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As a follow-up to yesterday’s blog, we thought we’d put the “pitchers don’t make good managers” cliché further to shame.

If you really think about it, you’re sure to find that the only reason for the “pitchers don’t make good managers” line to have any basis in fact is one of opportunity. Like say, if there have been 10 pitchers to become managers, and six or seven of them failed to some degree, then I suppose you have a majority. I’m too lazy to research the entire history of baseball with the hope of tracking down every skipper who started as a pitcher, but I do have some other tidbits up my sleeve.

First, like I said yesterday, pitching is half the battle. Bud Black gets pitching, and he’s managing his staff like a veteran so far in 2007. There’s a skill to getting your pitchers through a long season, and Black knows what he’s doing. It helps that he has an amazing bullpen, but still. All the more reason to take every precaution.

Next, baseball is full of senseless expressions, and the “pitchers-don’t-make-good-managers” line is just the most in vogue. If someone can explain to me the “anything can happen in a short series” cliché, which was originally meant to explain weird World Series results, I’m all ears. I mean, if four out of seven is a short series, what’s a long series? And what the bleep does “intestinal fortitude” mean? Can intestines actually have fortitude?

Maybe the axiom about pitchers as managers has something to do with the commonly held belief that catchers often make fine skippers. They’re the only players on the field with the entire game in front of them, after all. And recent World Champion-winning managers include catchers Mike Scioscia, Bob Brenly and Joe Torre. Great managers all.

I promised tidbits, so here you go. In watching Black pace his pitchers carefully for the first three weeks, I couldn’t help thinking of the opposite end of the spectrum, in what was known as “Billy Ball.” The Billy in question was Billy Martin, who in 1980 took his Oakland Athletics starters to a place no manager had done in years, nor since.

Martin was simply in love with the complete game that year. Front-man Rick Langford completed 28 of 33 starts, with a record of 19-12 and an earned run average of 3.26, throwing 290 innings in the process. The 1980 Cy Young Award runner-up Mike Norris made 33 starts, completing 24 of them, posted a 22-9 mark, with a 2.53 in 284 innings pitched. Matt Keough, in the three-spot, started 32 games, with 20 CG, a record of 16-13, an ERA of 2.92, with 250 innings pitched.

None of the three ever came close to duplicating either the workload or the success, and all were essentially toast by the age of 30. As a rotation, Martin’s group completed 68 of 162 games. “Closer” Bob Lacey led the team with six saves, and was the only other pitcher on the team all season to pitch more than 45 innings.

By contrast, Steve Stone who won the AL Cy in 1980, completed nine games. Over in the NL, Steve Carlton picked up his third of four Cy Youngs, completing 13 games.

San Diego starting pitcher Greg Maddux, who’s won a handful of trophies himself, has completed as many as 10 games in a season, in 1994 and 1995. David Wells had nine in 2000 to set the standard for his career. Jake Peavy has five lifetime, Clay Hensley one and Chris Young zero, the same number the Padres have recorded thus far in  2007.

Thankfully, Martin’s infatuation with the complete game was a one-shot deal. While he did see to career highs for Mickey Lolich (29 CG in 1971), Fergie Jenkins (29 in ’73) and Catfish Hunter (30 in ’75), those were the only other three of his players to be so relied upon, over the course of an 18-year managerial career. And the 1980 A’s recorded the most CG of any Billy Martin team.

Black isn’t alone, of course. Smart skippers today know how to manage pitching staffs, hence the job title, but this idea that pitchers can’t manage is just plain lame. Billy Martin was a second baseman. What do you say we get a new expression going. “Second baseman can’t manage.”

— HOWARD COLE

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