By In Stuff

Young Managers and Old Fans

There are, in life, these big moments when the curtain is pulled back and you understand, with unsettling clarity, that you are getting old. Thursday, for instance, I got bifocals. Well, I didn’t get them yet. My optometrist ordered them. He said, “It’s time,” and ordered them … you know, without throwing me a bachelor party or anything. The bifocals will arrive in two weeks. This means I basically have two weeks of youth left. Maybe I’ll buy a convertible or play Sega hockey or go climb a tree or something because when those bifocals come, let’s be honest, the dream of staying young forever ends pretty dramatically.

Of course, I’ll actually spend my last two weeks of relative youth squinting at menus and holding the phone so close to my face when reading, people will assume I’m taking pictures of the wall.



Well, bifocals, you know, that’s a BIG getting old moment. Turning an age with a 0 at the end of it — 30, 40, 50, 60 — those are big getting old moments. Finding yourself talking to people who seem to be in your age bracket but don’t remember the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding or weren’t born when the Kansas City Royals were good or the show “Benson,”, yes, that can be a big getting old moment too.

But you find — and this is surprising, I think — that mostly getting old creeps up on you subtly. You don’t notice it much. You just wander along, and then one day show up at a friend’s house, and some teenage boy or girl walk over to say hello and you go, “Hello, who are you,” and they tell you they are the kid you held when visiting that same friend in the hospital. 

The Colorado Rockies hired Walt Weiss to be their manager. And, for some reason, something in my mind kind of clicked when that happened. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. I don’t have any particular connection to Walt Weiss. I watched him play. I admired his defense. I grimaced at his offense. I admired his tenacity. That’s all. But then, I noticed something. See if you notice it too — here are the eight managers hired since the end of the 2011 season in reverse order:

Walt Weiss, Rockies

Mike Redmond, Marlins

Bo Porter, Astros

John Farrell, Red Sox

Terry Francona, Indians

Dale Sveum, Cubs

Mike Matheny, Cardinals

Robin Ventura, White Sox 

Do you see it? Well, that’s a trick question, it’s not really for you to see. What these eight have in common is simply this: I watched all of them play baseball. I’m not talking about seeing them once or twice when I was a kid. I mean, I saw their whole careers. In the case of Bo Porter, that’s a relatively small career, but still: I saw them all. I know how Mike Matheny blocked the plate. I can imitate Terry Francona’s left-handed batting stance (he stood straight up). It’s a hard thing to describe but to me Walt Weiss is not the new manager of the Rockies, he’s the old shortstop of the Oakland A’s. John Farrell is not the manager recently traded from Toronto to Boston. He’s the bright 24-year-old prospect the Cleveland Indians called up the year they were picked as the best team in baseball by Sports Illustrated.*

*That team, famously, lost 100 games, and I every now and again I go back to their Baseball Reference page and just gaze with jaw-dropped wonder at the horror that was the pitching staff. That staff featured TWO knuckleballers (48-year-old Phil Niekro and 29-year-old Tom Candiotti), two Hall of Famers (Niekro and 42-year-old Steve Carlton) two former Top 10 picks (Darrell Akefields and Greg Swindell), a former ERA champion (Sammy Stewart … that’s a long story),  and a 30-year-old rookie who would go on to become one of my favorite all-time players (Doug Jones, who would save 303 games in his odd and inspiring career). It’s hard to imagine how ANYONE could have picked that team to win anything. It’s even harder to imagine why we all fell for it so hard. Hope, I guess.

When I was a kid, managers were managers. Period. It isn’t just that I was unaware of Bill Virdon’s playing record … or Wes Westrum’s … or Billy Martin’s … it is that they did not exist for me except as big league managers. Even managers who I vaguely understood to once be  great players, like Bob Lemon or Frank Robinson, lost their entire past after they became managers, like some kind of Bourne identity. You know how it is hard to imagine your parents being young. That’s how it was for me and managers. They had no previous life. They were born prematurely gray, like Sparky Anderson. They were ancient and palled around with Sinatra, like Tommy Lasorda. They were born in the dugout with a lineup card in their hands and scowls on their faces, like Earl Weaver.

