One of my favorite things about the Internet, as you know by now, is that there is always someone ready to take a theory as far as it will go. As evidence, I give you Is Charlie Brown the Worst Manager Ever? – The Hardball Times. This 2,500+ word essay takes you into great depths about the highs and lows of Charlie Brown’s career at the helm of one of the most hapless collection of little leaguers you’ve ever seen. Authored by Patrick Dubuque, it is one of those pieces of Internet writing that should be celebrated for being trivial and necessary all at the same time.
I don’t know where you fall on the baseball spectrum of statistics and numbers vs. body type and tools, but I love seeing the modern geek perspective of metrics applied to Charlie Brown’s managerial efforts. Dubuque leads with the popular assumption and the difficulty in accumulating data.
It’s easy to glance at the record (2-K, where K is a really big number) and title Charlie Brown the worst manager of all time. But given a life of shoddy treatment, it only seems fair that we examine his legacy a little more closely and attempt that difficult task of discerning exactly how much of his team’s pathetic record can be attributed to his leadership.
It turns out to be no simple task. Despite his worldwide fame and his sizable career, finding detailed records of Brown’s managerial handiwork is an archaeological nightmare. No fewer than 17,897 records exist detailing his life and times, and yet recaps and statistics are rare, and even live footage is limited to choppy, anecdotal evidence.
Despite the lack of reliable numbers, he goes about trying to measure Charlie on his in-game decisions and his between game moves. Dubuque uses Scott McKinney’s seven principles of determining a manager’s effectiveness to truly scrutinize Charlie’s career. Years of comic strips and footage from specials is brought together to measure Charlie Brown on:
- Optimization of lineup
- (Mostly) stop trading outs for bases
- Better base stealing
- Fewer intentional walks
- Recreating the closer role
- Increased use of platoons
- Improve decision making processes on who plays where and when.
a. Looking at stats in addition to tools, intangibles or reputation
b. Using the right stats
c. Not relying on small sample sizes
Now, let’s be clear… you can’t possibly apply all of those lenses to Charlie Brown’s ball club. At best, he had 11 players to utilize. At worst, he did not utilize them very well. Few of us can probably even recall the way the team played in the field. Here’s a reminder.
3B: Pig Pen/5
OF: Lucy/Violet/Frieda/Patty (not Peppermint, the other one)
SP: Charlie Brown
That’s not encouraging.
It’s no surprise that Dubuque would find that Charlie Brown was a terrible manager. Every loss (sometimes by TRIPLE digits), every poor decision and all of the flying in the air and losing one’s clothes tells us that. But beneath that is the part of Charlie Brown that makes us all root for him.
I love one particular quote found in a Peanuts baseball strip. “How can we lose when we are so sincere?” It’s that sincerity that leads Dubuque to his conclusion.
And yet, Brown’s team is embodied by the same virtue that distinguished Brown himself: the ability to get back up. No matter how bad things get, they keep playing baseball. He is, in a way, his team’s effigy: he draws out the sins of his players and bands them together in their opposition. The fact that Lucy, Patty, Violet and Frieda keep jogging out to that outfield, keep chasing after home run balls with no fence to stop them, is a minor miracle in itself. They complain about losing, but they seem happy to continue doing it. As someone who spent several seasons managing a bar-league softball team, I can attest to this: getting nine adults to show up at a baseball field at a given time is no small task, and Brown does it with eight-year-olds, every summer, for 50 years. It’s not nothing. It’s actually kind of amazing, in a way.
You’re a good man, Charlie Brown. And you are amazing.