New Mariners manager Scott Servais has won the trust of his bosses and hitting coach Edgar Martinez. Can he earn the respect of his new players?
Scott Servais had one major task Monday, which was to convince skeptics (like me) that his lack of managerial, or even coaching, experience will not be a detriment.
On that front, the latest in a long line of new Mariners managers stressed his varied baseball background, his ability to connect with players, his energy, and his knack for inclusiveness to make a compelling argument.
But ultimately, it will be the Mariners players that Servais has to win over, and that won’t happen on a podium. He will have to show them, in real life, the charisma and ability to command a room that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said swayed him toward Servais during the interview process.
“The key is to get players to trust you,’’ Servais said. “It takes time to build trust, and it will take time here, too.”
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Servais will have to prove he’s not just an executive in uniform, a crony of the GM hand-picked to do his bidding.
“You’ll hear me say this often: You can’t fool the players,’’ Servais said. “They know. I was a player. I knew when they were telling me a bunch of crap, and when they were being transparent and letting me know what’s going on. That’s how I roll.”
Servais has a lot of good ideas and notions that make me optimistic he can rise above his lack of formal on-the-job training. He also is smart enough to realize that all his philosophies about team-building will be greatly aided and abetted by having talent, the absence of which has been the main failing of his recent predecessors.
“Good bullpens make young managers look good,’’ Servais joked. “You run those guys one after another and they’re throwing 95 (miles per hour), you look good. No kidding. If I had a wish list, that’s where I’d like to see us load up.”
Servais is part of a recent baseball trend toward hiring former players without experience as major-league managers. Though most people point to the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mike Matheny as the shining example, Dipoto cited John Farrell as perhaps the closest comparison to Servais — a longtime major-league pitcher (Servais was a catcher) who went into front-office work for years before returning to the dugout as a pitching coach, then manager. Farrell won a World Series title with the Boston Red Sox in his third season on the bench.
Dipoto points out that Servais put on the uniform as part of his duties as director of player development for the Texas Rangers and assistant GM for the Los Angeles Angels. He even managed a few games in Class AAA each year as part of the Angels’ policy of giving minor-league skippers four days off a season to recharge.
But that’s a far cry from actually being in the trenches on a day-to-day basis with a team. Servais hasn’t done that since his playing career ended in 2001. All the philosophies he has honed over the years will remain theoretical until he puts them into practice.
Oh, and rest assured, Servais has strong philosophies and beliefs, which is a good thing. The last thing the Mariners need is a milquetoast manager feeling his way toward a style that works. But Servais will have to exude both confidence and competence to get players to buy in. I find it encouraging that he won over Edgar Martinez, retained by Servais as hitting coach, during an intense one-hour sit-down last Friday.
Said Martinez: “He made a great impression. It’s easy to communicate with him. He likes his staff to make suggestions, and is very open to ideas and very positive. That’s who he is. He shows you who he is instantly. That is good, very good.”
Here’s what Servais is: The product of a tiny town in Wisconsin (Coon Valley, population 765) who says his parents instilled a blue-collar work ethic in him, and his uncles — Mark, a longtime scout now with the Chicago Cubs, and Ed, head baseball coach at Creighton University — helped hone his baseball talents.
Being, in his words, “a shareholder for the Green Bay Packers” came naturally. “I’m not going to lie — you guys (the Seahawks) ripped my heart out last year,’’ he laughed.
Along that line, Servais says he looks at himself as a football coach in a baseball uniform, because football coaches are the most prepared and detailed. Dipoto said he has never been around anyone in his career who embraced practice as thoroughly as Servais, who compares controlling the line of scrimmage in football to owning the strike zone in baseball.
That eternal battle between batter and pitcher is where games are won and lost, Servais is convinced. He’s a believer in, but not a slave to, analytics.
“It’s the way the game’s going,’’ he said. “If you try to fight it, you’re going to end up losing. I’m not the guy who comes up with the formulas and spits out numbers. But what I do know is if something is showing me we have a deficiency in a certain area, my job is, how are we going to fix it? How can we attack that deficiency and get it better?”
As such, Servais calls himself “a why coach” — as in, why is that happening? He believes the Mariners’ biggest need, conceptually, is to improve their on-base percentage (“you can’t hit a home run every night.”). He calls himself “a big believer in young players” and feels he has the ability to nurture their transition to the majors. He insists he’s not afraid to tell Dipoto, a longtime friend and former teammate with the Colorado Rockies, when he doesn’t think his ideas are good.
I love all of that. Now let’s see how it translates from mottos to managing.