And now … well, these guys aren’t MANAGERS as I understand them. No. They are players. They are players I watched a lot. They are not old! How could they be old? Looking back on it now, I think this first occurred to me when the White Sox hired Robin Ventura. Sure there had been other managers I had watched play, but I remember watching Robin Ventura play in the College World Series. It wasn’t so long ago. He was at Oklahoma State, and he had that ridiculously long hitting streak, remember? Fifty-seven games? And he was a really good player for the White Sox. Even after he had started to decline, he cracked a bunch of home runs for the Yankees, when was that, two or three years ago? Robin Ventura, manager? Heck, the guy just retired didn’t he? Couldn’t he be a player-manager?

Then, I look up and realize Ventura was in the College World Series TWENTY-FIVE years ago. He played for the Yankees a decade ago. He has been retired since 2004. He’s old. And he’s six months younger than I am.

Mike Matheny got hired, and he’s three years younger than I am, and he really seemed to retire about two weeks ago (it was actually more than six years go). Then there was Dale Sveum. Ah. Dale Sveum. For the rest of my life, Dale Sveum will mean 1987 to me. If you are younger than 40, this will make no sense at all to you — it might not make sense to you even if you are older than I am. When you get older, there are certain moments or movies or songs — especially songs — that will place you back in a year. These are usually terrible songs, by the way. I have written before of my hostility toward the Eddy Grant song “Electric Avenue,”  Man, do I loathe that song. And yet, when I hear the song, it’s 1983 again (editor’s note: Originally had 1982 here … mixed up years. Good catch by several brilliant readers). I’m at the neighborhood pool. I’m 16. That song was inescapable then, and it seeped into my memory sensors, and it’s there to stay. I can give you a song for every year from 1982 (when I was 15) to 1986 (when I was 19) that, no matter my aversion to it, will transport me to that year:

1982: I Love Rock ‘N Roll, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts 

1983: Electric Avenue, Eddy Grant and Maniac, Michael Sembello

1984: Sister Christian, Night Ranger and Against All Odds, Phil Collins

1985: I Feel For You, Chaka Khan

1986: West End Girls, Pet Shop Boys*

1987: Keep Your Hands to Yourself, the Georgia Satellites

*Technically, this isn’t really true. I like “West End Girls,” and I WANT that to be the 1986 song. Unfortunately, a plague called Mr. Mister descended upon the earth in 1986, oppressing us with BOTH “Broken Wings,” which is the worst song ever recorded, and “Kyrie” which is the worst song ever recorded. Many scholars believe that William Shakespeare wrote Macbeth and King Lear the same year, an extraordinary achievement. But as much joy and sorrow and wisdom and emotion as those plays brought into the world over the last 400-plus years, these plays did not come close to countering the damage done by Mr. Mister in 1986.

So it is with Dale Sveum. You might recall that the late 1970s and most of the 1980s was a powerless era in baseball. Home runs were rare delicacies. From 1980 to 1986, six players hit 40 or more homers. That’s TOTAL. Six players — heck six players hit 40-plus homers in 2012, and that supposedly was a DOWN year for homers.* Forty homer seasons were so infrequent that, even now, I can name the six players right off the top of my head: Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, Tony Armas, Jesse Barfield, Ben Oglivie and Darrell Evans. Only one of those players — Schmidt in 1980 — managed to hit 45 homers. No one hit 50, of course.

*Ready to have your mind blown? In 1996, 17 players hit 40-plus homers. 

Then came 1987 … and suddenly baseballs were just flying out of the park. It was wild. It was nonsensical. It was fantastic. I was a kid working stats for The Charlotte Observer then, and I remember how my friend, classic sportswriter Stan Olson, came up with this idea for a weekly chart that would show how many players were on pace to hit a lot of home runs. At one point it had like 30 or 35 players on it, at least in my memory. I’ve been racking my brain trying to remember what he called the chart. I think it had the word “boppers” in it. Stan has always liked the word “boppers.”

