Having excellent players is not the only thing that makes a baseball team successful. Many people work behind the scenes to ensure the team has what they need to become star players, and a baseball team manager is one of them. But managers are not usually a part of the spotlight so a lot of people are left wondering – what does a baseball manager do?
A baseball manager is responsible for the daily operations of their team. Baseball managers are responsible for creating the lineup, setting clubhouse policies, implementing in-game strategies and substitutions, and creating an environment for success.
The responsibilities of a baseball manager include, but are not limited to:
- Creating the team lineup
- Setting clubhouse policies
- In-game strategy
- In-game substitutions
- Running practices
- Representing the team in the media
- Ensuring the team meets their short and long-term goals
- Creating an environment for success
On rare occasions, a manger will also need to be a player.
Basically, the baseball manager (also called “skip” or “skipper”) is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the team and ensuring it runs smoothly. This includes everything from the team’s daily operations to the strategy and game planning for each game.
To better understand a baseball manager’s job description, let’s look at each managerial role in detail.
1) Creating the Team Lineup
In Major League Baseball, the baseball manager determines the final team lineup. The lineup lists players on a scorecard who will participate during the game. The baseball scorecard is presented to the umpire before each game.
The managers construct the lineup from the team’s roster, which the club’s front office determines.
Lineup construction is like a puzzle that requires knowledge and skill. A good manager will always consult their assistant coaches before setting the daily lineup.
The manager must know each player’s ability, health conditions, and how their choice will affect the team’s morale. Typically, a manager will include the same three hitters in the top three spots of the lineup, but managers need to be aware of their players so they can make adjustments if needed.
Modern baseball managers increasingly rely on analytics (analysis of baseball statistics and data) to make decisions. They collect data based on players’ performance in past seasons and use it to make decisions on current ones.
Baseball is evolving (forcing managers to do the same), thanks to the adoption of advanced metrics, like sabermetrics. However, baseball is very protective of the integrity of the game, as evidenced by 2023’s rule change to ban the infield shift.
A team’s lineup is crucial, and the manager’s final decision can affect the team’s performance throughout the season. A wrong lineup can be the beginning of a losing streak throughout the season or vice versa.
Other than analytics and a coach’s input, sometimes criticism from fans can affect the manager’s decision. So there is a lot for a manager to consider when setting their team’s lineup.
Fortunately, lineups change all the time because of various events during the season, so there is a chance for the manager to redeem themselves and make better choices mid-season.
2) Setting Clubhouse Policies
Players spend a lot of time together and must learn how to co-exist. To assist in this matter, a baseball manager will help set the clubhouse rules to ensure peace and harmony in the locker room.
Some of these policies come from higher authority, and some are unofficial or unspoken rules (read this article on baseball kangaroo court).
One well-known example is the “Yankee Policy”, which outlines rules around the facial hair of players.
No beards started as a New York Yankees (mustaches are ok, though), but it later became an unwritten rule among many baseball teams.
The manager is responsible for deciding:
- Whether family members are allowed, and times they can be in the clubhouse
- Player’s dress codes
- If music is allowed and how much
- Player’s arrival time
- Whether alcohol and other drugs are permitted, etc.
In the past, some major players have created a bad reputation for themselves in the clubhouse. For example, Manny Ramirez, a retired baseball player, was known for substance abuse and his negative attitude toward other players in the clubhouse.
Some of his teammates testified that his behavior significantly affected their team’s performance on the field.
Others chalk it up to his personality, saying that’s just “Manny being Manny“.
Recently, Jimmy Rollins came clean about how an argument with Cliff Lee (Phillies teammate) over the choice of music in the clubhouse almost led to a costly fight.
Baseball clubhouse etiquette is important because it can affect the team’s mental and emotional state. Baseball managers are responsible for ensuring that players know the rules and are held accountable when they go against them.
3) Making In-Game Strategy Decisions
A good game strategy is crucial to a team’s success during a game. Players play both defense and offense in a game, and a manager is responsible for creating the best strategy for both.
Deciding the best strategy can be a difficult task to achieve alone, so most managers partner with bench coaches to create the best strategy for their team.
For example, a pitcher is the first line of defense, and their play can determine the setup of the rest of the players on the field. If you have a ground ball pitcher (one who induces many ground balls), it makes sense to have a strong infield.
An offense strategy mainly focuses on the batter, but the manager and coach must be alert so they can make the right calls depending on the situation during play. For example, they can decide to substitute players, direct them to steal bases, or call a “hit and run”.
In fact, there are a lot of strategies managers can use in a game. I recommended reading this article that outlines the different types of strategies used in baseball.
Managers usually face backlash from fans and the media when they make wrong in-game strategy decisions, even if they delegate the task to the bench coach. That is why managers need to know the team’s strengths and weaknesses to make the right decisions in the moment.
4) Running Practices
Practice is essential for keeping the team in shape and preparing players for upcoming games.
Position coaches take the team through exercises and drills, while the manager is usually present to oversee the whole operation and ensure everything is going as scheduled.
It is also a manager’s responsibility to create and structure the practice schedule. They do this with the assistance of the coaches heading the practice sessions.
Team managers can bounce around from the cage to the bullpen and offer significant input when they notice players struggling on the field.
Creating structured team activities ensures organization and coordination among team members, which is crucial for professional baseball teams.
It is significant for traveling teams because they practice on different ballparks where they must follow specific unique rules.
