By In Stuff

Baseball and Belichick

Here we go, two of my favorite topics in one story:

Topic 1. Why has Bill Belichick been SO successful?

Topic 2: What can baseball managers learn from Belichick to break out?

This was a lot of fun … it was especially fun to talk with Terry Francona about Belichick and to exchanges some thoughts with Bill James on Casey Stengel. It is FASCINATING the semi-direct line you can make between Stengel’s success and Belichick’s.

Anyway, here’s the link again. I am told that shortly there will be a landing page for all my baseball stories, and I’ll link that as soon as its up. There will also be a baseball-specific blog … lots of baseball stuff coming. And look for me on MLB

As a general update: I am told that shortly there will be a landing page for all my baseball stories, and I’ll link that as soon as its up. There will also be a baseball-specific blog … a bunch of MLB Network stuff .. lots of baseball stuff coming.

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56 Responses to Baseball and Belichick

  1. Crazy Diamond says:

    Here’s what every manager should learn from Bill Belichick: cheat, cheat, and cheat s’more! I mean, why not? The Baseball HOF rewards cheaters, anyway, so what’s stopping anybody?

    • Mark Daniel says:

      I don’t think that will work. What is it that you believe the Patriots do to cheat that helps them win?
      Let me see what they’ve been accused of so far:
      1) stealing signs – everybody already does it, Tony Dungy just confirmed this the other day. Oh yeah, and it’s not cheating. Tony Dungy, the most trusted and respected man in history, said so himself.
      2) deflating footballs – the science indicates they didn’t do this, all other evidence points to Goodell being either incompetent or biased in the investigation (probably both).
      3) using steroids – I’m sure the Patriots have been caught doing this a few times, but I also know loads and loads of other players have (including D’Qwell Jackson, and half the Seattle Seahawks)
      4) serving warm gatorade – I’m not sure I’d call this cheating. Bad hosting, maybe.
      5) stealing playbooks – I don’t think the Patriots have ever done this. You may find it hard to believe, but Tom Brady had absolutely nothing to do with the Brady Bunch.
      6) Putting listening devices in the locker room – Once again, this is a manifestation of other teams being paranoid. Plus, you can see what’s happening in the locker room just by going to Antonio Brown’s Facebook page.
      7) Interfering with game communications – this process is overseen by the NFL. Maybe the NFL and the Patriots are in cahoots!
      8) Other cheating ways that we haven’t even thought of! I admit it, you got me here.

    • Boy, never heard that one before. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

    • Doug says:

      Well, I mean, yes. It’s a good lesson. Baseball demonstrably does reward cheaters. It has for pretty much its entire existence. The same is probably true of every other major sport.

      • invitro says:

        “Baseball demonstrably does reward cheaters.” — Well, this is a strong statement. How did baseball reward cheaters in 2016? Demonstrate it. 🙂

        • Crazy Diamond says:

          I dunno about 2016, but Jhonny Peralta got himself a fat contract AFTER being caught with PEDs. Same with Nelson Cruz. And Melky Cabrera. Delvin Perez was drafted by the Cardinals in the 1st-round even after testing positive for PEDs.

          And even if you don’t count pre-testing guys like Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez, you still have to wonder why Manny Ramirez got HOF votes. I mean, Lou Whitaker – a presumably clean player clearly deserving of HOF honors – got fewer votes than a repeated-PED-offender in Manny, who also got more chances on the ballot than Sweet Lou, too.

          Generally speaking, cheaters in baseball (and football) do pretty well.

          • invitro says:

            Didn’t at least some of those guys get suspended? Suspension is kind of a funny way to reward a player.

          • Crazy Diamond says:

            So you’re saying that giving a player tens of millions of dollars is…NOT…a reward? I think the paychecks missed from the 50 games that most of those guys were suspended are probably just a little bit less than the $$$ they made in free-agency. Doncha think?

          • invitro says:

            Well… no, I don’t think the contract whichever player you’re talking about got was a reward for his PED use.

          • Gene says:

            You clearly are arguing that players punished for PEDs are to be expelled permanently from baseball. If that’s your position why not come right out with it instead of whining about the fact that some players have accepted their prescribed punishments and were then allowed to get on with their careers and be paid for it?

