There are times when five weeks can seem like a very long time.
Ben Cherington was introduced as the Red Sox general manager all the way back on Oct. 25. At the time, charged with the task of identifying the next Red Sox manager, Cherington suggested that prior big league experience in that role was a bonus but not a prerequisite.
“Previous managerial experience would be a benefit, but we’re not going to put ourselves in a box by requiring that,” Cherington said. “We’ll certainly consider those that have previous managerial experience but also those who don’t. We need the right person. I don't think we can afford to put ourselves in any sort of box in our effort to find the right person.”
The ensemble of early candidates made it appear as if experience was little more than an afterthought. The team brought in, in order, 60-year-old Pete Mackanin, the Phillies bench coach; 48-year-old Dale Sveum, then the Brewers hitting coach; 45-year-old Sandy Alomar Jr., who was preparing for his first full year as Indians bench coach; and 46-year-old Torey Lovullo, the Blue Jays first base coach. Mike Maddux, the 50-year-old pitching coach of the Rangers, initially accepted and then turned down the opportunity to interview.
Of those five candidates, only Mackanin and Sveum had big league managerial experience. Both of their jobs came with an interim label.
And so, based on that group, it appeared that the Sox were likely focused on an up-and-coming manager between the ages of 45 and 50 with experience as a major league coach but not necessarily as a big league manager, someone whose coaching career had occurred in an era when the boundaries between the manager’s office and the front office had become more porous.
It seemed like almost an afterthought when the Sox brought in Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont, 64, to interview for the position two days before the start of the GM meetings. Lamont seemed like a compare-and-contrast exercise, a veteran manager with eight years of experience at the helm of a team, albeit none since 2000. There were suggestions that Lamont might be interviewing as much as a possible bench coach -- the perfect complement to a young, first-time manager -- as he was for the manager’s job.
Yet just under five weeks since Cherington was hired, and just more than two weeks since Lamont interviewed, the shape of the Red Sox’ search is very different. Mackanin was eliminated from consideration early. Sveum got the Cubs job before the Sox felt comfortable making an offer. Alomar was told that he was too inexperienced at this time. Lovullo, as of Friday, had not received an invitation for a second-round interview.
And, perhaps most surprisingly, former Rangers, Mets and Chiba Lotte Marines manager Bobby Valentine was added to the mix last week. Valentine’s interview with members of the Red Sox front office occurred just before Lamont met with team owners in the second round of the managerial process.
The result? The two finalists for the position are Lamont and Valentine. Both are in their 60s. Both are veterans of two prior managing jobs in the big leagues.
Somewhere along the line, it appears that the Sox felt that there was something to be said for age, experience and a proven track record over youth and promise in the manager’s dugout. Cherington acknowledged at the GM meetings -- before Sveum was hired by the Cubs, and before the interview with Valentine was scheduled -- that there had been a reconsideration of the profile sought by the team.
“I’m not dissatisfied with the candidates we have. It’s just we feel like there are some unique circumstances here,” he explained. “This is not just any manager’s job. This is one where we do feel we’re ready to win and there are challenges that related to what happened to what happened last year and just generally in the Boston market, as you guys know. …
“We’ve learned a lot as we’ve sort of asked each other questions both within baseball operations and with ownership about what is it really that we need right now for this team. So through that process, it’s sort of, I think forced all of us to consider whether the current group, whether we’re sort of looking at this in a broad enough way to really make the right decision. Our manager may very well come from the group of candidates that we’ve already interviewed. At this point, we may not limit ourselves to that.”
Within a day, Sveum was gone without an offer from the Sox and the team had scheduled a visit with Valentine. It appeared to be a dramatic change of course.
Insofar as age and experience have become central elements of the Sox’ managerial search, it is worth examining the profile of World Series-winning managers. That, after all, is the focus of the Red Sox.
The team is not interested necessarily in seeing a manager who requires training wheels before he is ready to guide the Sox to the top of the hill. Instead, the Sox want someone who is in position to help them win in 2012 and beyond, someone who will give the team a chance to win while it still has centerpieces such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester under contract.
Based on the last half-century (and change), are World Series-winning managers more often men who are new to the job or recycled after having taken their lumps with another big league team? Are they more often in their 40s, 50s or 60s (thus offering occasion to invigorate conversations about quadragenarians, quinquagenarians and sexagenarians)?