Some managers, like Joe Maddon, focus on keeping baseball fun during “scheduled hangout time”.
5) In-Game Substitutions
In-game substitutions are a form of game strategy that the team manager decides.
Before both leagues had a designated hitter (DH), substitution tactics differed depending on the league.
For example, the double switch was a common National League tactic to sub out two players on the field with two bench players. This tactic helped prevent a pitcher from batting at the top of the order in the next inning by substituting them with a better hitter.
Team managers are responsible for making other in-game substitutions such as:
- Pitching changes
- Pinch runners
- Pinch hitters
- Defensive replacements
One thing I’ve seen a lot of new managers struggle with is knowing when to change pitchers. It’s a tough decision because you need to factor in how long the pitcher has been pitching, how well they have done, and how well the other team is seeing the ball.
It’s almost like an art to know when it’s time to bring in a new pitcher.
Team managers must also be aware of the rules to perform these substitutions properly. For example, once a player is taken out of the game, they cannot come back into the game in any capacity. However, many non-professional teams will allow players to re-enter once during a game.
6) Representing the Team in the Media
In baseball, the team manager is the face of the franchise and the team’s spokesperson. Their role is to defend the team against negative public scrutiny and answer any other questions from the media regarding the game.
Baseball managers usually attend press conferences before and after the game. Meeting with the media often during the season can be emotionally and mentally draining. That is why baseball managers need to have excellent communication skills.
While most team managers remain calm during questions from the press, they sometimes lose their temper. Journalists ask questions about game strategy, and the blame usually falls on the manager.
A great example is the video below where Tommy Lasorda loses his temper with a reporter.
Many team managers are former baseball players who are skilled in the game, but that doesn’t always translate to dealing with the media. The media can be an excellent tool for managers to support their team and represent the franchise (or their worst nightmare).
7) Ensuring the Team Meets Short and Long-Term Goals
Team goals give players a common purpose, enhancing teamwork on and off the field. When a team does not share a common purpose, each individual is focused on their personal goals causing confusion and disunity on the field.
Whatever the goal (hint: every team’s goal is to win the World Series), it will affect every aspect of the team’s performance because they all understand what they are working towards.
Every practice and every bullpen workout will be intentional in helping the team achieve its goal. Teammates will help pull each other up to improve their play, and there will be less conflict when making uncomfortable decisions because everybody understands the goal.
Joe Maddon said setting a team goal for the Chicago Cubs every year was common practice. Under his management, the team won the world series in 2016. To achieve team goals, a manager has to be strict and maintain discipline among team members.
A manager will also have to make tough decisions in the short-term, like benching star players until later in the season to achieve the long-term goal.
For example, a star player might be available to play after an injury, but a manager could determine that additional rehab would be the best benefit to the team in the long run.
Short-term goals are also prone to change, usually from game to game, depending on the situation.
Although achieving the team’s goals is important, managers must be mindful of their player’s workload. Too much pressure on the players might negatively affect the team, so managers must set realistic and attainable goals.
8) Creating an Environment for Success
Creating an environment for success is where a manager’s human resource management skills are most needed.
Players need to exist in an environment where they feel appreciated and motivated to give their best performance.
A team manager is tasked with creating a culture where everybody is treated equally and held accountable to ensure discipline and the team’s long-term success.
A baseball manager is responsible for appointing the team captain and other officials. Choosing the right team leaders can help create a thriving atmosphere on and off the field.
Although some teams choose not to have a team captain, it is still important to pick the right leaders to assist in creating a positive environment for all players.
Baseball is not only about the players.
The coaches are a crucial part of the team’s overall success, so the manager must intentionally create an environment where both the coaches and players can exist harmoniously.
This means that the clubhouse rules must be reasonable and accommodating to everybody. Anyone, regardless of rank, must be held accountable when they break the clubhouse rules.
Lastly, a baseball manager must be a great leader. Players can quickly sniff out a weak leader, and weak managers often “lose the clubhouse” because nobody respects them.
Managers must have pleasant personalities but be firm and respectful to other team members. A manager is responsible for motivating team members, as some games can make players lose their confidence.
It helps to know players individually to understand their personalities and what motivates them.
When the team is not performing well, a manager must communicate with the team honestly, but still maintain respect. Managers must also learn active listening skills and be approachable so players can share their needs without fear.
Baseball season has 162 games, and a lot can happen during this time (affecting the team’s mood and overall performance). Injuries, trades, and other roster changes are part of the game – a team must be mentally and emotionally strong enough to handle sudden changes.
Creating an atmosphere of success will ensure players remain focused and at peak performance throughout the season.
9) On Rare Occasions, Managers Need to Play
According to Baseball Almanac, there have been 222 player-managers in baseball history.
No, not a player-turned-manager, but a “player-manager”.
In baseball, a “player-manager” is when one person is the manager of the team, but they are also on the active player roster. A player-manager is responsible for setting the lineup and for their position on the field.
This is one of those baseball phenomenons that just makes you shake your head, smile, and wish it was still a thing. Can you imagine the social media hashtags?
And baseball player-managers aren’t restricted to no-namers.
Some of the most famous player-managers in baseball are:
- Honus Wagner
- Ty Cobb
- Cy Young
- Connie Mack
- Christy Mathewson
- Mel Ott
- Tris Speaker
- Frank Robinson
- Joe Torre
- Pete Rose (the last player-manager, in 1986)