          • Crazy Diamond says:

            Gene: sit down in an easy chair, sip a glass of vino, and relax. Yes, I think PED users should be banned permanently. No suspensions, just permanent banishment as players, though I’d be open to letting former PED users become coaches. Mark McGwire seems to have cleaned up his ways and is a fine coach. Same with Glenallen Hill and many others. But permanent banishment from failed PED tests would send a message and prevent players from directly benefitting from PED use after being caught. No more Peraltas, Melkys, Cruzes, et al.

          • invitro says:

            I could go with a two-year suspension for a first offense. (I’m not sure about the suspension rules, if a player has to have several failed tests before he’s punished.)

  2. SDG says:

    Fascinating article, Joe.

    I’m a huge baseball history geek and I’ve always been fascinated by how the Yankees of that era just dominated (from arguably the weaker league) and won the Series almost every time, far more than random chance would indicate. And on paper, were his teams really that better than the Dodgers of that era. BBref shows the stats (al least of their starting lineup) to be comparable. The usual explanation given for why the Dodgers lost all the time is weaker pitching (not really, if you look at the regular season, at least not by that much) and no bench (definitely).

    So the explanation that Casey used his lineup better and wasn’t scared to make the unconventional choice (like ignoring the lefty-righty rule), unlike the very conventional Shotton and Dressen. For the record, this is what Mickey Mantle said about Casey.

    Although, if Casey was such a managing genius, why did he have a losing record for every team except the Yankees? He managed the 1960 Mets, for heaven’s sake. Where was his genius then?

    • Marc Schneider says:


      Just a couple of points. First, when the Yankees were really dominating (1949-1953), I’m not sure the AL was really weaker. Integration had just really started and while there were a lot more African-Americans players in the NL and, obviously, really good ones, I don’t know if it had gone far enough to make the NL substantially better than the AL. By the mid-fifties, I think it had changed and the Yankees were a lot more vulnerable in the World Series. Between 1955 and 1964, they were 4-5 in the World Series.

      • invitro says:

        I was going through a pile of my Dad’s old stuff last night, and found a 1954 Baseball Almanac, a hardcover book printed by Doubleday, 1st edition. It was neat to check out the photo of the Yankees, 100% white, with Mickey looking like a 12-year old kid, and the photo of the Dodgers with four blacks. I’m eager to read the “How to watch the catcher/shortstop/second baseman” articles that were written by current stars like Campanella and Rizzuto.

        • SDG says:

          I’m insanely jealous of you right now. It’s impossible to find old baseball almanacs.

          • invitro says:

            SDG, your comment made me wonder if I had a valuable book, but Amazon lists a bunch of these for as low as $1.79 used, in case you want one:

          • SDG says:

            Thanks invitro. Unfortunately I was confusing in my head the Baseball Almanac with the Baseball Register, which was published by the Sporting News. Old issues of the Register are available from Amazon and Abe Books but once you factor in shipping to Canada are a bit out of my price range.

            You have the Mutual Almanac, which was published in 1954 as a one-off. It was edited by Roger Kahn (who wrote Boys of Summer), so I assume it’s New York-heavy. Maybe I’ll get that one.

          • invitro says:

            I think it’s terrific so far, FWIW, but I’m very interested in seeing the world of baseball from a 1950’s perspective. Rizzuto’s description of a SS’s duties is good. About 2/3 is the lifetime stats of all 1953 players, but it does have complete minor league stats and a little detail on where the players were in their seasons missed due to war, and stats that led the league are marked, which I always want. There’s an interesting section which attempts to list the major parts of the Major League Agreement, and a filled-out 2-page survey that I guess all players got, for public relations, their hero, hobbies, that sort of thing. I could go on but that’s enough. 🙂 I want to get an old Sporting News Register, too — I’ve worn out my old NBA ones from so much reading.

    • Gene says:

      Are you actually claiming puzzlement over why Stengel didn’t win with the early Mets?

  3. Brent says:

    Football players, for the most part, are a more fungible asset than baseball players, so baseball managers do have to think more about winning tomorrow (and not alienating their players) more than football coaches do. Other than Tom Brady, Belichick has basically has had 52 replaceable players on his roster week in and week out. It is much easier to tell a “star” player that he isn’t going to play this week because the game plan best tailored to winning this week doesn’t involve him when you can just cut him or trade him to Cleveland with impunity if he becomes less enthused with you as his coach. Terry Collins, OTOH, was planning on seeing Harvey around as his ace (or one of his aces) for several years.

    • Brian says:

      I think Joes point is, you set an expectation with players that they won’t always start. That your top reliever might be asked to pitch middle relief. Some players will buy into it, some wont. You let go the ones who wont.

