The Miami Marlins often find themselves being the butt of a joke. Many writers have questioned the perpetual rebuilding of their roster. Their most recent curious decision was for Marlins General Manager Dan Jennings becomes manager.
When Jeffrey Loria and the Miami Marlins front office decided to replace manager Mike Redmond, they looked internally. However, they did not hire a member of their current field staff or one of their minor league managers. Instead they tabbed one of the members of their front office, a front office that had assembled the underperforming team. General Manager Dan Jennings was asked and eventually acquiesced to becoming the accidental manager.
The media focused on the oddity of the hiring. After all, Dan Jennings had never managed in a professional capacity. However, that obstacle had not kept the St. Louis Cardinals from hiring Mike Matheny as manager in 2012 nor the Arizona Diamondbacks from naming A.J. Hinch manager in 2009. In fact, the majority of recent, new managers have had no managerial experience in the minors. Matt Williams worked as a 1st base and 3rd base coach before being hired to manage the Washington Nationals Just a few weeks before Jennings was hired, Craig Counsell was hired as manager by the Milwaukee Brewers. Like Matheny and Hinch, Counsell had no on-field coaching experience. He was just another former player.
Chip Hale, manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks acknowledged his frustrations with this move:
I think it’s frustrating in a way for guys who’ve done it. I’ve said this before: When you finish playing or get into Major League Baseball on the minor-league level, you say, ‘OK, what do I want to do? OK, I want to manage in the big leagues. What do I have to do? I’m going to bust my hump coaching and teaching and become the best manager at the minor-league level that I can, then get to the big leagues.’ It’s not looking like that track is going to be the way anymore.
Therein lies the unspoken reason for much of the criticism of this move. Dan Jennings not only had no experience in any on-field coaching position, he had never played professionally. Jennings is the only Major League manager who can make this claim.
However, his lack of professional playing experience doesn’t mean he that he has no playing experience. Jennings was a pitcher at the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University in the early 1980s. He was signed by the New York Yankees from a tryout camp which extended into spring training for the class A affiliate. However, he was quickly waived by the Yankees, never appearing in a regulation game.
Jennings “joined” the professional ranks in 1986 as an associate scout for the Cincinnati Reds before jumping to the Seattle Mariners as an area scout in 1988. He was promoted to cross-checker by the Mariners at the beginning of 1995, but quickly left for another promotion in August of 1995, becoming the Scouting Director of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He then moved south to Miami in 2002, becoming the Marlins VP of Player Personnel. He was promoted to Assistant General Manager in 2007 and General Manager in 2013. After a 30 year career encompassing multiple facets of the game, from scouting players to running an entire front office, Jennings was given the managerial reigns to a team he largely created.
His move from the front office to the field is not a first. Hinch was named the Diamondbacks manager of minor league operations in 2005 and, after his first managerial stint, was named the San Diego Padres VP of professional scouting in 2010. Counsell served as a special assistant to GM Doug Melvin for the Brewers for the past three seasons prior to his ascension to manager. Before John Farrell joined the Red Sox as their pitching coach, he had spent five seasons as the Cleveland Indians Director of Player Development. Even Terry Francona spent a season in the front office, serving as a special assistant to the Cleveland Indians GM in 2001, the season after he was fired from his first managerial position with the Philadelphia Phillies.
As the use of complex analytics and increased data collection modifies the on-field strategy in major league baseball, managers will need to continually adapt. Having a broader knowledge than simply playing the game will become more important. The ability to understand why shifting is important or why a certain left-handed pitcher is actually more effective against right-handed hitters could mean a few extra wins a year, which could easily be the difference in making the playoffs or not. The Marlins could have an advantage by hiring a manager with an entirely different career path than most.
Dan Jennings will likely be perceived as a failure in his managerial stint with the Marlins but not because Jennings is inherently a bad manager. Jennings will fail because almost all managers eventually fail. With Jeffrey Loria as his owner, the odds of Jennings surviving as manager long term are almost zero. Loria has already dismissed eight full time managers in his twelve seasons owning the team. However, the experiment is an interesting one… and in the right situation, could lead a team to the World Championship.