Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Walter Matthau as Morris Buttermaker in The Bad News Bears

1. Art Howe, Moneyball (2011)

The Kansas City Royals made it to the brink of a World Series title this year despite operating under the guidance of a manager, Ned Yost, who’s widely regarded as clueless. That’s a minor aberration in the real world of sports, but in the fictionalized worlds of film and TV, successful baseball managers are practically expected to be ignorant and out-of-touch. Even Moneyball, based on a true story, sees fit to portray the manager of the ascendant Oakland A’s as a stubborn grump who can’t grasp concepts like “math” and “logic.” Instead of thinking rationally, A’s skipper Art Howe (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) prefers to manage with his gut, to the extent that general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) has to trade away an ineffective first baseman to make Howe stop putting the guy in the starting lineup every day. The film diverges from the non-fictional account of the original Moneyball book in other ways: To heighten the conflict between Howe and Beane, for instance, the film implies that Howe has more interest in ensuring his own payday than in helping the team build a new winning formula. As a result, all of Oakland’s wins—and we see the A’s set the American League record for most consecutive victories—seem to come in spite of Howe rather than because of him. The real-life Howe was incensed by this depiction, complaining in a 2011 interview that “all these people across the country are going to go in and get this perception of me that’s totally unfair and untruthful.” [John Teti]


2. George Knox, Angels In The Outfield (1994)

“Kid, I was thinking of you as a sort of good luck charm, not as someone who spiritually hallucinates.” But manager George Knox (Danny Glover) buys into the voodoo of wide-eyed Roger Bowman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) all the same after the kid prays to the heavens for the success of the California Angels. The series of events in Angels In The Outfield—a remake of the 1951 film starring the Pittsburgh Pirates—is set in motion following a harsh-reality explanation from Bowman’s deadbeat dad that they have as much of a chance of being a family again as the Angels do in taking the pennant. The hot-headed Knox—a manager that flips his lid when his pitcher gives up a single with no one on base—warms up to Roger mostly thanks to an inconceivable winning streak initiated by the aid of real-life angels bolstering the play of a bunch of imbeciles (young versions of Matthew McConaughey and Adrien Brody among the actors playing them) and a washed-up noodle arm named Mel Clark (Tony Danza). [Kevin Warwick]

3. Billy Heywood, Little Big League (1994)

Though he was initially just made the unlikely young owner of the Minnesota Twins following the death of his grandfather, Billy Heywood (Luke Edwards) quickly butts heads with the team’s actual manager, George O’Farrell (Dennis Farina), and sends him packing. After finding that—surprise, surprise—no serious candidate wants to work under a kid, he makes himself manager, thus becoming the first 11-year-old to both coach and own a Major League Baseball team. (That this couldn’t actually happen according to league rules, but let’s just ignore that.) And while Heywood certainly knows a lot about the game’s mechanics and intricacies, quickly helping the team move up in the AL Central, he’s not exactly the smoothest manager, getting himself suspended from the team by his mom after he throws a fit on the field and truly botches the firing of his aging favorite player, Jerry Johnson. Soon enough, though, Heywood finds his managerial style, as well as his sense of self, leading the Twins to a one-game playoff against Ken Griffey Jr. and his evil Seattle Mariners. The Twins lose, but lessons are learned all across the board, including one about the many sordid virtues of Night Nurses From Jersey. [Marah Eakin]


4. Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, The Sandlot (1993)

Being the star player—and, by default, manager—on an unofficial, ragtag team of neighborhood baseball kids carries with it an inherent set of parameters. Because there’s a delicate line to toe between nostalgia-ready summertime horseplay on a shabby but charming plot of land and a day-in-and-day-out slog on a scorched patch of earth in oppressive summer heat. A little too invested in his own development, Benny (Mike Vitar) never seems quite cut out to call the shots, struggling to find the middle ground between manager and player. His recruitment of the film’s quintessential underdog “Scotty” Smalls (Tom Guiry)—who at first can’t throw or catch and is reviled by the rest of the team—is dependent more on his ability to rotate eight positions instead of seven because he’s worried about getting enough practice. During a particularly sweltering day, Benny balks at his teammates for not wanting to practice, essentially calling each of them a “Can’t-hack-it pantywaist who wears their mama’s bra.” He’s overruled, which allows everyone to head to the pool for one of the movie’s most iconic scenes. The only real game The Sandlot kids play is against a well-uniformed posse of Little Leaguers that confront them on their turf, not the other way around. Benny, Ham, Smalls, and company whoop ’em, fine, but maybe if the team’s star had gotten more reps early on against some real competition, he would’ve been a starter on the Dodgers and not relegated to entering the game as a pinch runner in the movie’s final scene. [Kevin Warwick]


