Here is a link to my Monday column about Bob Melvin. The full text runs below:
PHOENIX — The Bay Area has two superstar sports managers/coaches. Name them.
Bruce Bochy and Jim Harbaugh.
No argument allowed in either case. Bochy has won two World Series and will enter the Hall of Fame after he retires. And Harbaugh turned the 49ers from nothing into, once again, the most significant sports franchise in Northern California, perhaps in all of California.
There are two other superstars, if you consider college coaches — Tara VanDerveer and David Shaw. Fantastic at what they do. But let’s limit this discussion to the pros and ask one more question: Is there an emerging superstar among the other professional coaches and managers?
Dennis Allen? Please.
Mark Jackson? The man is promising but has not won anything. He exists in the “seems OK for now” category, currently a million miles from superstar. Recently, his owner, Joe Lacob, expressed impatience with him. Jackson did not handle that well, lashing out at the press — an irrelevant move if there ever was one. No superstar yet.
Then there is the amazing case of the A’s Bob Melvin, an emerging superstar, a unique man who has one foot in the door of the superstar room and could burst through this season — not that there actually is a superstar room.
He’s been A’s manager for two-plus seasons and his record in Oakland is 237-186. He’s won the American League West title two years running despite having only one potential superstar player, Yoenis Cespedes, and a revolving roster.
Unlike some other managers, he communicates with his players. This is known. He tells them clearly where they stand even if where they stand isn’t so hot. No room for doubt on the A’s. A grown-up corporation.
Let’s dig deeper. Before Melvin came to Oakland in June 2011, the A’s tried to sign some big and some fairly big free agents. They made good money offers, competitive offers. They sought Adrian Beltre twice, Lance Berkman and Marco Scutaro. In each case the players said “no thanks” to the A’s — some even took less money to go elsewhere.
The A’s had a crummy reputation. They were cheap. Bad ballpark. They didn’t win enough. Manager Bob Geren was no selling point.
Switch to this season. The A’s got Scott Kazmir in fierce competition with several clubs. Part of the reason is Melvin. His reputation has spread around the majors. It is a good reputation and has led to a feeling of envy among opposing players — the A’s have a special thing going. Because of Melvin they are beginning to attract top players despite not paying top dollar. They attract A’s kinds of players — team guys as opposed to prima donnas.
Players want to play for Melvin because of his honesty, his shrewdness, because he allows his players to have fun and be individuals — A.J. Griffin is considering letting his hair grow into a ponytail. Melvin says that’s cool with him as long as Griffin’s hair doesn’t extend to his belt. A workable compromise.
Can you imagine Billy Martin allowing a pitcher to wear a ponytail? Or Frank Robinson? Not on your life.
The A’s were lucky to get Melvin when they did. It was astonishing a man of his caliber was unemployed during the season in 2011. Melvin wanted the A’s job because, come on, he wanted a job. But also because he’s a Bay Area guy. He’s a regular at Warriors games and Cal games and you can see him eating at restaurants in Berkeley.
I spoke to A’s general manager Billy Beane about Melvin. Beane used to have a reputation for being hard with managers — think “Moneyball,” the book and movie — I never saw the movie. None of that applies with Melvin.
Cohn: Does Melvin remind you of other managers?
Beane: “Some parts of him. I played under Sparky Anderson, Davey Johnson and Tony La Russa. Bob has a skill set like Sparky. He has a way of making every player feel important. I was the 25th man on a 24-man roster, but Sparky found a way to talk to me every day. Bob is the same. He makes every player feel part of the group.
“The job of manager is different than it used to be. He is the face of the franchise, its daily face. We view the presidency through Jay Carney. Same with Bob. Every day, he sets the tone. It’s important to have a guy like him interact with the media. He forges respect with the press, players and the organization. That is a skill set a manager needs.”
Cohn: “How does Melvin interact with you and the front office?”
Beane: “That relationship also is different now. He has an analytical mind. He embraces the relationship between the manager and the front office. I consider him a friend — we’re from the same generation.”
Let’s stop this Q&A a moment for me to interject a personal note. Beane did not always work smoothly with former managers like Art Howe and Ken Macha. He will admit that. My perception is that Beane has grown, is easier to work with. When he took over and applied his Moneyball principles, that was all new and his method of working with a manager was all new. No one had done it before. And there was a period of learning and refining — a long period. Melvin enjoys the fruits of that learning. It is my impression Melvin has a ton of input into team decisions, although Beane is still hands on.
Cohn: “What if Melvin disagrees with you?”
Beane: (He laughed.) “There is trust on both sides. It’s not always Bob against me. Sometimes, it’s me and Bob against David Forst and Daniel Feinstein and Farham Zaidi. They choose sides against us. It’s not four against one by any means.”
Final impression: You get the picture of five young geniuses arguing baseball, arguing player moves, their voices getting louder, everyone having a voice, the whole group having a blast, Melvin right in the middle of it.
I want to describe Melvin in his daily pregame news conferences. He strides into the dugout — or down here over to a picnic table. His posture is straight as a telephone pole. He says hello politely, but he is not effusive. Businesslike. He answers honestly, but knows when to stop himself, never says too much, never gets himself in trouble like Mark Jackson. Melvin thinks in periods, not semicolons.
Here’s an example: I asked him about Josh Reddick, whose power numbers were poor last season after he hit 32 home runs in 2012. Reddick’s wrist needed surgery. Melvin analyzed Reddick dispassionately;
“We told him at the end come in healthy. He had the surgery, feels pain-free right now. It’s not something he’s going to have to worry about. We’ve seen how impactful he can be when he’s healthy.”
What does Melvin want from Reddick?
“Consistent performer all the way around. One of the reasons last year he was still in the lineup is because he helps out in so many ways. He’s a great defender. He runs the bases well. We’re expecting him to be — not to put too much pressure on himself because he did hit 30-some home runs two years ago — but he has high expectations for himself and being healthy is the first step in generating the type season we’ve seen before. I’m not saying, ‘You have to have these numbers.’ This is what we expect. Just go out there and perform every day.”
It was an interesting little speech. It gave Reddick hope. It didn’t specify a number of home runs but it made things clear — Reddick must produce. If not, the A’s always have a mob of guys ready to play any position. Craig Gentry is the fourth outfield. He easily could play right field instead of Reddick.
So, Melvin was being supportive but he also adhered to a standard. His players know that, expect it. They know he puts a period at the end of each sentence.