  4. Scott says:

    I liked the Stengel comparison, but the one that popped into my mind was Billy Martin. Martin seemed willing to try almost everything to win and employed many unique strategies, often developed out of paranoia from what the other team would do. Like Belichick he cycled through players quickly (in his case by getting fired). This points to turnover being one of the key aspects of the success of this model.

    An interesting side to this story is the difference between the superstars. Mantle might have been the most physically talented player in baseball history, but between his knees (outside of his control) and his partying (fully within it), he was a constant source of frustration for Stengel and may never have lived up to his promise. By contrast Brady is one of the hardest working and most coachable players on the Patriots.

    • invitro says:

      Yeah, Billy Martin is really known for his ability to keep a team at the top for a long period of time.

    • SDG says:

      Billy Martin has a losing record in the postseason, with one WS win. Billy Martin was famous for burning out his pitchers. Billy Martin was fired frequently because he didn’t sustain his successes on the field.

      He’s not Casey Stengel, he’s Dusty Baker with an anger management problem. Their management careers are actually pretty similar if you look at them. It’s strange they have such different reputations.

  5. Ed says:

    The head coach of a football team is important to his team’s success at a level that is exponentially greater than that of a baseball manager. I don’t think it’s even worth trying to make a comparison between the two. Baseball is far and away the team sport where the man in charge has the least effect on what’s happening in the game.

    Note that I’m not saying a manager has NO effect. Of course lineups and substitutions and pitching changes have an effect, along with the other strategic decisions they have to make here and there. They do matter. They just don’t matter NEARLY as much as football, basketball, or soccer coaches (I assume hockey falls into that category as well, but I don’t really follow hockey so I can’t say).

  6. MikeN says:

    What would happen if Bill Belichick traded jobs with Gregg Popovich?

    One thing I dispute Joe is where you say he wouldn’t do the moves the Falcons or Seahawks did. I have seen many regular season games where they went pass wacky when they should have just run out the clock and punted. Sometimes it worked and they got more first downs, and other times they punted and still got the win. It also happened in their Super Bowl losses.

    Against the Giants in the undefeated season, people focus on Helmet Catch, the near sack before it, the dropped interception by Asante or the Moss non-catch.
    However, before all that the Patriots had first and goal from the 7 with 2:45 left. Instead of 3 passes, runs by Lawrence Maroney would have forced the Giants to use some timeouts, and made the subsequent events even less likely.

    In the next Super Bowl against the Giants, they had almost the exact same time left as the Falcons 4:40, and first down at the 43, but only up 2. They had one run for a loss, then two incomplete passes. If they had run, then even with no first down(or long field goal), there would have been about 2:20 left on the clock. Giants needed 2:42 to score their winning touchdown, though they had one timeout left that they never used.

    Last year, the Pats elected to pass rather than run on a two point conversion, with no complaints.

    • MikeN says:

      Belichick gets a free pass for most anything. 4th and 2 had the stat guys celebrating.

      Patriots selected a player in the first round that most people had as a 3rd round pick at best. ESPN was very muted in its criticism, because it was Belichick and he had earned the right to do what he wanted. Turns out he was right because the pick was Logan Mankins.

  7. Scott says:

    Belichick has the advantage of having the league’s best QB for 15 years and counting.

    In baseball, this would be the equivalent of having peak Greg Maddux pitch every game for you. Quite an advantage.

    • Dave says:

      Decently good comparison. I think it would be more accurate to say Maddux pitched every *other* game. More, think about the run of making the playoff Atlanta had during his days. The Brady factor was one of two I was thinking. The other? New England gets to play in one of the most mediocre divisions in the NFL. (I’m a Buffalo fan.) Their record against their division rivals is the best in the NFL since 2001, at 77-22.
      Consider the Cleveland Indians in the mid and late 90s. Playing in a division with little competition, the front office was heralded over the decision they made to move fro the old AL East into the very mediocre AL Central.
      One of the things in common with both baseball and football is the unbalanced schedule. And yes, being a huge Indians fan, I’m hoping that factor results in Cleveland meeting that Chicago team they couldn’t finish off with a full starting rotation next October!

      • MikeN says:

        This was discussed here recently. That division is not terrible. Even if the Pats were 6-0 in the division every year, Jets and Dolphins would still be at 7-9, and Buffalo about 6.5-9.5. Not great, but not walkovers either. It’s about average. I’d guess it’s better than you would see in several other divisions.

