I don't envy Bob Geren. Then again, I don't envy anyone with the job of managing a major league team. People pretty much universally question your every single move. Even legends like Joe Torre are second guessed by his fanbase.
But on top of the mere pressures of his daily job, he has to deal with constant questions about his friendship with Billy Beane and will inevitably draw comparisons to Ron Washington who many A's fans and players lobbied to get the open managerial position after Ken Macha was fired.
I knew Geren a little from his Sacramento days, so I was very happy when he agreed to introduce himself to the AN crowd. He's always struck me as an extremely personable and outgoing individual who is very positive. He and I sat down the day before he left to start managing the A's in Phoenix. I hope you enjoy the following interview as much as I enjoyed doing it.
Without further ado, here is my interview with new A's skipper Bob Geren:
Blez: Let me start off by congratulating you on your first big league managing job, which is a huge milestone for someone trying to break through in your line of work. How does it feel?
Bob Geren: It feels great. It's going to feel a lot better when we actually get the balls out on the field. It's been really fun so far.
Blez: How challenging was the interview process?
Geren: It was somewhat challenging. I felt that I had a little bit of an advantage because I knew everybody in the room. I think I felt a little more comfortable with them than an outsider probably would've. But it was still very challenging. I had no idea what line of questions or which angles they were going to take, so it was very difficult to prepare for.
Blez: That's interesting to hear that because fans all go through the corporate interview process, but it's fascinating to think about what would go on in a job interview for a major league manager's position. Can you give us some sense as to what kind of questions are asked and what the experience is like?
Geren: Some are pretty generic as far as questions like what you can bring to the team, what you could add to what has been missing. There were some questions asking what you would do the same that has been done in the past, what would you do different, what are you concerns with the team, what would you like to see the team improve on. Those are just some of the things off the top of my head.
Blez: What was the toughest question you got?
Geren: Oh man, I think the toughest question didn't have a right or wrong answer, it was just if you were to be named manager today, what is the first thing you would do? The first thing I thought of was calling every player on this team and telling them I got the job and that it's going to be in the press tomorrow or the next day. But ultimately that I got the job and that I'm happy about it and will work hard for you. When you have no time to prepare, usually you make a right off the heart comment and that's exactly what it was.
Blez: That seems like it could've been what they were looking to hear. Was it any different than a year ago when you came in to interview for the manager's position because it looked like Macha was gone?
Geren: It was different in a lot of ways. But it felt like I was just in that room so I kind of had a feel as to how it was going to go. Last year we spoke a lot more in depth and this year was going to be a bit more casual. The first one was more like you were in the front of the room and they were just firing questions from around the room like a press conference where you're at the podium and they're going at you. This year was more of a roundtable where we actually ate lunch in the middle of it and it was just a lot more casual.
Blez: Were you waiting on pins and needles while the front office went through and interviewed so many candidates?
Geren: I was having a lot of ups and downs emotionally. I was fighting with myself and my emotions. It was almost like I was negotiating with myself. It was kind of funny because I came to terms with the fact that if it was meant to be, I was ready. And if it wasn't meant to be at this time, I was fine with that. I respected the people making the decision and I felt like everyone in that room would have the organization's best interest at heart. And even my best interest at heart so I felt like if they decided to give it me they knew I was ready and if they didn't, then maybe next time. So I was fine with it.
Blez: Was being a manager always your dream or did it evolve from having a playing career that was cut short? In other words, did you always know that you wanted to spend your life in baseball?
Geren: I loved baseball from the time I turned about five years old. That reminds me of when I was in high school: one of my best friends was a scout but he had been a player. He said if you keep playing like this, you're going to get drafted. I didn't even know what that meant back then. I had no idea. So when I got drafted and played professional baseball and the very first summer where you slept in and woke up and worked out a little bit and thought about baseball all day, I just knew it was the life for me and felt like I wanted to do it forever.
Blez: When did that transfer from wanting to swing the bat and get down in the dirt and be a catcher to wanting to be the guy making the strategic decisions?
Geren: As far as managing?
Blez: Yeah was there an epiphany you had along the way?
Geren: There might've been a few, but I can remember riding the 18 hour bus rides in the Texas League and I was entering my sixth, seventh or eighth year in the minors and didn't know if I'd ever play in the big leagues. I had a couple of young managers, Jim Riggleman and Dave Bialis, who I used to sit right behind at the front of the bus. I did this for a couple of reasons, number one so I wouldn't get carsick. I also really enjoy talking baseball and the manager would ask me, what do you think of this guy, what do you think of that guy? They would have to do scouting reports and they'd ask my opinion. And that's when I thought, if I don't make it as a player, I'd like to try it as a manager. Then I thought even if I do make it as a player, I'd like to try it as a manager and it just kind of took place and happened.
