With the passing of every inning, it seems, new algebra attaches itself to baseball – much of it useful, some of it inscrutable, maybe a bit of it much too much.
Relax. None of it will be on the quiz.
Today, the topic is managerial metrics, though nothing that might objectively measure and predict success, not that there is such a thing.
But on Monday, behind the batting cage at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, stood the two men in charge of the evening’s program, both of them listing Spokane as their hometown – a confluence both unnatural, but near perfect.
“Two guys from Spokane managing in the big leagues,” allowed Ryne Sandberg, “is a big thing.”
It is, in fact, almost impossible math.
“I don’t know the odds of that,” said Mike Redmond, “and I know Phillies fans won’t be thinking about it, but I will be. I may have to wear my Gonzaga Prep sweatshirt on the field for the occasion.”
It must have been in the wash.
Instead, there they were – Redmond in the black-and-red road uniform of the Miami Marlins, Sandberg in a blue-and-white Phillies windshirt – chatting before the start of their teams’ three-game series.
About what do you suppose?
Whammys at Dick’s? Whether they’ve fixed the streets yet? What infield in the Greater Spokane League used to yield the toughest hops?
There are 30 managerial jobs in Major League Baseball. Two of them belong to guys who played their high school ball (though not against each other) two miles apart at Prep and North Central in a city of 210,000 people.
What are the chances?
It’s not as if there’s a control group to minimize the variables that go into producing big-league managers. Just surviving in the game as a player or manager long enough to attract the notice of the men who dole out these jobs – and then positioning oneself for the rare opening – is an Everest of chance.
Sounds like a good place to call this exercise incalculable, and surrender.
Instead, Dr. Thomas McKenzie of the Gonzaga University mathematics department graciously signed on and a condition was imposed – that the eligible pool of MLB managers include only living former players at the big-league level. Yes, it’s a false premise: there are four current managers who never made it to The Show as players, all of them successful. But there has to be starting point.
MLB’s player alumni association estimates there are 8,200 living former big leaguers. Ten of those went to Spokane high schools (and one of those, Casey Parsons, made it to Triple-A as a manager).
By McKenzie’s calculations, that makes the chances of Redmond and Sandberg squaring off this week 3 in 5,000.
How about those odds?
And, as noted, that’s with putting razor wire and guard towers around the starting data.
Redmond is affable, earthy and savvy, and as a journeyman catcher he was as destined to make out lineup cards as Harvard MBAs are to clutter up Fortune 500 companies. It’s just that he got his chance in a hurry, having been an active player as recently as 2010.
Sandberg, meanwhile, is the only Hall of Famer to admire his Cooperstown bust and then return to baseball’s bushes – and buses – for a return trip to the big leagues, the call coming last month after the firing of Charlie Manuel.
“I think it’s great that he’s been given this opportunity to manage,” said Redmond, hired by Miami last offseason, “especially going back and paying his dues again.”
Their playing careers never intersected. Sandberg is 11 years older, and his second retirement followed the 1997 season. The next May, the Marlins summoned Redmond from Triple-A. Sandberg’s post-career involvement with the Cubs allowed his path to cross with Redmond’s on a couple of occasions, but the meetings were brief.
But the influence before then was significant.
“As a young kid, you always look at people who have come before you and been successful,” Redmond said. “If there’s someone who came from where you are and they’ve made it, that shows you can do it, too.”
For Sandberg, this Spokane reunion brings to mind another happy coincidence.
“When you think about Spokane, a small community, it kind of rates up there when myself, Mark Rypien and John Stockton were in the three different sports, “ he said, “and I think we were all MVPs. Even that was something.”
Not quite, but it was more than just something, it was something else.
Trying to emulate that level of distinction as MLB managers will be more than a challenge. Redmond has been handed one of the Marlins’ famous arson rebuilds, and after a 12-2 pasting in game one of the Philadelphia series, Miami’s magic number to 100 losses is five. Sandberg is 17-13 since taking over, but he’s still auditioning with an “interim title.”
But then, they’ve already conquered some long odds.