5. Morris Buttermaker, The Bad News Bears (1976)

Morris Buttermaker isn’t exactly inept as a coach, but he is an alcoholic who really doesn’t give a shit about his team of Little Leaguers. And who can blame him? His team—the Bears—only exists so that the worst players will have someplace to go. But Buttermaker eventually decides that he wants these scrappy kids to win, so he finds a couple of ringers (Tatum O’Neal and Jackie Earle Haley) to give them some confidence. His strategy, at least as first, is to have the super talented players basically do all the playing, which naturally leads to some resentment among the rest of the misfits. Those with only fuzzy memories of the excellent 1976 film probably remember Walter Matthau leading the kids to victory, when in fact they lose the big game at the end. But he does get them a bunch of beer, which might actually be better than winning the game. [Josh Modell]


6. Mr. Burns, The Simpsons, “Homer At The Bat” (1992)

Proving that the worst thing any team manager can do is take an interest, Mr. Burns becomes invested in Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s company softball team only after an undefeated season, which he then proceeds to destroy with his interference. The Simpsons’ “Homer At The Bat” episode sees the typically scheming tyrant turn completely clueless when it comes to coaching the team to the championship, hiring a slew of major-league ringers that he then proceeds to wreck with techniques ranging from hypnotism to gigantism-inducing nerve tonic to his unyielding, uninformed policy on sideburns. Left with just his original team—and Darryl Strawberry—Mr. Burns even fails at a big, rallying speech, but still manages to eke out a victory with a single good decision: swapping out Strawberry for Homer, who takes a hit in the head to win the game. Nevertheless, his practices are so ruinous, it’s no wonder the SNPP team has never played another game. [Sean O’Neal]


7. Kid Gleason, Eight Men Out (1988)

In 1919, a handful of players from the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the World Series against the underdog Cincinnati Reds. The scheme was meant to not only result in a healthy payout of gambled money but also a healthy up-yours to owner Charles Comiskey who, the players believed, shortchanged the team despite its talent and success. In the film reenactment, based on the book of the same name, manager Kid Gleason (John Mahoney) sustains a stoicism throughout the dive, never allowing himself to completely accept that the fix is on but also hoping his boys will come to their senses and do what’s right. Aside from a locker-room scuffle with the ringleader of the Black Sox—a team that included the mythic Shoeless Joe Jackson—Gleason is at his most transparent during a confrontation with pitcher/conspirer Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn) in which he tells the 29-game-winner that he’s sitting him for the Series’ seventh game (it was the best of nine back then). Fed up with being strung along by the gamblers—and battling his own demons—Cicotte decides he’s returning to the straight-and-narrow. While on the stand during the trial of the eight players implicated in the scandal—five gamblers too—and after some defaming testimony, Gleason’s asked what he thinks of his team. His reply: “I think they’re the greatest ball club I’ve ever seen. Period.” [Kevin Warwick]


8. Jimmy Dugan, A League Of Their Own (1992)

Although Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) was a top-notch player for the Cubs, by the time he becomes team manager for The Rockford Peaches—one of the women’s league teams that sprung up during World War II—he’s a drunk and insensitive oaf. With a manager who’s often too hungover or just too uninterested to take the games seriously, the team falters at first, resulting in irate tirades from Dugan—“There’s no crying in baseball!” being the most famous. The guy just doesn’t know how to communicate with women, and at first he has little desire to figure it out. Ultimately, he does bond with the team, cleans up his act, and helps get the Peaches to the World Series. Alas, his reformation comes a tad too late, and the Racine Belles take the title, leaving viewers pondering what would have happened had a more capable manager been shepherding the Peaches from the beginning. [Becca James]


Share This Story

Get our newsletter