is something where a manager can eek out a couple runs a season, force interesting matchups, and tinker to their heart’s delight. But if that tinkering’s perceived as weakness, for instance, the team and the media seize on it. Rob Neyer argues persausively that it’s not worth it. Whatever runs you get aren’t worth the trouble, and you’re better off expedning that energy elsewhere.
I think walking guys is a case where it is. A couple times a game, it’s a significant advantage.
This was one symptom. The others were similar: that he didn’t make enough moves, call enough weird plays — which, if you think those plays are of limited value, makes sense.
Dierker was unable to convince his players that these were the right moves. His players are not without fault in this, either. Dierker expressed a desire to have nine captains on the field — a lineup every day that thought through each play, knew what to do, and what might go wrong. In that, I think he did well — his teams were prepared, played hard, and didn’t make the kind of crazy gaffes you saw in, say, Art Howe’s Athletics teams.
What may have happened is that in so doing, in trying to create nine captains, Dierker created nine managers who disagreed with him.
There’s more than enough blame to go around, but I’d suggest that Dierker’s style there worked well to a point in accomodating the veterans but was doomed to failure. Ausmus and Bagwell want a Melvin, say, not a guy who reads baseball research and comes up with a new way to do something.
Many managers fail until they find the right team, when suddenly they go from being dolts to being geniuses. Joe Torre is the best model of this today, and the list is long and distinguished.
Dierker seems like an ideal manager for a team like the A’s, who are willing to do crazy stuff to win games, try to draft and create smart players, but who still need better preparation on the field. Their players have already seen managers make extremely few moves, they’re culturally ready for a more cerebral guy, and they don’t have the kind of elephant-in-the-room veteran presences those Astros teams have.