Blez: So it really evolved when you were in the minors?
Geren: Yes, oh yeah.
Blez: Billy Beane made reference in one of our interviews that you're a former big league catcher and that seeing the game from that vantage point can help make you an effective manager. Do you believe in that?
Geren: I believe in that for me. I don't know if that's for everybody. But the proof is that there are a lot of ex-catchers being managers. I know for me it helped because it's a lot about talking about pitching staffs and what makes them work, who is effective against whom in different scenarios, so that definitely helps. I think when you're a catcher you typically aren't a fast runner so you really learn how to run the bases properly because you have to. You tend to do things at a higher level mentally because you usually aren't as physically talented as other players. So when you combine the catcher as an offensive player, running the bases and hitting and being a key defensive player on the team with all the technical parts of the defensive end of catching that goes along with running the pitching staff, it seems like a good way to go.
Blez: In other words it lays a good foundation on the field?
Geren: It most definitely did for me. I don't like to speak for anyone else, but I felt like there was a huge advantage for me.
Blez: Lots of A's fans were openly asking for Ron Washington to be the new manager and were very disappointed when he was hired away by Texas. The players were also asking for Washington through various media reports as well. Does that help motivate you in any way?
Geren: No, I'm a big Ron Washington fan as well. I just spoke with him on Friday or Saturday for about a half an hour. We spoke many times this offseason. We're both pulling for each other. Obviously we're both in the American League West so we're not pulling for each other too hard (laughs). Ron was a fan favorite here and was here longer than me. I think people got to know him better than me. To be honest with you when that list of candidates came out, I was hoping either Ron Washington or myself got it as well. I felt like we're both capable, we both know the organization and we'd both be good.
Blez: Do you think that's the main reason why so many fans were pulling for Wash, because he was on the field and in a more visible position? Not to mention he was in the media quite a bit between radio shows and how he helped the defense.
Geren: I can't speak for the fans, but I now he is a charismatic guy and a fun guy to be around and if you meet Ron Washington, you like him.
Blez: There has been a lot said about your friendship with Billy Beane representing a potential detriment to the team. How do you view that relationship in terms of what will transpire on the field? And have you and Billy talked about how business could impact your friendship?
Geren: It won't impact anything on the field. I'm going to manage the game the way I've managed ever since I've stared. I plan to do the best I can in that respect. Having a relationship where you have good communication with your boss is important in any job and I don't view that as a negative, I view it as a positive.
Blez: The long-standing belief people have about the Oakland Athletics manager is that it is really a powerless position as fans and media alike have claimed that Billy Beane basically makes a lot of the on-the-field decisions. Have you talked with Billy about this and was it something you took into consideration when you were thinking about whether or not to take the position? Was it a concern of yours?
Geren: It was not a concern. I've been in the organization since November of `98. It's very similar to the minor leagues. The manager of every team doesn't make every decision. The front office, in general, finds the players and you work together in every aspect. If there's something that I feel we need as in an additional player, I'm going to ask him. If he thinks there is something I need to do differently, he tells me. It's a working relationship and it needs to be.
Blez: Is that the way you think it's supposed to work?
Geren: It's the way I'm comfortable with it working. I believe that's the way it works everywhere to some extent. I played in New York and I played in San Diego as far as the major leagues. So I've seen how those organizations were run and I've worked here in the majors with Oakland. I have three different organizations with major league experience and it seems like they all work similar.
Blez: In the Athletics Nation interview with Billy, he talked about communication as your strength several times. According to published reports, you called every single player after you got the job. Have you discussed roles and expectations with them already? Or is that something you plan on doing once camp opens?
Geren: I would deal with it more when camp comes close to ending. To tell someone their role before spring training starts, it wouldn't be fair. That would be something late in the spring where you would discuss where each guy is at that point.
Blez: Spring training really is a time to see what players fall into what roles? I thought I remember Billy and others saying making decisions based on spring training isn't something to do. Or something to that effect.
Geren: It's more fair to assess someone if they have a good past than if they have a good two or three weeks. You have to look sometimes at how it all meshes together and everyone's health.
