TAMPA — The game slows as players drift away from the field to become coaches, managers, broadcasters, analysts, and fans. The disconnect makes them forget.
But it comes back quickly.
Back in the dugout, with a team to run, everything becomes clear again. The bounces come up swiftly. The fastballs whoosh by. The 3 1/2-hour games, the ones that seemed to drag in the booth, finish in a flash.
‘’You just have to remind yourself — at least I do as a broadcaster — that we’re a long way from the dirt,’’ said Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez, who managed Toronto in 2001 and 2002. ‘’That game is very fast when you’re standing in the dirt.’’
Martinez stood in the dirt, as a player first, as a broadcaster second, as a manager third. He was plucked from the booth in 2001 by the Blue Jays without coaching or managerial experience at any level. He was fired a season and a half later.
He is something of an anomaly. Most managers that come directly from a media job — the color guys and analysts — have spent time in the dugout, like Bobby Valentine or Buck Showalter. But some take the road from the press box into the dugout and, unlike Martinez, actually succeed.
Joe Girardi moved to broadcasting after his playing days, then became manager of the Florida Marlins in 2006. He was fired after one season (despite being National League Manager of the Year), returned to the booth, then was hired to manage the Yankees in 2008. He won the World Series in his second season in New York.
Larry Dierker had been the Astros’ color commentator for 18 years before he became Houston’s manager. He was the NL Manager of the Year in 1998, his second season on the bench.
Those managers were helped by having a perch above the field, one that gave them a view of the game they did not have as players.
For some, it was a difficult transition. Just ask Jerry Coleman, the Padres announcer who had an ill-fated one-year stint as San Diego’s manager. (’’Major mistake,’’ he said.) For others, it was a move that made sense, a way to remain in a game that is in their blood.
‘’Some guys go from scouting to managing — is that a tough transition?’’ Valentine said. ‘’No, you’re a baseball guy.’’
For Girardi’s first time in the booth, and he was scheduled to do a playoff game between the Cubs and Braves for ESPN radio. But he had a migraine, and he couldn’t get rid of it.
And he had no idea how to be an analyst. He was told to be himself, to say what he saw.
‘’Sometimes people listen and they think it’s just easy to go up and talk about it,’’ Girardi said. ‘’As a player, in my mind, I used to imagine it must be great to go and do what you love, sit around and talk baseball all the time. It’s not easy.’’
The migraine went away after the game. The sense that this wasn’t as easy as he thought never did.
But Girardi said his time as a broadcaster was invaluable. It taught him things he never knew as a player and might not have learned as a coach.
‘’I think you see the game different when you sit up high than when you sit at field level,’’ said Girardi, who took guidance from Joe Torre, his former manager and another who went from broadcast booth to dugout. ‘’You see how everybody moves, you can see breaks on balls.
‘’It’s just a totally different look. Instead of focusing on one thing, your focus can be a lot broader.’’
As a player, Girardi hadn’t considered the media’s role in the game. He had other things to worry about. Then he became a member of it and learned to understand it, preparing him in many ways to take a position — manager of the Yankees — that has to deal with the media like few others.
But he didn’t go into the broadcast booth wanting to be a manager, a sentiment echoed by Showalter, who went from managing to ESPN and back to managing.
‘’You can really impact a lot of people’s lives if you take your work very seriously,’’ Showalter said. ‘’The guys that I’ve seen that have trouble up there [as a broadcaster] are the guys that don’t take it seriously and don’t realize what a challenge it is to be good at what you’re doing.’’
From his broadcasting position, Martinez learned about managing from watching Sparky Anderson, Tony La Russa, and Mike Hargrove. He saw consistency, the ability to communicate with players, the dedication to fundamentals.
“It just validated what I knew as a player, that I learned as a broadcaster, that I was able to understand as a manager,’’ Martinez said.
From the booth, Girardi was able to study the game, similar to what he had done as a catcher — checking patterns with starting pitchers, gaining knowledge he could apply later. He got practiced at communicating, perhaps a manager’s most crucial task.
Broadcasting duties also can help with statistical analysis, at understanding new methods of judging players and teams, something that has become increasingly important in baseball.
“You have access to so many different statistics, analytical breakdowns of teams, that you do look at it in a different light,’’ Martinez said.
But no matter how much they learned in the booth, there is one inside edge that comes with moving downstairs.
‘’The two years that I spent not managing, I felt like an outsider,’’ Valentine said.
Valentine the broadcaster was involved in the game, but peripherally. He was not in the dirt, not even close. And yet, it was a way to keep a toe in the game. For Girardi, the booth was exactly what he needed at the time; he could raise his young children and still be in the game.
Ultimately, the booth is a place where they are able to see the game they love, the game they devoted their lives to, but no longer must they live and die with it. The game becomes broader, slower. It transforms. They learn. And, sometimes, they return.
“It helps to get back and get away from the game for a while,’’ Martinez said. ‘’It gives you a refreshed distance, a viewpoint to look at the game again and remind you what a great game it is.
“Having been away from the game and away from the intense pressure of managing, playing, or coaching and being able to enjoy the game as an analyst probably renews a lot of our desire to get back on the field.’’