Not long after the A's fired Billy Martin last fall, they issued a statement listing the qualifications they sought in a new manager. Among these were "a strong personal self-discipline, patience, a sense of the obligation of a professional sports team to its community" and "a recognition of the significant mental and physical stress on the contemporary athlete, and an ability to understand various behavioral reactions to that stress." In other words, "We don't want another Billy Martin around here." Well, in Steve Boros, Oakland's ultimate managerial choice, they sure as shooting didn't get one.
Boros regards patience as a primary virtue. He has been thrown out of only two games in his professional career, neither in the majors, and one of those ejections occurred when an umpire mistook Boros for the real heckler in the dugout. And victory isn't the only thing for him. "The stress on winning at all costs," he says, "can lead to behavior that is less than desirable." Boros played the violin as a youngster. A graduate in English from the University of Michigan, he is writing a novel. He loves Dickens. He would as soon discuss movies, music and the theater as baseball, and does so for hours with the A's scholarly president, former law professor Roy Eisenhardt. And by Boros' own wry admission, "Not even my wife considers me charismatic."
He wasn't even all that keen on becoming a big league manager. Being a coach, which he had been at Kansas City and Montreal, was fine with him. He knew nothing about Eisenhardt or the civicminded Haas family, which owns the A's, and called Eisenhardt "Ray" during his first interview. But after one conversation with the Oakland hierarchy Boros realized he was dealing with kindred spirits.
The only remaining question is, can he manage? It is unlikely, of course, that what the A's do on the field this year will be called Boros Ball, but Boros does emphasize running. He was considered something of an expert on base running with both the Royals and the Expos, and he is encouraged by the "good team speed" he sees on the Oakland roster, which includes, after all, Rickey Henderson, who set a major league record with 130 steals last year, surpassing Lou Brock's 1974 mark by 12.
Henderson probably won't run as often in '83, preferring to shift his aggressiveness from the base paths to the plate. Last season's .267 average was the lowest of his career, and he has said he wants a batting championship.
To be successful, Boros must resurrect the moribund arms of Martin's former pitching aces, Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty and Rick Langford, and stabilize an infield that was in constant flux last year. Without improvement in those critical areas, these, to paraphrase Boros' favorite author, could be the worst of times.
Rickey Henderson belly-flopped his way to a record 130 steals; the rest of the A's merely flopped. Their Fielding (.974) and batting (.236) averages were the worst in the league, they were next to last in ERA (4.54) and tied for 11th at executing double plays (140). It wasn't just the relievers' fault that they had a league-low of 22 saves: The hitters didn't give them very many leads to preserve.