Next Dodgers manager walking a tightrope

Right after the Houston Astros clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the season, Houston manager A.J. Hinch offered congratulations to his players, and in that speech he used a profanity with long-term design. The word cannot be printed here, but let's just say it has a baker's dozen of letters in plural form.

It was a word he had used in his first clubhouse meeting with the Astros this spring and in subsequent conversations, and by the time he employed it in that champagne-saturated clubhouse in Arizona, its meaning had grown to include kinship, a work ethic, respect and affection.

The blue-collar word distinguished Hinch for the players and helped to separate him from any of the baggage than might've been attached to him in the past, because being Stanford-educated and well-versed in analytics and front-office machinations isn't uniformly perceived among players as a good thing.

This was a problem in Hinch's first go-round as a manager in Arizona, where players thought him to be too closely aligned to his bosses rather than an independent force who could be trusted. With the Astros, Hinch has smartly forged his own identity and a separate, important relationship with his players. In an era in which lineup and game decisions are determined by front-office-driven analytics, the manager's ability to build a persona and credibility with the players separate from the front office has become a crucial element of success.

That will be the challenge for Gabe Kapler if he becomes the next Dodgers manager; as the hiring process begins, Kapler is the heavy favorite. Fair or not, he would be perceived among some of the players as a puppet of the front office, handpicked to replace someone they respected as a person, Don Mattingly, because of Kapler's willingness to go along with the front-office reindeer games.

The players will draw this conclusion because Kapler has almost no practical experience managing other than limited work in the minors, and while Kapler played a dozen years in the majors, that time served will not provide instant respect for him among the players because he wasn't a star, he wasn't a name player.

Mattingly's advantage, even as a newbie manager, was that he was a superstar when he played, and he was well-liked by Dodgers players for his steady nature. They saw that by the time L.A. was knocked out in the playoffs, he was worn down by the interaction with the front office, which was by all accounts something akin to a proctologic exam: respectful, as dignified as possible under the circumstances and thorough.

After months of probing, Mattingly's joy appeared to be missing by October, when he explained his lineup and bullpen decisions to the media in shorthand: Today, this is what gives us the best chance to win.