      • KHAZAD says:

        The division is not that bad and is certainly not the reason for New England’s success. Yes NE is 70-20 against the division since 2002 (the year they went to their current alignment)for a .778 winning percentage. They are 115 -35 against everyone else for a .767 winning percentage. The minuscule difference in winning percentage can be explained away easily by having to play a first place schedule most years. They are just flat out that good.

    • invitro says:

      Was Brady considered the best QB in every one of those 15 years? Was he at his peak in all of those years? I guess those things would be pretty impressive. And I’m thinking having peak Maddux pitch every game would be more like having the best player at every defensive position, not just the best QB.

      • Dave says:

        While not the best, he has certainly been one of the best. I’d even go so far as to say with 5 of the 51 Super Bowl wins credited to him – he may even be one of the best ever.
        I’ll stick with Maddux pitching every other game, and the AL Central comparable competition.
        Maddux starting 81 games may equate to 60-65 wins every year and leaving it to the rest of the staff, defense, and offense to win 30 of the other 81 gets you into the playoffs (particularly if the competition consists of the Mets, Phillies, and Marlins of those years). And once you get into October? Maddox every other game would have likely given Atlanta more than 1 WS win.
        Brady starting every week is better than missing 4 weeks from a suspension or nearly a season due to injury. But even then, when you beat up on your main competition due to playing the Bills, Jets, and Dolphins for 1/3 of your schedule every year means you’re playing virtually every January. And absolutely, like this season, the “other” QB (Ryan) was considered the best QB over the entire season, but I’ll stake my $$$ on (Belichick and) Brady.
        Last point, I am so not a New England nor Pittsburgh fan. (Comes with the territory of being a Buffalo fan living in NW PA.) I was jokingly rooting for triple OT, both teams losing their QB and two more major players for the SB three weeks ago. 🙂 But I also will always bet on New England to outscore Pittsburgh every since I won that $20 bet with my Steeler fan brother back when “The Jaw” was their coach. Ah… the memories!

        • invitro says:

          Well, one thing that bugs me is when people make these wild claims that don’t really say anything except that the claimant doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. See, we can check how a team with Maddux (at his peak) pitching every game would do. Let’s use 1995 for Maddux’s peak. He had a 1.68 RA that year, and pitched 7.5 innings per start. So his team would give up about 1.68 + (1.25 / 9 * 4.63 runs/game) = 2.32 runs per game, where 1.25 is the average number of innings that the relievers would pitch, and 4.63 is the average runs scored per game in the 1995 NL. That’s 376 runs for a season. The average NL team scored 4.63*162 = 750 runs in 1995. Now use the Pythagorean estimate: his team would have a 750^1.8 / (376^1.8 + 750^1.8) = .776 winning percentage, a 126-36 expected record, and that’s for 15 consecutive seasons. I don’t know how to best estimate the number of WS won, but I’ll estimate that Maddux’s team would be expected to make 13 World Series, and win at least 10.

          So… since Scott is saying that a team with Brady would be expected to win 10 Super Bowls in his 15 seasons, what he’s really saying is that Belichick is a horrific coach to actually win only 5 SB’s in those seasons. Who knew?

          Now with Maddux pitching half the games, that’s giving up (376+750)/2 = 563 runs per game, which is at least not insane. The Pyth estimate says this team should go 101-51 for 15 straight years. Not all that far off what the Braves actually did.

          But even if Brady is the #1 QB ever, and I don’t know the NFL, but Peyton was pretty good, right? Was Dungy like pitching Christy Mathewson every single game, or something close to that? 🙂

  8. Crazy Diamond says:

    I’m curious to see how Belicheck does without Tom Brady over the long haul. He did okay with Matt Cassel for a year and with Garoppolo/Brissett for 4 games. But over the course of a few years? We’ll have to wait and see.

    • MikeN says:

      If they could keep Garoppolo somehow, they would be great for decades to come under Belichick and then Josh McDaniel.

    • KHAZAD says:

      Belichick is 54-63 in coaching in games that were not started by Tom Brady.

      • Crazy Diamond says:

        Does that include his stint with the Browns? If so, I mean cmon, Vince Lombardi in his prime couldn’t get the Browns to win much. That team is cursed. But if his 54-63 record is just the Patriots, that’s a bit disheartening for Pats fans.

