Many general managers seem to think it’s a brilliant idea — for the Yankees.
“I see the value, especially in an atypical market like New York,” said Mike Rizzo, the general manager of the Washington Nationals, who recently finished his fourth manager search for the team. “But I think we make our best decisions when it’s not nationally known what we’re trying to do.”
Jeff Luhnow, the Houston Astros’ general manager, said what the Yankees were doing would provide real-time feedback from fans but “is a double-edged sword because then you can’t keep who you’re interviewing a secret.”
Luhnow, who has hired two managers, paused for a moment.
“Sometimes candidates don’t want it to be known that they’re interviewing for a job,” he said. “Sometimes clubs don’t want the entire interview list public because maybe they have a different approach and don’t want to tip their hands.”
The Yankees’ practice might be more renowned if only they fired managers the way they did in George Steinbrenner’s impetuous heyday. But Cashman has changed managers only twice in his 20 years as general manager. He also made candidates available to the news media when he interviewed three people to replace Joe Torre in 2007 — Girardi, Don Mattingly and Tony Pena.
Cashman could not remember how the idea occurred to him.
“I don’t know if it was original from us, or somebody else,” he said. “Knowing me, I stole it from somebody else.”
In fact, Cashman seems to have pilfered it from his friendly old rival Theo Epstein.
Epstein was just 29 years old and one year into his job as general manager of Boston when he fired Red Sox Manager Grady Little in the aftermath of the heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Yankees in the 2003 American League Championship Series. He held news conferences for each of the four candidates to replace Little.
Epstein sat quietly in the back while the Boston news media queried Terry Francona — who eventually got the job — and Joe Maddon, DeMarlo Hale and Glenn Hoffman.
“We were new at the jobs ourselves, so we were thinking of alternatives to the traditional interviews, and that was one of them,” said Epstein, who also put the candidates through computer simulation and other pressure-packed exercises. “We tried to rethink the interview process because we realized we ran the risk of hiring the candidate that interviewed the best as opposed to the candidate who was best suited to handle the manager’s job.”
Epstein, who also put candidates before the news media when he became the Chicago Cubs’ president in 2011 — he hired Dale Sveum — said it could be a valuable exercise in an intense media environment. (Epstein once sneaked past reporters staking out Fenway Park on Halloween by donning a gorilla suit.)
“There were a lot of people snooping about who was getting interviewed, so we decided to be transparent about it and give the media access to make them happy,” Epstein said. “But really the goal for us was to get a firsthand look at how they might at least in one instance handle the media. It allows you another example of how a candidate thinks on his feet and handles pressure and different situations, which is always helpful.”
(Epstein returned to surreptitious methods for his last managerial hire, when he picked Maddon to lead the Cubs in 2014. Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the team’s general manager, met with Maddon on beach chairs over a bottle of Publix wine outside a motor home nicknamed Cousin Eddie in a Florida Panhandle trailer park.)
The teleconferences the Yankees are conducting are hardly contentious — or particularly enlightening. The Yankees limit the questions to one per entity, undercutting any chance for some back and forth.
Among the few insights gleaned from the interviews were Thomson admitting a mistake in the Yankees’ botched replay challenge during the playoffs, the hard-nosed Wedge noting that managers can’t criticize players as harshly as they used to and Boone — who has never coached, managed or worked in a front office — acknowledging that “it’s certainly fair to question my experience.”
It’s unclear if the Yankees — or the news media — will be interviewing any more candidates. There is not an incandescent personality in the group, which may well be by design.
Cashman is looking for someone who can relate well to his young players, is versed in analytics and is willing to collaborate with the front office on everything from lineups to roster makeup.
And somebody, the Yankees hope, who can get a message across.
“You’re sending a message and the way you’re sending it is purposeful and you recognize how the dominoes are falling when the words are coming out of your mouth,” Cashman said. “So it plays out as you anticipate versus the alternative, which is obviously the worst-case scenario, where you hold a press conference and the next thing you know it’s nothing but damage control.”