In any case, the pace did slow down eventually … but it still was a home run year unlike any in memory. Four players hit 40-plus homers. Twenty-eight players hit 30 or more. Compare that to 1986, when one player hit 40 and 12 players hit 30, and you can begin to see how revolutionary it was for us. That was just a crazy summer. Among those who set their career high in homers:


Andre Dawson, 49 (next best: 32)


George Bell, 47 (next best: 31)

Dale Sveum 25 (next best: 9)


Larry Sheets, 31 (next best: 18)


Wally Joyner, 34 (next best: 22)

Brook Jacoby, 32 (next best: 20)


Keith Moreland 27 (next best: 16)


Juan Samuel 28 (next best: 19)

Ivan Calderon 28 (next best: 19)

It was Dale Sveum who defined that year for me. He hit 25 homers that year. That doesn’t sound like anything special now, but you have to realize — even many great hitters would not hit 25 home runs in those years. Rod Carew never came close to 25 homers, Brooks Robinson and Robin Yount only did it once in their Hall of Fame careers, George Brett twice, even a slugger like Willie Stargell had many years when he hit 25 or fewer homers. Yes, 25 was a lot of homers, it qualified you as a full-fledged slugger, and I had never heard of Dale Sveum, none of us had ever heard of Dale Sveum. I remember seeing him on that boppers chart — this after Sveum hit three homers in a game — and it boggled the mind. Who was this guy? Where did he come from? Why was he hitting all these homers.

Of course, after 1987, he never did hit all those homers. So, for me, he was frozen in 1987. Now that guy is a manager? Was 1987 really so long ago?

Walt Weiss was the one who broke all this into focus. I remember when Walt Weiss was the first pick in the amateur draft. I remember him beating out Bryan Harvey for Rookie of the Year — this meant something to me because Harvey had attended my school, UNC Charlotte. I remember that he was from a town called Tuxedo, and I remember how smooth he seemed at shortstop when he played for Oakland, and I remember that he really couldn’t hit (his career high in OPS+ was 94, and that was as a part-time player). I remember him kicking around from team to team — Florida, Colorado, Atlanta — and there was something sturdy about the guy, something resilient, he had not become a superstar like so many had predicted, but he kept contributing. He even made his first All-Star Team at age 34 for the Braves. It seemed like he would play forever; there are certain players like that, players who just keep on going. You forget about them for a while, then notice them on a team like the Braves or Brewers or A’s and you feel comforted. Mark Kotsay is kind of like that. Mark DeRosa is kind of like that. Walt Weiss was kind of like that.

And now … manager? It doesn’t seem right. If you had told me the Rockies SIGNED Walt Weiss as a minor league free agent or something, that would have made more sense to me. That’s because I’m old and time gets away when you’re getting older. Walt Weiss hasn’t played big league baseball since 2000. Time slips away, Walt Weiss is a lot older, which means I’m a lot older, which I guess is the whole point. In fact, I happen to have a Walt Weiss baseball card right here, so I can tell you exactly how old he is. Well, not now. I’ll be able to tell you in two weeks, you know, when the bifocals arrive.

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57 Responses to Young Managers and Old Fans

  1. That Georgia Satellites song still makes me shudder

  2. Leon Chen says:

    Well if it makes you feel better Walt Weiss is three years older than you…

  3. Frank-o says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. “Kyrie” was Nate McLouth’s walk-up song this season. True story.

  5. Frank M. says:

    As a native New Englander, 1987 always brings to mind Wade Boggs, who out of nowhere hit 24 HRs (previous high: 8, subsequent best: 11). To this day Boggs’ season sticks out in my mind, moreso even than Brady Anderson’s bizarre 50 HR 1996 campaign. I think 1987 introduced the word “anomaly” to my vocabulary. As always, great stuff Joe.

