Well, the Royals hired their new manager today. I didn’t feel like they got the best guy available last time around when they hired Tony Pena, and I really don’t feel like they got the best guy available now with Buddy Bell.
So let’s look at the situation.Buddy Bell has a losing record as a manager. That’s bad. Of course he managed some bad teams. He did coax winning (or near-winning) seasons out of Detroit and Colorado, which is encouraging. But I would have rather seen them get someone who’s actually taken a team to the postseason.
The bright side?
I believe a manager’s record as a player is relevant. Tony Muser was a good-field, no-hit first baseman and he liked players like him. Had he not been forced by injuries, he never would have noticed Mike Sweeney, who is arguable the only player on the team now who would be a starter on any other team in the majors. The teams Muser fielded were reflections of him.
Tony Pena was a catcher with a legendary arm but a free-swinger at the plate. Pena’s teams were reflections of him too: Lots of strikeouts, no walks, and later, not much else either.
The best players don’t necessarily make the best managers, because guys with lots of raw talent often don’t know how to relate to players with less. Bell was an All-Star but not a Hall of Famer. So presumably Bell is one of those guys who was able to do more with less and hopefully can teach young players how to do the same.
And let’s look at how Bell played baseball. His career batting average was .279 with a .341 on-base percentage. Not bad. He could draw a walk. That’s good. Most years he was one of the toughest guys in the majors to strike out. That’s really good.
He hit 201 home runs. So he was more like Joe Randa than like Mike Schmidt or even George Brett. That’s fine. If Kansas City had George Brett now, they wouldn’t be able to afford to keep him.
And Bell, like his son David who is currently playing with the Phillies, had a good glove. His career fielding percentage of .964 at third base is exemplary.
So Bell will presumably gravitate towards players who can swing the bat a little but exhibit patience at the plate and who save runs with the glove, rather than giving runs away. That’s good. The Royals have a lot of players who give runs away, and that’s not good when they don’t score a lot.
I guess it comes down to this. A team with 8 Tony Musers in the field would lose a lot of 1-0 games. We’ve seen what a team with 8 Tony Penas on the field can do. A team with 8 Buddy Bells on the field isn’t going to be terribly inspiring, but it would be a good way for a small-market team to win some games.
And when he can’t find players who remind him of himself, hopefully he’ll look for players who remind him of players he played with. Bell played on teams that emphasized speed and defense over home runs. The Royals can’t afford lots of big boppers; they do have some guys who can field. If Bell looks for some guys with some speed, the team has some hope.
At least there’s reason to believe Bell will put together a team with better balance than his two most recent predecessors.
Time will tell.