Soderholm-Difatte: John McGraw and the refinement of the platoon system

From SABR member Bryan Soderholm-Difatte at Baseball Historical Insight on April 9, 2014:

The Washington Post’s longtime baseball writer Thomas Boswell wrote that the Nationals’ switch from old-school Davey Johnson to first-time manager Matt Williams is “emblematic of the era.”  Specifically: “The 21st century manager generally has a lower profile … than most famous managers in the previous century, but he remains important because he is an extension of the analytical thinking of the entire organization.  Like good upper-middle managers, they implement the business plan.”

One hundred years ago, major league baseball was also in the midst of an innovative transition in how managers did their jobs. The job of “baseball manager” had become ever more its own discipline, and its professionalism was evolving into greater complexity.

It was increasingly apparent that the most successful teams would be those that were not only the most talented and skilled in execution, but also the most sophisticated in their use of strategy to win games. So managers began to think more strategically about how to win games, which led to a reconsideration or refinement of three established orthodoxies. It should come as no surprise that John McGraw, who burnished his reputation as a baseball strategy genius by always looking for an angle and being willing to try unconventional things at a time when the game was still discovering itself, was at the leading edge of all three.

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Originally published: April 11, 2014. Last Updated: April 11, 2014.