  6. Jamie says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Posolutely says:

    For those of us from Wisconsin (or other Brewers fans) Dale Sveum is stuck in 1987 for one reason, and one reason only: Easter Sunday.

  8. dustin_d says:

    As a Blue Jays fan growing up in the late 80s/early 90s, I HATED the A’s, but always liked Walt Weiss for some reason. I now think it was due to (in some subliminal way) Walt Weiss’ 1991 Topps card. The greatest baseball card of my youth.

  9. Mark Daniel says:

    Joe, you need to talk to an old guy. I still get to talk to my father in law, who is 76 and originally from NYC. He still asks me things like, “Did you ever see a game the Polo Grounds?”
    Or, “Did you ever see Gil Hodges play?”

    Stop hanging around with young people, Joe!

  10. wizscape says:

    I can also add Bud Black and Clint Hurdle to that.

  11. I have the exact same reaction to the name Dale Sveum: 25 HR, 90+ RBI. 1987.

  12. Josh says:

    Wasn’t 1987 also the Year of the Balk? Because that was awesome.

  13. Alan says:

    You really are getting old if your song references take you to the wrong year. If you were sitting by the pool while listening to “Electric Avenue,” unless you were in Florida, it wasn’t 1982, it was 1983. “Electric Avenue” peaked on the U.S. charts July 10, 1983.
    And I only instintively knew to look this up because “Electric Avenue” takes me back to summer 1983 and daily radio request countdowns that also included “Every Breath You Take” and “Flashdance (What a Feeling).”

    • spencersteel says:

      Thanks for confirming, Alan. I recall horrible “Electric Avenue” wafting through the halls of my junior high in late spring ’83, which was my last year there as I’d be starting high school that fall. “Every Breath You Take” came along and wiped that – and just about every other song – out for just about the length of the summer.

      For ’82 I think it was “Eye of the Tiger” which defined that summer for me.

    • mickey says:

      Joe often writes with authority about things he only sort of remembers, and he doesn’t do a fact-check because it’s just a blog, so the specific facts are inaccurate more than they should be for a (former) newspaper reporter.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Every Breath You Take was played every hour at the store I worked at…. for months. I loathe that song.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Linden27 says:

    When you wrote about managers being old and not having a life other than being managers it brought back this memory. As a kid watching baseball on Saturday afternoons (NBC Game of the Week) Walter Alston seemed ancient. It also seemed to me that he just sat back with his legs crossed and watched the game. True or not, that’s my memory and it’s burned there forever.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I would say true. Walt Alston never showed any emotion and was really old right before he finally retired. He signed only one year contacts his entire career and never even wanted a multi year deal. Now that’s an ancient concept.

  16. Richie says:

    I turned 40 this year. I’ve really begun to feel old over the past ~5 years. Part of that is because I recently got married, and my stepson recently graduated from high school (ouch).

    But the thing that most made me feel old is when I was in my late 30’s and realizing that I knew my parents WHEN THEY WERE IN THEIR LATE 30’s. And it seems like just yesterday they were that age. And now they are 65, and retired. So it feels like I’m going to be 65 tomorrow.

  17. MNMsJrny says:

    Growing up, my father used to tell me “you know you’re getting old when baseball players and cops start looking too young.” About 2-3 years ago I was at a Giants game, having accepted several years before that baseball players were looking too young, when a cop started walking up the stairs towards me. He looked about 12. My first thought — “I hate it when Dad’s right!”

  18. KHAZAD says:

    Joe, Jamie Moyer is the only thing standing between you and being older than any player in any major sport (No, Golf does NOT count)

    That is when you are truly old. I am right there with you. I paid WAY to much attention to Moyer last year.

