There was, for example, the central question of platooning.
In the standard way of looking at it, one was simply taking advantage of baseball's built-in advantage of opposite hitting: Lefties did better against righties and vice versa. This was playing the percentages. Of course, your best players could hit either way and were in the lineup every day regardless. But if no one player was clearly superior at his position, you could get more out of that slot in the batting order by alternating the righties and lefties.
Stengel saw it as a much more complex instrument. He factored in the reality that players have hot streaks and cold streaks; that injuries can allow you to play with decreased effectiveness, not only keep you out altogether; that all humans, including ballplayers, are subject to fatigue over a six-month season of games every day, mentally as well as physically; that concentration and motivation wax and wane.
What made the outstanding regulars outstanding was not that they were free of these natural cycles but that a great player at 75 or even 60 percent of his potential was still giving you more than a lesser talent at 100 percent. That's why you played him every day regardless (as, we've seen, McCarthy did with DiMaggio).
But usually you didn't have eight everyday players of such quality. That meant that at least a couple of your positions would have to be shared. Whatever choice you made about some player being only somewhat better than another, you weren't going to get 150 good games out of either one. But you could, if you handled it right, get 75 better games out of each and avoid the 75 weaker performances that would be included in one man's full season.
Platooning, then, was first and foremost a division of labor, an attempt to have each man pour his best effort into carrying a smaller burden.
"Now, if I know I'm gonna have to use both of them," he would explain later, "I might as well use each of them the best way."
So the lefty plays against righties, and the righty against lefties, not because he "can't" hit the other way, but because if he's going to be out there only part of the time, it might as well be the part that's most in his favor.
More important, however, is that each one gets to play enough to stay sharp. So if there's a change of pitchers in the middle of the game, and you shift to the other platoon member, it's not primarily a "tactical" decision in that game (which may be one-sided at that point). It's a disciplined way of seeing that each of the two gets his turns at bat sufficiently often.
Then, when one or the other is hurt or in a long slump, you can play the other one against all kinds of pitching and still have a position being more productive than if the healthy one had been rotting on the bench for weeks at a time. That's how McGraw had used him.
The lefty-righty bit, therefore, was only one factor, not the whole rationale, for the platoon system.
This kind of thinking was fully worked out in Stengel's mind at this stage of his life. So was his philosophy of pitching. McGraw, with his gambler's guts and killer instinct, played hot hands. It's possible to overuse a pitcher, especially a reliever, by calling on him too often, or by letting him work with an apparently mild injury. He can still get the job done, but he may wind up with a damaged arm and shortened career. McGraw didn't worry about the consequences too much. An especially valuable arm, like Mathewson's, had to be preserved at any cost, because it meant victories down the road for a long time. But below that level, a hot pitcher could be used until he ceased being hot, and if he had a bad reaction afterwards, you could always find another pitcher of comparable capability.
Stengel subscribed to that philosophy wholeheartedly. On the other hand, unlike McGraw, he had more sympathy (from his own experience) for the player's desire to earn more money and keep making a living. So he added an element of loyalty McGraw seldom showed. If he got another chance to manage, Casey thought, he'd see to it that faithful service was properly rewarded with dollars, in the form of being kept on the payroll for a while beyond the point of full usefulness, or by working extra hard to help a man improve his "weaknesses" so that he could earn more money by becoming a better player.
But when it came to starting pitchers, Stengel would give less weight to the regularity of assignments (in terms of days off) than to favorable matchups: he wanted his best pitchers facing his toughest opponents, however the schedule broke, and certain pitchers facing certain teams (the Mack-Ehmke principle carried to greater lengths).
Excerpted and reproduced From The Man In The Dugout, Expanded Edition: Baseball's Top Managers & How They Got That Way by Leonard Koppett, by permission of Temple University Press.
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