PORT ST. LUCIE – See, the modern manager. It can be named at the end of January and feels completely overtaken. Gone are the days when a colossus like Jim Leyland sat in his office and flicked cigarette ash on your pants (I guess by mistake) and when the most powerful man in an organization offered an insight from the bar after the other.
Now managers don't smoke – Luis Rojas looks more like a marathon man than a Marlboro man. They don't invite reporters to their offices. They sit on podiums in press conference rooms in front of screens with company logos. They turn Rocky Road questions into vanilla answers and offer the most positive spin for the team. These are not absolute lies. More like Truth Lite. Disinfected, often pre-planned pabloum that lacks insight or has the potential to inspire.
That is the modern manager. The two head coaches are out of work because they are the manager's drinking partner and the keeper of the secrets. Nowadays, a coaching staff is a big league like one in the NFL and grows like an uncontrollable vine to include training people without a coaching title. For example, Mets analysts flew to Los Angeles three times in the off-season to work with Noah Syndergaard on the speed, spin rate, and axis of his pitches.
For Billy Martin, the spin rate was how often he could spin the ice in his whiskey glass.
That is the modern manager. Less powerful in a company than ever before. Less responsible for so much of his team's daily teaching. More than ever prepared to get bored when talking to reporters.
Still, I would argue that the major league manager has a harder job than ever. Because he needs to know so much more about so much more. He has to advance to his bosses and the clubhouse with the right mix of tact and rigor. He has to meet reporters more than ever – often twice a day from the start of spring training to the end of the year – and a sentence without a message has the social media speed and power that Sparky Anderson or Whitey Herzog ever had to think about.
The modern manager has more resources to make real-time game decisions than ever before. He needs to be in control of all of this and while the influences often come from above, the manager will bear the brunt of any strategy if it goes wrong.
Think of all the places where Mickey Callaway couldn't keep up with this modernity in his two years as Mets manager. For example, you can do Truth Lite, but there is an art that says Aaron Boone quickly found out that Callaway never did. It sounded as if he was trying to repeat others' words or appease others, and lacked authority and sincerity.
On Tuesday, the official reporting date for Mets Pitcher and Catcher, Rojas had a good result with Truth Lite. He felt much more comfortable in his biggest press conference since his inaugural press conference on January 24th in Citi Field. At that point, he was appointed Accidental Manager to replace Carlos Beltran. His time on the podium was fidgety and poorly prepared.
On Tuesday, Rojas played the role of the modern manager well in his blue "Mets Baseball" sweatshirt. He looked the questioner in the eye and when it became clear that he knew where the question would go in the corner of his mouth (a toothless smile), appeared. He replied unreservedly, undisputedly, humbly and avoided all controversy. The Mets couldn't ask for more, especially from a man who hadn't been on the job for three weeks.
Rojas said he was confident that lost time would be made up for because he was out of season as a Beltran coach and because his current coaching team filled so many gaps for him. This was the benefit of staying internally as a replacement for Beltran. And in franchise. The Mets are an independent organization and Rojas has been with them for 15 years.
Michael Conforto mentioned that Rojas "made it with us in the small leagues". He is highly valued by the many current Mets who have played for him on the ladder or when he was the coach for quality control in the big league last year.
But the relationship is different now. The modern manager is still the one who has to explain the bad news – another area where Callaway fails. So if Robinson Cano has to be removed from the rotation or if Steven Matz is eliminated from the rotation or Yoenis Cespedes from the idea of the normal player, the random manager has to be the one who delivers the news. Rojas is considered direct and honest. He insists that he has the tools and the stature to deal with it. Rojas called communication, trust and accountability the foundation of his philosophy.
Rojas emerged late and bizarre in this new job, but insists that there are no downsides. He is ready to be the Mets manager, the modern manager, the guy with less strength and more stress areas than ever.