        • KHAZAD says:

          Marty Schottenheimer was 44-27 with the Browns leaving just two years before Belichick arrived.
          Brian Billick won a Super Bowl with the Ravens – the same franchise as Belichick’s Browns – 5 years after he left.

          IF you want to parse it out he is 36-44 with the Browns and 18-19 with the Pats without Tom Brady.

        • KHAZAD says:

          For perspective, the Cleveland Browns went 44-34-1 in the five years before Belichick arrived, and the Ravens went 36-43-1 in the five years after Belichick left. They were basically a .500 team in the decade surrounding Belichick’s years, and made the playoffs 5 times in the ten years. Belichick made it once in five years.

          So Mentioning the Browns is not an excuse. The 18-19 record with Patriots also seems to point more towards the greatness of Brady than of Belichick.

  9. Pat says:

    Yeah, but… football ain’t baseball. I think George Carlin had something to say about it.
    I really don’t think it’s an accident that MLB clubs tend to hire clubhouse managers rather than tactical genius. (As a Red Sox fan, I had a lot of years seeing this from both sides in the Yankees rivalry under Torre and Francona. Neither was great tactically. Both are beloved by their teams and the teams’ fans.) Whether it’s the 162-game season, the less dynamic game, or whatever, you don’t seem to need a MacArthur in baseball. Maybe this is an unexploited Moneyball advantage. But so far it’s curious that the clubs don’t seem to think so.
    Years ago a friend proposed a thought experiment that I absolutely love and that I think demonstrates the point pretty well. Imagine the worst team in baseball coached by the best manager in baseball, playing a game against the AL All-Star team… coached by a fan. The All-Stars are going to win that game.
    Now imagine the worst team in the NFL (Browns—sorry, Joe) coached by Belichick, playing a game against the All-Pro team, coached by a fan. I don’t think that even with that talent, the fan could catch up to Belichick.

    • invitro says:

      “Whether it’s the 162-game season, the less dynamic game, or whatever, you don’t seem to need a MacArthur in baseball. Maybe this is an unexploited Moneyball advantage. But so far it’s curious that the clubs don’t seem to think so.” — It’s curious, but… I remember how after the World Series, there were reports about how Theo Epstein went down to the clubhouse during the rain delay to give Maddon instructions on how to pitch the rest of the game, and something about how he had instructed Maddon to use Lester. I may be misremembering something. But this was new to me; I didn’t know that GM’s were telling the manager how to use the pitchers. Maybe this is the new way of doing things… the manager doesn’t do strategy, the GM does, at least in the most important games. (I’d expect the decision of whether to play Heyward to come from Epstein, rather than Maddon, if this is the case.)

  10. birtelcom says:

    William Butler Yeats on distinguishing among the contributions coaches, managers and their players:
    “…O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
    Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
    O body swayed to music, O brightening glance
    How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

  11. Rodney Toady says:

    Hijack of topic: Mike Ilitch just died and the Tigers never came close to getting the championship he craved.

    NOW can we all agree, once and forever, that giving Miggy Cabrera a big contract extension really was unquestionably the dumb move it seemed to be right from the start?

    • invitro says:

      I don’t really keep up with salaries, so I have some questions before I can answer :). When did he get the big extension? And where does his salary rank among players? I see he’s getting $28M in 2017, then $30-32M from 2018-2023. Whew, that’s a lot of money. How many 5 WAR seasons does he have left? Any?

    • Crazy Diamond says:

      Well Illitch DID get close to a championship. (Remember the Tigers did make it to the WS twice recently – in 2006 + 2012 but obviously lost both times.) But that Miggy contract is going to be a backbreaker for a long time. The Tigers have to hope he ages well like Adrian Beltre or kinda-sorta ages okay like Albert Pujols. But you know, having Miggy get his 3000th hit and 500th HR in a Tigers uniform will be nice…

  12. I’m thrilled that you’re going to be writing even more about baseball.

    I’m always reminded when I see an article like this of the best manager I ever saw in the post-season: Tommy Lasorda (not to be confused with the worst tactical manager I have ever seen during the regular season: Tommy Lasorda). If you go back to 1988, he managed every post-season game as though his life depended on it. THAT is why the Dodgers won–and great pitching. But he wasn’t afraid to bring back Hershiser, to make weird moves. Each game was Game 7 to him, but not to Tony LaRussa or to Davey Johnson. And that explains a lot of the Dodgers’ success that year.

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