Blez: Your great communication skills were cited as one of the reasons you got this position. Can you tell me some of the other strengths you possess that will make you a great major league manager?
Geren: I think that I'm a good leader and I lead by example. I think that the players need to give 100 percent all the time in terms of preparation and work ethic. And I think I'm a good example of that. I think that I'm a positive person. Baseball is full of negatives and every team usually loses at least 60. Every .300 hitter makes seven outs of 10 so to have somebody that's going to be a positive influence on a day in and day out basis is definitely a plus and that's one of my strengths. I also like to create an environment that players look forward to coming to. I look back on my career and it was so short that I wish it was longer. I just remember that it was a very enjoyable experience. I want to make sure that all the players enjoy themselves every day because I think that a happy player is a player that plays well.
Blez: More productive?
Geren: I think so. In any line of work if you enjoy coming to work and it's a good time for you I think that you'll perform better.
Blez: Obviously the goal of every big league franchise is to win the World Series. Would you call that your biggest motivator?
Geren: Long term...I think everyone has to have different goal ranges. As an end of the season, eight months from now goal, sure. Definitely.
Blez: Once you were named to the position, how did you prepare for the task of managing your first spring training?
Geren: As far as preparing for spring training, I spoke with all the coaches after we hired them all and let them know how we've done things in the past. I typed out rules for spring training and rules for the season. I looked at how all our worksheets for the past couple of years were shaped and added an extra day of spring training.
Blez: For the beginning?
Geren: Yeah, pitchers and catchers have one more day. That was kind of an idea Curt Young had and he passed it by me. I took it to Billy and he approved it and it was great. So we're going to do that. It was a matter of looking at spring training, what we did in the past and what did I think we might be able to add that would benefit us. Then I just had to put it all down on paper. It's going to be similar to years in the past other than a few minor changes and adding an extra day.
Blez: What was the idea behind adding the extra day? Or the benefit?
Geren: I just felt like the pitchers have a little more time to prepare before they had to throw in a game. I think that could possibly add to more of a health benefit. It's one of those things where one more day couldn't hurt. I thought it was a good idea.
Blez: When you look at the roster, what jumps out at you as far as what can be done to improve the offense? A lot of fans I think were frustrated with the A's offense last year.
Geren: Playing or personnel-wise?
Blez: What can you do as the manager to improve the offense?
Geren: We can stress the runners in scoring position approach to hitting. When we interviewed our hitting coach, Billy said I think there's some things that you need to prepare to ask for in the things that are important to you in a hitting coach. The number one thing I wrote down was what his philosophy will be with runners in scoring position and how he can improve our approach as a whole and targeting a few individuals. That right there is one way to get better production this year.
Blez: Is there one particular thing you can do to improve the runners in scoring position approach?
Geren: I think it's a change in mental attitude. Some players put too much pressure on themselves in that situation. Some might not have the right approach and tweaking that a little bit might make a difference. You hear all kinds of different things from different organizations about what to do. For example, there's a runner on third, I'm going to put my hands lower to try and get a fly ball. Or you hear all these different things. I played in a lot of organizations and in the minor leagues for so many years and had so many different hitting coaches and you just hear hundreds of different approaches. Some of them are actually comical. But having a really good discipline and picking what pitch to swing at is the key to getting the ball in the middle of the field in situations where it would help the most. If that's too long of an answer, I'm sorry (laughs).
Blez: No, not at all. This was a frustrating element for fans, so I'm sure they're going to love to hear that the organization has made it a priority. This team had a runner on third with one out or no outs so many times last year and failed to bring him home.
Geren: Yeah, well you aren't going to bring him home every time. What we want to do is to concentrate on the approach and not just the result. It's not that you have to get this runner in, it's that you have to do A, B and C and if you do that, you're going to get him in the majority of the time.
Blez: So as long as the approach is there, the success will follow.
Geren: Right. Sometimes you have a guy who swings at a breaking ball in the dirt and hits the ball with one hand and the balls gets over the shortstop's head and you get the RBI, but that approach isn't going to work consistently. It's more you want to keep an approach that's going to have more consistency over time.
Blez: Is that what Ty Van Burkleo (the A's new hitting coach) brought to the table?
Geren: That's one of the things. That was my big question and he answered it fine for me.
Coming Wednesday: Geren talks about his philosophy on pulling a starting pitcher who is struggling, whether or not he plans on being a more aggressive manager and when he would send Dan Johnson in motion on the hit and run. Stay tuned.