  19. I’ve just gone through the part where people start calling you “sir”, wooow totally weird man!

  20. Gary says:

    It’s been happening to me for a long time. I remember when Bobby Cox was a rookie for the Yankees in 1968. It’s when those people retire from managing that you start feeling really old. I believe Davey Johnson is the only current manager who had a rookie season before my memory. Thanks for depressing me about my age.

  21. daveyhead says:

    At 40, the eye doc told me I needed glasses. “You’re getting to that age,” he said. Six months later, i still can’t see and I go back and he tells me “You need bifocals,” and I said “What’s next, a dog?”

  22. I was born in 1987. My dad certainly remembers that. He also shudders at the mention of that season, like every other longtime Blue Jays fan. The Jays should have been the best team in the AL that season. All they had to do was win 1 of 7 games in the last week and they would get their second AL East title in 3 years, and second in team history. George Bell was the AL MVP, still the only Blue Jay to ever win the award.

    Then Tony Fernandez broke his arm in a terrible collision at second base, forcing the Jays to play Nelson Liriano (!). Then the Jays got swept in Milwaukee, while Detroit won. Then the Jays went into Tiger Stadium, when the Jays-Tigers rivalry was bitter and intense and full of hate, and got swept by the Tigers. Jimmy Key pitched a masterful game 162, but he gave up a wind-carried home run to Larry bleeping Herndon and former Jays hero Doyle Alexander threw a shutout to give the Tigers the division. 1992 and 1993 were sweet, but in Toronto nobody has ever gotten over 1987. Even Pat Gillick is still bitter about it.

    • David says:

      Detroit fan here. Thanks for the memory! Wasn’t it Frank Tanana pitching, not Doyle Alexander? In any case that ending was so amazing, it’s too bad it didn’t happen in New York or Los Angeles so people could actually talk about it to the degree it deserves.

      Back to the topic, my Exhibit A is Kirk Gibson.

      A manager? My God, you never saw a more unmanageable creature than the rookie Gibson, 230 pounds of heedless brawn. I remember him scoring from first on a single while everyone was watching a play at the plate. The runner slid in safely… the ump was poised over the plate as he motioned “safe”…and Gibson, who had run through every sign from the Tigers coaching staff, literally made the ump disappear as he came home standing up. One second the ump was there and the next he was completely out of the frame, rolling toward the on-deck circle.

      And now he’s a “grizzled manager.” I’m old, man, old.

  23. Apologies, Manny Lee replaced Tony Fernandez.

  24. Kevin Walsh says:

    Darn…every reference you made in this article, I remember! That means I am getting old!

  25. kevinglew says:

    Kevin Walsh, I feel exactly the same way. Plus, Joe has me humming Sister Christian.

    • Rob Smith says:

      God, I heard that Sister Christina song yesterday on the Classic Rock station. They played Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin, then followed it up with Sister Christian. There oughta be a law!!!

  26. Jeff Bunnell says:

    In 1987, I had a 20 game plan with the Oakland A’s. Reggie had just come back for his last year, and I was going to re-live my youth (although I was only 20 on Opening Day).

    Reggie hit a HR Opening Night, but not much after. It was Mark McGwire who led the “Home Run Barrage of 1987”.

    On July 12th, the A’s were playing at home against (Joe’s fav) Dale Sveum & the Brewers. McGwire had 36HR by this point and was already being crowned the ROY by many.

    In the 9th inning McGwire reached base and was replaced with a pinch runner, Walt Weiss, who was making his MLB debut.

    No sooner had they made the announcement when this guy behind me yelled at the top of his lungs “Rookie of the Year 1988!”.

    That got a chuckle from a few, as Canseco had been ROY in ’86, and it seemed that McGwire would get it as well.

    Right after that though, Weiss was caught stealing 2nd. The guy then yells out “I guess not…”

    Weiss DID go on to win ROY in 1988 which is probably why I remember that story so well.

  27. Get progressive lenses. Then get a little older and you won’t remember that your progressive lenses have a bifocal component. You will think you still have 25-year-old eyes.

  28. big red says:

    As usual, an excellent article, very evocative.

