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The American League’s 2015 Manager of the Year can’t get a job, or even a sniff.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss it,” former Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister said in a recent phone interview. “The tough part is the lack of communication with anybody in the game. I want to help. That’s been a challenge, brother.”
Jeff Banister not sitting on an MLB bench makes no sense.
In his nearly four years as the manager of the Rangers, the team was 325-313 with division titles in 2015 and 2016. That would typically merit one more managerial chance or at least a job on a big league bench.
As MLB fights itself against the analytical evolution that even the league now sees as counterproductive to selling the sport, a load of men like Banister are stuck.
They’re qualified and can’t get jobs.
After Banister was fired by the Texas Rangers before the end of the 2018 season, he returned as an adviser to the Pittsburgh Pirates, an organization he had been a part of for decades.
During COVID, however, Banister was let go as part of a nationwide trend that saw sports organizations slash costs and staff.
“That one stung because I had been a part of the organization for 30 years,” he said. “But it did allow me to step back and see what my options were. The reality was, because of COVID, no one was really hiring anybody.”
Banister was one of two finalists for the Houston Astros managing position after the team fired A.J. Hinch as a result of Garbage Can Gate in January 2020. The job went to Dusty Baker.
Banister was on a short list for the Detroit Tigers job following the 2020 season, but that went to ... Hinch.
Meanwhile, Banister’s son, Jacob, graduated from high school and headed to the University of Northern Colorado to play baseball.
The coach asked Banister if he wanted to help, and he agreed to become a volunteer assistant.
He sold his house in Keller, and he and his wife moved to Colorado.
“Take away the charter flights and the five-star hotels and, let’s get real, it’s still baseball,” he said. “The game is more organic on the college level. You have to be more creative in how you think on the college level.”
Banister is part of trend that is seeing an increasing number of ex-MLB players and coaches going to the college game.
Some guys, such as Texas assistant coach Troy Tulowitzki, are doing it by choice. Others are doing it because they have no other choice.
MLB teams now put as much weight, if not more, on coaching candidates who are certified in Rapsodo and Drive Line as opposed to conventional managerial skills. These are data-driven player development programs that focus on all of the buzz words, such as exit velocity and launch angle, etc.
These new realities reinforce the notion that managers no longer have any real value or function — it’s the GM and his fleet of Ivy League buddies who run the team.
I asked him if the manager matters any more on the big league level.
“When you watch today’s game I can’t argue that point,” Banister said. “But you still have decisions that need to be made. When you talk about the major league manager in today’s game, it’s the psychological aspect of what the manager can do for your team, not just for your players but the coaches and everybody involved.
“There are still managers out there that have a feel for the game. I know they do. I know all of these guys. (Are the teams) paying attention to the analytics as well as the analytics of the human being?”
The irony is when the Rangers hired Banister one of his points of sale was that he was a “new age” manager who embraced the analytics of the game.
Now, he apparently isn’t analytical enough, while MLB now actively fights the unexpected consequences of the data-driven numbers evolution.
While MLB is in this identity crisis, it has left Banister hoping for a phone call to get back into a game where he had proved himself.
He’s only 57, and has no interest in a formal retirement.
He knows he can be of value to a team or a player.
“My dad told me this, ‘To know another human being you have to know their pathway before you know where they are standing,’” Banister said. “If you are leading, mentoring, educating or just being a teammate with somebody else you have to have that knowledge before you can build the process to keep them on the pathway, or change their trajectory.
“I’d like to think I have that skill set based on the experiences in my life. I’m still a builder.”
A builder who needs a chance.