Keeping Score

Why Baseball Managers Don’t Make The (Relative) Big Bucks

What's the easiest game to coach: basketball, football, or baseball? We vote for the national pastime.

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H. Rumph Jr. / AP

Philadelphia Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, right, argues with home plate umpire Bob Davidson during the eighth inning of the Phillies' baseball game against the Houston Astros on Tuesday, May 15, 2012, in Philadelphia. Manuel was ejected. The Phillies won 4-3.

Forbes released its list of the top-10 highest paid coaches in American sports on Tuesday. Bill Belichick tops the list; he makes $7.5 million per year. Eight of the 10 coaches are in the NFL. Two, Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics ($7 million) and Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs), are in the NBA.

No Major League baseball team coaches made the list.

The market got this one right. Of the “Big Three” major American sports, baseball is the easiest to coach. Throw a casual sports fan into an NFL locker room, and ask him to be a head coach: good luck game-planning. Football coaches are mini-CEOs who manage divisional heads (the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator, the quarterbacks coach, the special teams coach, etc.) and intimidating players. Plus, they have to speak a foreign language with terms like “Cover 2” that describe intricate offensive and defensive formations. They have to help write a playbook that, to an outsider, reads like a physics manual.

You have to play a very complicated game of chess, and sleep in the office while pulling all-nighters preparing for each of your 16 games. You usually have a say in off-season personnel decisions, like the draft. Without deep football expertise, you’d be lost.

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These coaches have the hardest jobs, and deserve the highest paychecks. The NFL is an economic engine; it makes sense that the richest coaches work in the richest league. Plus, when football coaches call plays in Green Bay in December, they have to spend three hours standing in dangerous cold.

Basketball gets much easier. I’d bet 90% of youth league coaches believe they could have won NBA championships with the teams that Phil Jackson coached: you know, the ones with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. They might not think they’d win 11, like Jackson did, but at least a handful. And they might be right.

Still, NBA coaches must design offense and defensive schemes that, if executed correctly, can outsmart opponents. They must convince millionaires to subsume their statistics and share the ball for the good of the team. That’s no easy task. For 82 games during the year, they are jumping up and down on the sidelines, yelling instructions at their teams, cursing the refs. They make countless split-second decisions in a fast-moving game. It’s an active job.

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Major League managers are much more passive. They sit, and sit, and sit in a dugout. They spit. Occasionally, they’ll mosey on out to the pitcher’s mound, or have a volcanic eruption at an umpire that gets them nowhere. If they need time to mull something over, a batter can step out of the box, or a pitcher can shuffle off the rubber. Essentially, baseball managers have infinite timeouts at their disposal.

Managers position fielders, but they don’t have to design any defensive, or offensive, sets. The pitcher throws, the batter swings, and everyone reacts from there. So much is out of the manager’s control. More than football and basketball, baseball involves an awful lot of luck. Thus, that casual fan is more likely to win in baseball.

I’m not saying managers have easy jobs: they have to stay sane through a 162-game schedule, motivate players and teach technical aspects of the game. With the rise of advanced statistics, the best managers must take a more intellectual approach to decision-making. They have to be prepared. They deserve handsome salaries.

Just not as handsome as the other guys.

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