  29. Mike says:

    1987 was a ton of fun. Some of the home run totals just seemed to come out of nowhere. Larry Sheets (mentioned by Joe) is the one I always think of. But Sveum and Ivan Calderon are also great examples.

    But, for me, the best example of the craziness of the ’87 HRs is the total GIVEN UP by Ken Dixon of the O’s: 31 HRs . . . in 105 innings!!!

    I’m a Mets fan, so I had no stake in his season. But by ’87 I was a Tuesday/Wednesday USA Today sports section junkie (pre-internet sports geek reference for the whippersnappers), and I’d wait every week to see how many more dongs poor Ken had yielded.

    He rarely disappointed.

  30. Mark says:

    For once I must agree with Mr. Posnanski’s music tastes; Mr. Mister and those songs were ATROCIOUS. If they could somehow be banished from out collective memory, everyone’s cultural IQ would go up at least five points.

  31. Electric Avenue, boy do I hate that song. The Mr. Mister stuff is brutal, too.

    I had the same reaction as you, Joe, when I saw Walt Weiss had been hired as Rockies’ manager, and I am only 42. I saw Weiss’ entire career. I remember when he won Rookie of the Year particularly well because I was a freshman at Cal in 1988, so he won it playing right down the street. I remember thinking it must have been a thin year for rookies, and the A’s broadcasters calling him “Walter.”

  32. ethegolfman says:

    For me it’s Wally Joyner (as long as you’re bringing up 1987). Angels fans were certain they had a future star but JOyner ended up more in the good category than great and while it doesn’t seem that long ago, he’s now been retired for 11 years.

    Don’t know if you ever read it Joe but Josh wilker of Cardboard Gods did a stellar piece in the same vein on Tom Hilgendorf that has always stuck with me:

  33. Mark says:

    hey joe —

    I got bifocals when I was 9… but I don’t think that’s why my sister says I’ve been a middle-aged man since I was 9.

    I resisted that label well into my 40s, till finally once when I said I wasn’t middle-aged, my wife said, “How old do you think you’re gonna get?”

    And I did hit one of those infamous ‘0’ birthdays this year… as well as the rather frightening ‘half-century’.

  34. Keatang says:

    Of course, these kids today have some idea who Mister Mister is, since they were prominently featured in the huge hit “Soul Sister”…

  35. Here’s a weird thing, the name Robin Yount immediately triggered an image of his baseball card… and a smell. It was a musty smell of cards left in boxes a little too long, and all of that lingering in my closet. Or something. It was comforting in the way that childhood memories are comforting. The sensory knowledge that you have existed for a long time.

  36. Joe Girardi, Walt Weiss, and Dale Sveum?

    Something about that Colorado air in the mid-90’s…

  37. Zack Ryle says:


    I am not quite your age (I am a 24 year old graduate student), but I too have felt this shift to a younger age of leaders. As I read your post, I couldn’t help but wonder if the relationship with the fans is partly to blame for this phenomenon of younger managers. With social media becoming an ever growing part of our daily lives, so too is the need for fans to feel that they should be able to connect with their teams, players and managers.

    So I get back to my original question, is today’s need for constant communication with those in charge, via channels like social media, cause teams to higher younger managers. I don’t believe I will see the day when a Jim Leyland, Dusty Baker, Bill Belichick or Phil Jackson type of coach will use social media to reach out to his fans. However, younger coaches, like WKU’s Willie Taggart, are expanding their reach to Twitter. Now I don’t want to get into the debate of whether this helps recruitment, but solely want to take a stand that I believe a well connected coach to his fans (along with winning) helps a fan base connect greater with their team (which normally means more money spent).

    I believe that many owners, general managers and athletic directors have begun to see the benefits of younger managers being able to connect with not only their players, but also with the community. I believe it will be very interesting to see if this trend, like you stated in your post, will continue and how much my theory on public and media relations being a factor in the hiring process will come to play out.

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