Everybody wants to be a professional athlete. We all spent time in our backyard pretending we were hitting in the bottom of the ninth in game seven. Most fans of any sport became fans by envisioning themselves wearing the uniform of their team. However, absolutely nobody wants to be a professional coach.
Coaching a professional sports team is to put yourself at the center of a pressure cooker, where you will almost always receive more blame than you deserve for the slightest on-field mishap, much less a major mistake, like leaving in a reliever to face one too many batters. The pay is considerable, but thrusting yourself into the leadership of a team, especially in a highly saturated media market, can make your hair grey faster than any ex-President.
Joe Girardi, of course, was informed last week that he will not be returning as manager of the New York Yankees. This means the team finds themselves in a rather unusual position in recent history; hiring a new manager.
George Steinbrenner made his name partially for being a reactive, impulsive owner and firing managers without much thought. Over the past few decades, however, as George ceded more and more control and then finally passed away in 2010, the manager of the Yankees has become known as both a prestigious and highly stable occupation. Just how stable? Let’s find out.
I’m a millennial, and so part of that involves not caring about anything that happened before the early nineties. Steinbrenner was suspended as owner in the early '90s, and 1994 saw the last major work-stoppage in MLB history, so it seems like a natural starting point for our examination of managerial stability. You can see below the number of managers used by each MLB team since 1994, excluding hires for the 2018 season.
The Yankees are tied for the fewest managers in the sport over the last 23 years, using only three men, as Buck Showalter headed the team from 1992-1995, Joe Torre famously served as manager from 1996-2007, and Girardi has filled the role since. Obviously the Yankees are beneficiaries of their own success, as winning teams tend to require fewer managers, but even the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, relatively successful organizations in the new millennium, have seen notable managerial turnover.
A particular source of turnover can be friction between the field manager and front office, and certainly teams with more unstable FOs tend to have more problems retaining managers. The Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins have both experienced volatile ownership and administrative histories since 1994, and a symptom of that is their high number of managers since. One of the guidelines for Brian Cashman’s decision will be the production of a positive rapport between manager and GM, so you can expect a new manager won’t be named unless a solid relationship has already been built. This gives a new manager an effective “head start” over those in more unstable regimes, and probably gives him a longer leash as well.
Another perceived issue with managers is the media spotlight, especially in a white-hot market like New York. With this in mind, and using our same 1994 starting point, the number of head coaches for the major NYC teams:
One could even make the argument that the Yankees face more media scrutiny than any other New York team, and yet the Yankees have again been the most stable franchise for a head coach.
The new Yankees manager will face challenges, starting with overhyped expectations. The 2017 squad was the best team the Yankees have fielded in years, maybe even since the 2009 World Series team. Fortunately for whomever the final candidate is, they’re stepping into an office that has experienced remarkable stability, with no indications that will change any time soon.