It’s quite likely that the following is poorly informed. It’s not so much about baseball as it is about hockey, and I’m really not that knowledgable about running around on slippery surfaces wearing boots with knives at the bottom of them. The only reason I even dare to write about what to me is an interesting issue currently cropping up for the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens is that it causes me to wonder how a similar situation in baseball would compare.
From The Score’s Backhand Shelf hockey blog:
After the Montreal Canadiens surprised the hockey world by firing Jacques Martin, they named Randy Cunneyworth interim head coach, with the promise that he’d stay on as bench boss until at least the end of the season. Being that Cunneyworth is a “unilingual anglophone” (dude only speaks english), this ruffled the feathers of some of the French community in Montreal.
What’s followed this ruffling of feathers has largely been condemnation from hockey pundits, who suggest such language-concerned viewpoints are archaic and prejudiced. However, I believe there to be valid reasoning behind a the support for a French-speaking coach that go beyond the “we’ve always done it this way” approach that I, personally, rather despise.
I assume that in all sports, a coach or manager is a major figure head for his team, and in many cases, an organization’s most often used representative when directly dealing with the media and indirectly dealing with the fans. If the majority, or even a large percentage of that media and fanbase are French-speaking, it doesn’t seem very useful to me to have an English-speaking head coach.
Of course, the argument against this way of thinking would be to suggest that it doesn’t matter if a coach speaks Swahili, as long as he makes his team a winner. But in order to argue this, you have to have a general idea of how much a head coach at the National Hockey League level is able to contribute to a win.
In baseball, the consensus among the statistically set is that managerial strategies aren’t all that important to the outcome of a game. There’s such a lagre selection of samples in the game of baseball that you can figure out the most likely outcome for any forseeable situation based on past results. Even though it doesn’t always happen, as long as the percentages are played, that is to say the manager sets situations up to increase the likelihood of the most positive outcomes possible, then a manager is doing his job as far as strategy goes. But even when he doesn’t do his job, there’s such a large amount of randomness in baseball that he can essentially get away with it.
Therefore, the talent of the players on a team is vastly more important than the strategies that the manager tries to implement. For further study into this phenomenon, see Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers.
In the NHL, Montreal represents a unique situation as far as language goes, and it’s not as easily handled as merely hiring a good translator. In deciding who my head coach would be, I would first have to decide how much value a replacement coach offers my organization. If I believed that hockey coaching was drastically different from baseball managing and that one coach can have a discernable impact compared to another coach, the importance placed on the language that a coach speaks would be minimal. However, if I believed that the majority of hockey coaches are of a similar value, the importance placed on the language that a coach speaks would be much higher in a situation like Montreal’s.
I simply don’t know enough about hockey to offer a valid opinion one way or the other, but I can say that arguments in favour of French-speaking coaches are a little more valid than those dismissing them for being prejudiced would have us believe.
I remember back to last off season during the Toronto Blue Jays managerial search. A lot of emphasis was put on the mock press conferences on which the prospective managers were judged. I understand why. Sports franchises are businesses, and while it’s not nearly as important as a team’s wins and losses, having an articulate spokesperson representing your business is vital. In the modern game, this is simply part of the manager’s/coach’s job description.