Last week the New York Yankees named Rachel Balkovek as the manager for their Low-A minor league affiliate the Tampa Tarpons.
As expected, the move got a lot of press.
Anytime there is a first like this in any aspect of life, it gets people’s attention. While I am happy for Balkevek, especially as the father of five daughters, I can’t help from seeing this as just another step in the transformation of the role of the manager.
This transformation has been happening in the major leagues for some time now.
It used to be the manager was The Guy. Yes, he was hired by the club owner or the general manager. But the manager called all the shots. The GM’s job was simply to get him the players he needed, he’d take it from there, thank you.
There was no front office interference. Nobody would dare tell him who to play, where to bat them, how to run their bullpen. You think anyone would dictate the lineup to Billy Martin or Sparky Anderson or Whitey Herzog or Larry Bowa?
Not if you wanted to get out of the dugout with your head intact.
That was the province of the manager. That was role of the manager. And it served the sport pretty well for a hundred years. Like a college football coach at a major program. He calls the shots, not the athletic director, despite the org chart.
Then the analytics guys came in. And decisions started coming from new sources. And managers started being told who to play, where to play them, how to play them, when to play them.
Then, the role of the manager changed. Instead of looking for experience, clubs started hiring managers fresh off the streets. No managerial experience needed. No years spent in the minor leagues learning the craft.
Because the craft isn’t what it used to be. Now, it’s managing people, not strategy. Now it’s managing the press, not the pen.
The Rachel Balkevek hiring isn’t a milestone because of the gender aspect, it’s a milestone because it’s the beginning in the next trend of managers. Managers who never played professional baseball.
That is where the role is headed. If the front office is calling the shots, then the manager really has to be someone who is adept at managing people. It could be an ivy leaguer. It could be someone who has had success in sales. It could be a celebrity. It could be a former strength coach, like Balkevek was.
This is not to throw cold water on her hiring. I am happy for her and wish her well.
But it’s the next step in the transformation of the role of manager.
I just don’t know if that transformation is a welcome thing.