Here is a look at the age and experience profiles of the 51 World Series-winning managers since 1960:
Just three managers (Bob Brenly with the Diamondbacks in 2001, Dallas Green with the Phillies in 1980 and Ralph Houk with the push-button Yankees in 1961) have won World Series in their first season of their first big league managerial job. Three more (Houk with the push-button Yankees in 1962, Ozzie Guillen with the White Sox in 2005 and Tom Kelly with the Twins in 1987) won in the second year of their first managerial jobs.
While 21 of the last 51 World Series have been won by managers in their first stint as a big league skipper, more than half of those (11) have been in at least their fourth year in that job (including Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda, who won a total of three World Series more than a decade into their “first” – and only – jobs as manager).
In contrast, eight veteran managers have won the World Series in the first year of a second, third or fourth job. Most recently, Francona (2004, second job), Torre (1996, fourth job) and McKeon (2003, fourth job) fit that bill.
Five more -- most recently, Joe Girardi with the Yankees in 2009 -- won in the second year of a job that was not their first. Six more World Series have been won by managers in the third year of a job that was not their first.
Of the last 51 World Series, 29 have been won by teams with managers in their first three years on the job. Of those 29, 19 (65 percent) had prior managerial experience before getting hired by the team with whom they won it all.
Life begins at 60. Or, at least, it now seems to.
This is a golden age for managers with AARP memberships. Of the last 51 managers to win the World Series, just five have been 60 or older. However, four of those managers have won titles in the last nine years.
Tony La Russa walked off into the sunset this offseason after winning his third World Series in his “age 66” season (he turned 67 during the playoffs). He also claimed a title with the Cardinals in 2006, in a month when his odometer clicked from 61 to 62. In 2008, Charlie Manuel (64) led the Phillies to a title. Jack McKeon became the oldest manager ever to win a World Series in 2003, at the age of 72.
That recent run represents a somewhat startling departure from the prior four-plus decades of championships. In the previous 44 years, more titles had gone to managers in their 30s (two: Tom Kelly in 1987 and Earl Weaver in 1970) than in their 60s (one: Tommy Lasorda in 1988).
The average age of the World Series-winning manager since 1960 is 49 years old, a mark that has been bumped up about a year by the recent triumphs of La Russa, Manuel and McKeon. The slight majority (26 of the last 51) of championships since 1960 have been won by teams with managers under the age of 50. Examples from the last 10 years include Francona (in both of the Sox’ championship seasons), Joe Girardi, Ozzie Guillen and Mike Scioscia.
WHAT TO MAKE OF THAT?
If the Sox simply wanted to go by the numbers, the safest bet for a manager ready to hit the ground running in pursuit of a championship would be to hire someone with prior experience. After all, just once in the last 30 years (Brenley in 2001) has a manager in the first year of his first job ended the season with a World Series ring.
Put another way: Would Francona have been up for the task of guiding the Sox to the 2004 World Series without both his maiden managerial voyage in Philadelphia and the subsequent years he had to take a step back for a critical analysis of the manager’s job? Would Joe Maddon -- runner-up to Francona in the Sox’ last managerial search -- have been ready to lead the Sox to the title in his first-ever managing job?
In both cases, maybe, maybe not. The answer is ultimately both individual and circumstantial. And there is a danger to this sort of exercise, in which an outcome (a bunch of second-, third- and fourth-time managers winning titles) can be confused for a cause.
If they were playing by the numbers, the Sox would also likely seek someone in his mid-40s to mid-50s for the job. However, recent evidence suggests that it is more likely for a manager in his 60s to lead a team to a title than it is for a first-time manager to win a ring in his first year on the job.
What to make of those numbers? Perhaps nothing, aside from noting that not a single one of the candidates interviewed by the Sox fit the mold of a) an experienced manager who b) was in his 40s or 50s.
That, in turn, may say as much as (if not more) about the managerial pool than it does about the Red Sox’ search. So, too, does the fact that the White Sox (Robin Venture) and Cardinals (Mike Matheny) both hired managers with zero days of big league coaching experience -- never mind managing experience -- to guide their clubs, while the Cubs hired a man who is more or less a managerial novice in Sveum.
As Cherington has noted on a few occasions, the Sox are looking to hire the right person for the job rather than the perfect one. After all, the perfect manager simply may not be out there for the Sox to select right now.