2017-11-20 18:14:02
Why the Yankees Are Crowdsourcing Their Manager Vetting Process

18:14, November 20 68 0

In professional sports, the search for a new coach or manager is typically done in the shadows, to protect a team’s competitive advantage as well as the candidates’ privacy. Private jets may be dispatched — and even scrambled — to conduct interviews. The chattiest general managers suddenly become taciturn.

The rule of thumb: Be discreet with those you meet.

But industry standards, including this one, do not always apply to the Yankees. In their search for a replacement for Joe Girardi, whose contract as manager was not renewed after last season, the Yankees are not only making little effort to hide candidates but also crowdsourcing the vetting process by parading them in front of the news media.

So far, each of the five people the Yankees have interviewed — the Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson, the former Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge, the San Francisco Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens, the broadcaster and former player Aaron Boone and the Dodgers third-base coach Chris Woodward — has been placed on a conference call with the news organizations that regularly cover the team.

General Manager Brian Cashman said there were two purposes for the highly unusual decision to publicize the list of candidates.

First, the news media may dig up information on a candidate that the Yankees’ own background search has not — the cautionary tale being the Arizona Diamondbacks’ hiring of Wally Backman after the 2003 season. The Diamondbacks fired him four days later after The New York Times published an article detailing his arrests on domestic violence and drunken driving charges, and his filing for bankruptcy.

The other benefit is to observe how the candidates might handle questions from the news media — a significant and often stressful part of a Yankees manager’s duties. The manager is required to do it twice a day, 162 times a year in front of what is typically the largest media contingent in baseball.

“You’re an extension of detective work,” said Cashman, who listens in on the conference calls. “As well as lights, camera, action and see how people react, whether you want to call it mild questioning, tough questioning.”

Many general managers seem to think it’s a brilliant idea — for the Yankees.

“I see the value, especially in an atypical market like New York,” said Mike Rizzo, the general manager of the Washington Nationals, who recently finished his fourth manager search for the team. “But I think we make our best decisions when it’s not nationally known what we’re trying to do.”

Jeff Luhnow, the Houston Astros’ general manager, said what the Yankees were doing would provide real-time feedback from fans but “is a double-edged sword because then you can’t keep who you’re interviewing a secret.”

Luhnow, who has hired two managers, paused for a moment.

“Sometimes candidates don’t want it to be known that they’re interviewing for a job,” he said. “Sometimes clubs don’t want the entire interview list public because maybe they have a different approach and don’t want to tip their hands.”

The Yankees’ practice might be more renowned if only they fired managers the way they did in George Steinbrenner’s impetuous heyday. But Cashman has changed managers only twice in his 20 years as general manager. He also made candidates available to the news media when he interviewed three people to replace Joe Torre in 2007 — Girardi, Don Mattingly and Tony Pena.

Cashman could not remember how the idea occurred to him.

“I don’t know if it was original from us, or somebody else,” he said. “Knowing me, I stole it from somebody else.”

In fact, Cashman seems to have pilfered it from his friendly old rival Theo Epstein.

Epstein was just 29 years old and one year into his job as general manager of Boston when he fired Red Sox Manager Grady Little in the aftermath of the heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Yankees in the 2003 American League Championship Series. He held news conferences for each of the four candidates to replace Little.

Epstein sat quietly in the back while the Boston news media queried Terry Francona — who eventually got the job — and Joe Maddon, DeMarlo Hale and Glenn Hoffman.

“We were new at the jobs ourselves, so we were thinking of alternatives to the traditional interviews and that was one of them,” said Epstein, who also put the candidates through computer simulation and other pressure-packed exercises. “We tried to rethink the interview process because we realized we ran the risk of hiring the candidate that interviewed the best as opposed to the candidate who was best suited to handle the manager’s job.”

Epstein, who also put candidates before the news media when he became the Chicago Cubs president in 2011 — he hired Dale Sveum — said it can be a valuable exercise in an intense media environment. (Epstein once sneaked past reporters staking out Fenway Park on Halloween by donning a gorilla suit.)

“There were a lot of people snooping about who was getting interviewed, so we decided to be transparent about it and give the media access to make them happy,” Epstein said. “But really the goal for us was to get a firsthand look at how they might at least in one instance handle the media. It allows you another example of how a candidate thinks on his feet and handles pressure and different situations, which is always helpful.”

(Epstein returned to surreptitious methods for his last managerial hire, when he picked Maddon to lead the Cubs in 2014. Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the team’s general manager, met with Maddon on beach chairs over a bottle of Publix wine outside a motor home dubbed Cousin Eddie in a Florida panhandle trailer park.)

The teleconferences the Yankees are conducting are hardly contentious — or particularly enlightening. The Yankees limit the questions to one per entity, undercutting any chance for some back and forth.

Among the few insights gleaned from the interviews were Thomson admitting a mistake in the Yankees’ botched replay challenge during the playoffs, the hard-nosed Wedge noting that managers can’t criticize players as harshly as they used to and Boone — who has never coached, managed or worked in a front office — acknowledging “it’s certainly fair to question my experience.”

It’s unclear if the Yankees — or the news media — will be interviewing any more candidates. There is not an incandescent personality in the group, which may well be by design.

Cashman is looking for someone who can relate well to his young players, is versed in analytics and is willing to collaborate with the front office on everything from lineups to roster makeup.

And somebody, the Yankees hope, who can get a message across.

“You’re sending a message and the way you’re sending it is purposeful and you recognize how the dominoes are falling when the words are coming out of your mouth,” Cashman said. “So it plays out as you anticipate versus the alternative, which is obviously the worst-case scenario, where you hold a press conference and the next thing you know it’s nothing but damage control.”