Managers matter, and anyone who doesn’t think so must have missed the World Series.

No, this isn’t about whether Joe Maddon misused his bullpen or about whether Terry Francona could have done anything more to help the Cleveland Indians close out a series they led three games to one.

This isn’t about any decision Maddon or Francona made this week or last. It’s about the decision the Chicago Cubs made two years ago to hire Maddon and the one the Indians made two years earlier to bring in Franconadecisions that paid off and brought both teams to the World Series this year.

It’s about the decision the Arizona Diamondbacks made Friday to hire Torey Lovullo, who has many of the same abilities that make Maddon and Francona two of the best managers in baseball. Like them, he not only understands the game, but also understands the culture, and more than that, he understands dealing with people.

Who knows, maybe it even helps to have a connection with the Boston Red Sox, the team Lovullo served for the last four seasons as John Farrell’s bench coach. Francona managed the Red Sox, and Maddon interviewed there and was runner-up when Francona got the job. Even Dave Roberts, a first-year hit as the Los Angeles Dodgers manager, was previously best known for his part in the Sox’s curse-breaking run to the 2004 World Series title.

Roberts and Lovullo have other similarities, sharing an alma mater. (Although, the 51-year-old Lovullo played at UCLA nearly a decade before the 44-year-old Roberts.) Both have an appreciation of the numbers that play such an important part in the modern game, and both have the ability to connect with anyone they meet.

“Dave makes everyone he talks to feel like they’re his best friend, and it’s genuine,” Dodgers first base coach George Lombard said in September.

Lovullo is like that, too.

It’s why he was able to fit in so seamlessly as the acting Red Sox manager late last season, when Farrell left the team for cancer treatment. Lovullo handled a touchy situation with such ease that he instantly went to the top of the list of managerial candidates.

Because Farrell’s health status remained somewhat uncertain when the season ended, Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski worked out a deal where Lovullo would agree to stay on in Boston for another year, working as the bench coach as long as Farrell was able to return.

Farrell returned, the Red Sox won the American League East and Lovullo’s star didn’t dim. In fact, when the Diamondbacks hired Mike Hazen to run their front office, Lovullo immediately became the leading candidate to join him as manager.

Hazen and Lovullo were close in Boston, where Hazen worked under Ben Cherington and then under Dombrowski. They go back further than that, back to when Hazen worked in the Indians front office and Lovullo was just getting started as a minor league manager.

Lovullo spent 10 seasons managing in the minors, experience that doesn’t guarantee big league success (Ryne Sandberg spent plenty of time in the minors, too) but can’t hurt. (Both Maddon and Francona did it, too.)

What matters most, of course, is whether Lovullo will be given players capable of doing what Maddon’s Cubs or Francona’s Indians did. He starts with a team that was one of baseball’s biggest underachievers in 2016, a team that had championship aspirations but instead lost 93 games.

Still, the Diamondbacks have a perennial MVP candidate in Paul Goldschmidt and a Cy Young winner in Zack Greinke. They have A.J. Pollock, whose injury on the eve of Opening Day helped sink the 2016 season.

It would be nice if they had Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson, too, but the Shelby Miller trade with the Atlanta Braves turned out to be the worst move of last winter.

It’s not the best of situations, especially with a history of ownership intervention and limitations on payroll. But ownership seems committed—for now, anyway—to the new front office. There’s no doubt Hazen will be committed to Lovullo.

He’ll walk in facing a challenge, but every new manager does. Maddon came to Chicago with a big budget and plenty of young talent on the way, but he took over a team that had five straight losing seasons and a century of failure. Francona came to Cleveland with some nice talent beginning to develop, but he took over a team with a limited budget coming off a 94-loss season.

In his first year with the Cubs, Maddon won the NL Wild Card and Manager of the Year award. In his first year with the Indians, Francona did the same in the AL.

Neither one has had a losing season since.

Both came in and changed the culture completely. Talk to anyone in Chicago or anyone in Cleveland, and you’ll hear volumes about the difference the manager made.

Can Lovullo do the same in Arizona? We’ll see, but I think he can.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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