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Making the tough calls

Which managers run the tightest ships?

OK, so maybe the grumpy, Dick Williams-type manager no longer exists, replaced by the computer-savvy sabermetrician, the guy who will ``attaboy" players rather than kick them in the behind. With Lou Piniella out of the league for now, there may be no obvious kick-in-the-pants type of guy, but last week, we saw a screaming match between Toronto manager John Gibbons and pitcher Ted Lilly, which showed that there are still some feisty skippers who don't take any guff.

When a player goes after a manager the way Lilly did, you wonder whether it represents a weakness in the manager because the player felt he could do so publicly. We asked several people in the game who they believe are the toughest managers.

``Billy Martin was tough," said Jack McKeon, the longtime manager who is now a consultant with the Marlins. ``I don't think I was tough. I thought there were things I demanded, and if that's tough, so be it.

``I remember a time I had a guy who didn't run down to first base hard and I pulled him aside and said, `Do you need a day off? I see you're having trouble running. If you need a day off, I can give you one.' He told me, `Oh no, I just didn't think I had a chance to make it.' I told him again, `If you need a day off, I'll be happy to give you one.' The guy ran hard every time after that."

Tommy Lasorda, now a consultant with the Dodgers, believes a tough manager is one whose rules players abide by. You don't see a lot of chaos on the team.

``A good manager has some toughness in him in that his toughness brings respect for him," said Lasorda. ``Joe Torre has everyone's respect. Bobby Cox is one of the greatest. Tony La Russa, Jimmy Leyland. These guys run quiet teams because the players understand what's expected and nonsense won't be tolerated."

According to the past and present executives, players, and managers we asked, these were the toughest managers.

1. Jim Leyland, Detroit. The skinny, chain-smoking Marlboro man is someone you wouldn't think of crossing. Remember a young Barry Bonds in Pittsburgh? Quiet as can be. Leyland commands and demands respect. When his team was playing its worst, he lambasted it publicly, and the Tigers played well from that point on. Yet, as one of our contributors said, ``Nobody defends his players better."

2. Tony La Russa, St. Louis. ``You don't see many uprisings over there," said one player. ``It's probably not fun all of the time, but he demands the effort." La Russa demands preparation through scouting reports, video study, extra work before and after games. Better do it.

3. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox. A few people were torn about Guillen because there are times when he's the show, and that's a turnoff to baseball purists. He can be out of control and politically incorrect, but he's tough as nails, and you'd better play the game all-out and play it smart. He'll let you have it if you don't, and he doesn't care where or when he screams at you.

4. Frank Robinson, Washington. Don't care how old he is, Robinson is old school. Yes, he was seen crying when his catcher couldn't throw a runner out, but Robinson demands, demands, demands, and he's not afraid to say what he means. ``He's been so consistent throughout his life," said an NL executive. ``He was the toughest SOB you ever want to see as a player, and he's the same way as a manager. He's probably adjusted to today's player, understanding he has to offer encouragement."

5. Bobby Cox, Atlanta. ``Tough" doesn't come to mind with Cox as much as ``respect." But they might be one and the same. When Andruw Jones dogged it early in his career, Cox wasn't afraid to yank him from a game. Jones got the point. ``There's no phony, no nonsense with Bobby," said former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine. ``Players love playing for him because we know where he stands and what's required."

6. Joe Torre, Yankees. Having four rings buys you respect. When you walk into the Yankee clubhouse, you know whose team it is. ``He just exudes professionalism," said Alex Rodriguez. ``When he speaks, you listen. He's like E.F. Hutton." Said an AL special assignment scout, ``Behind closed doors, he's tough. The public never sees it."

7. Mike Scioscia, Angels. ``I can tell you firsthand about Mike," said Lasorda. ``He demands the game be played hard. He plays the game aggressively, and with that style, you need tough players. The players are a reflection of Mike, who was one of the toughest guys I ever managed."

8. Clint Hurdle, Colorado. ``A lot of people don't know about Hurdle because he's out in Colorado, but you do things his way over there," said an AL executive. ``He can get in your face. He has a firmness about his manner that really gets the players' attention. He's going to be a very good manager for a long time. He's got a little bit of Leyland in him."

9. Buck Showalter, Texas. ``Not all of his players like him because he can really get the red [expletive] at times," said a GM. ``He's demanding of players and his coaches. He's in a tough situation in Texas because he never has enough pitching and things eventually go downhill there fast, but he has the ability to motivate."

10. Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota. ``Old-school guy all the way," said a former manager. ``He's fiery and tough and players play hard for him because he's also a guy who protects his players like Leyland. He does a good job bringing along young players much like Tom Kelly did in Minnesota, but like a Scioscia, you know where you stand with him."

Damon goes to bat for Ramírez

The bond among the ``Idiots" is still strong.

Johnny Damon defended Manny Ramírez, who reportedly had a meltdown over a scorer's decision last week.

``I know if I didn't get a hit, I'd be upset," said Damon. ``You go into a game -- and I'm not sure what at-bat it was -- instead of being 1 for 1, you're saying, `Oh [expletive], I've got to get a hit now.' Instead of being 1 for 1 or 2 for 2, I'm 0 for 1 or 0 for 2.

``I had that earlier this year with Chicago where an outfielder dove for a ball and it was ruled an error. I said to myself, `I really have to turn it on now.' It's a mental thing. I know it sounds strange, but for a hitter you're up there battling all year for hits. One gets taken away, you get a little angry."

In regard to Ramírez specifically, Damon said, ``I think he's very misunderstood. I think he works his butt off. You follow him around and he gets to the field early, takes his infield before we all go out to stretch. He watches so much video. He does all of the things to make himself a better ballplayer.

