So, everyone is seemingly outraged by the Miami Marlins naming their GM Dan Jennings as manager. My pal Ken Rosenthal is calling it "an insult," writing that it's "a slap at every person qualified to be a major-league manager." I've also seen the move described as "bizarre," "impetuous" and "terrible." It seems most think a guy who has spent years in the front office couldn't possibly have the ability to manage.
Has everyone lost their minds?
This is the same mindset that kept baseball in the dark ages for decades: thinking that the skills required for managing a baseball team are the exclusive territory of those who played Major League baseball, and that the game can't possibly be understood by someone who didn't.
I have no idea if the 54 year-old Jennings is going to be a good manager, but he has the same amount of managing experience that current big league skippers Mike Matheny, Robin Ventura, Walt Weiss, Brad Ausmus and Craig Counsell had when they were hired. All those guys played in the Majors. Jennings did not. I'm willing to acknowledge Jennings was not as good at hitting or throwing a baseball as any of those men, but fortunately for Jennings, those things are not requirements for his current position.
Managing a ballclub -- maximizing player performance and properly deploying resources and personnel -- is a completely different job than playing for a ballclub. It is certainly easier to envision a former player as a manager; he has been in a dugout, standing around in a uniform, interacting with the players. It's an easy -- and lazy -- connection. Being a good player has nothing to do with being a good manager. They require a distinctly different skill set.
The best managers in the game right now are Buck Showalter, Joe Maddon and Bruce Bochy. Only Bochy played in the Majors, and he never played more than 63 games in any single season. Would Bochy be a better manager had he caught like Johnny Bench or hit like Yogi Berra? Nope. He's an excellent manager because of his ability to use his players and lead them. Continuing that thought, I would prefer a managerial hire to also have been an excellent player, but I don't see how his level of fielding or hitting will affect his decision making. And his ability to make decisions is what is paramount in his new job, not his hand-eye coordination.
If anything, I would say the current habit of hiring former Major League players right off the field is more of a "slap at every person qualified to be a major-league manager." There is a huge talent pool outside of the Major League playing ranks rarely accessed. Throughout the Minor Leagues, college baseball,and front offices, there are sharp minds that have the ability to raise the level of managing MLB teams. It takes more visionand more work to find them. At some point, enough teams will realize this, and it will be unacceptable to have a manager constantly being outmaneuvered by the Showalter/Maddon/Bochy skipper.
There are good baseball minds out there, ready to process all the information required in the modern game. Ex-players can certainly be among them -- Clint Hurdle and Joe Girardi (both excellent managers) are examples -- but to think that "managing" is the exclusive domain of ex-Major League players, is to remain stuck in the muck of the pre-analytics age.