``I don't think you see him going out to the outfield and embarrassing himself anymore. Every now and then he makes a bad play, but his throwing arm is accurate because he works at it. His hitting is the best I've seen because he works at it."

Ramírez will one day be one of the most unusual players inducted in Cooperstown: a great hitter, but with the reputation of not hustling.

``I'd rather him do that than hustle and blow out," Damon said. ``He's a delicate guy. Obviously you want to see guys hustle all the time, but you know what, if he's going to be a better player . . . If Manny's in the right frame of mind, he's one of the best ever. And that's the most important thing."

Outreach aims for inclusion

Though the Red Sox will always have the unfortunate historic distinction of being the last major league team to integrate, they are trying to lead a resurgence in increasing the number of African-American players in the big leagues.

Only 8.5 percent of major leaguers are African-American, down significantly from the 1970s, when they made up more than 20 percent of rosters. The appeal of football and basketball are cited as the biggest factors in the stark decline.

The Sox now sponsor an inner-city team in Chicago, in a four-team league also sponsored by the Dodgers, Angels, and Rangers.

``We're urging our scouts to be more involved and stay active in pursuing youngsters to play baseball," said Sox assistant scouting director Amiel Sawdaye. ``That's the focus and our goal.

``During our scouting and player development meeting in Las Vegas recently, we spoke about plans to increase youth minority participation. As an industry, we have to help these kids in the inner city by showing them how to play baseball and hopefully keep them out of trouble.

``It's not going to happen overnight, but if we can teach them that playing baseball is cool and we can get to these 11- and 12-year-olds and show them how fun baseball is, then we can accomplish quite a bit over the long haul."

Sawdaye also touted the Urban Youth Academy started by Major League Baseball in Compton, Calif., and run by former big-league catcher Darrell Miller, brother of former NBA star Reggie Miller.


What's next for the Sox?
We asked an American League general manager to gaze into his crystal ball and outline offseason scenarios for the Red Sox. ``I think they'll pursue some of the things they were trying to do at the deadline," said the GM. ``They'll try and deal for Andruw Jones, hoping he'll waive his 10-5 rights, if they can find a team to take Manny Ramírez, who would waive his 10-5 rights if he were traded to the Angels. This way, Jones would continue to protect [David] Ortiz in the order, give them the best center fielder in the game. They'll move Coco Crisp in one of their deals. They'll also see if the Astros are willing to deal Roy Oswalt again, and they'll try and talk Roger Clemens into one last year with them."

He got better
Depends on how you look at it, but Phillies righthander Jon Lieber picked the best/worst time to pitch his worst game, at the July 31 deadline when he allowed 13 hits and 9 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings vs. Florida. Teams like the Red Sox, who were scouting Lieber, backed off. The Yankees, in fact, insisted on Cory Lidle instead. Since that game, the 36-year-old Lieber has a 2.45 ERA in five starts, allowing 37 hits, 10 earned runs, and 4 walks, while striking out 23 in 36 2/3 innings.

Some blows to the Windy City
The White Sox have to be worried about two of their top pitchers from 2005: lefthander Mark Buehrle and righthander Jose Contreras, who since the All-Star break are 1-5, 7.15, and 2-6, 5.90 , respectively. After giving up five runs in 2 2/3 innings last night against the Twins, Contreras has allowed 19 runs in his last three starts. ``We've been inconsistent all year with our starting rotation, and every time we put Jose there, we expect a pretty good game," manager Ozzie Guillen said. ``The last couple games, he's been hit pretty [hard]. Everything about Jose is location." The White Sox also have to be concerned about Jim Thome's hamstring injury.

Play at the plate
The Indians aren't ready to give up on Victor Martinez as a No. 1 catcher, but they are feeling much more comfortable with former Sox farmhand Kelly Shoppach behind the dish. Martinez has seven errors, two more than he made all last season, and has thrown out 17 percent of base stealers (16 of 94). Shoppach has thrown out 42 percent (8 of 19), and we know manager Eric Wedge wants a good defensive catcher to handle his pitching staff.

The age gauge
Youngest team in the majors? The Florida Marlins, whose 25 players average 26.6 years of age. Rounding out the top five: Indians (27.03), Twins (27.93), Devil Rays (28.05), and Mariners (28.23). The five oldest? Mets (32.62), Yankees (32.11), Giants (32.10), Reds (31.52), and Red Sox (31.12). The Indians started the year at 30.43 years but lost almost three full years as a result of their transactions.

Advice was well-received
Yankees coach Tony Pena was raving the other day about the improvement catcher Jorge Posada has made defensively. Posada had been set in his ways for 10 seasons, but Pena told him he had a way to make him better. ``First of all," said Pena, ``Jorge had to place his complete trust in me, that what I was going to do with him would make him better. Secondly, it's not easy to break old habits. When you're taught something new, you have to work and work at it to where it's second nature to you, and Jorge did that." One of the things Pena did was adjust Posada's crouch, shifting the weight to the balls of his feet, which put him in a better position to throw.

Alumni bulletin
From Aug. 25, 2005, to Aug. 25, 2006, former Red Sox farmhand Freddy Sanchez led all major league players with a .344 batting average and 56 doubles. His 206 hits during that one-year span (159 games) led all National League players and ranked fifth among all players behind Ichiro Suzuki (223), Michael Young (221), Derek Jeter (211), and Miguel Tejada (210). Marlins baseball consultant Jack McKeon on another ex-Sox farmhand, Hanley Ramirez: ``Love him. Going to be quite a player. He's got over 40 stolen bases, hitting for a little power now. He makes his share of mistakes, which you expect. Just a kid you look forward to see developing over the years."

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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