They used to be the norm, Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa and Terry Collins. Despite modest playing careers that ended in the minor leagues, they ascended to the upper reaches of the sport by exhibiting their skill through the dugout.
That's why as the Mets have reached their first World Series in 15 years under the guidance of Collins, Leyland and La Russa have been bursting with pride. One of their own has neared baseball's ultimate payoff.
"Sometimes it takes a while to get what you deserve as a team, individually and as an organization," La Russa said of Collins, who is in the Fall Classic for the first time after 45 years in professional baseball.
For the three, the common lineage is as easy to spot as the No. 10 on their backs. Collins wears it as an homage to Leyland, who gave him his first big-league break, hiring him as bullpen coach in the early 1990s when he managed the Pirates. Of course, it was La Russa who altered the trajectory of Leyland, who worked on his staff when La Russa managed the White Sox in the early 1980s.
The three have been linked by the reality that faces all managers without big-league playing experience: earning credibility.
"When you're a guy that's been a very successful player at the major-league level and become a manager, you basically have to lose the players' respect because you have pedigree," said Leyland, now a special assistant in the Detroit Tigers' front office. "You have major-league credentials. You're normally going to get the benefit of the doubt. So you basically have to lose the players' respect."
By contrast, Leyland said a manager such as himself, La Russa and Collins had to "earn the players' respect."
The trend in recent years has shifted toward hiring former big-leaguers regardless of their managerial experience. Some of that was apparent at the start of the postseason. Of the 10 managers who guided their teams into the playoffs, eight played at least one game in the big leagues. The only exceptions: the Cubs' Joe Maddon and Collins.
"You go in with respect and trust at zero," said La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager who now is president of the Diamondbacks. "You really work to earn it. Where if you had a reputation, like some of the guys they hire now, if they have a reputation for being a good competitor and a good teammate at the major-league level, you start with respect points. But it's like the old saying: There ain't no free lunch."
Ultimately, La Russa said, the luster of playing in the big leagues fades away. It gives way to handling the rigors of in-game strategy and managing a clubhouse filled with egos.
"The guys that start with those [respect] points, at some point, because of the job, you have to earn the respect and trust because of the job that you do, not because of who you were," he said. "In the end, that's the reality for all of us."
For Collins, that reality has played out during three tenures as a major-league manager, though his greatest success has come this season with the Mets. Respect, captain David Wright said, came quickly with the realization that Collins had "been in baseball longer than a lot of us have been alive."
"He didn't play in the big leagues but he knows how to play the game," Wright said. "And he knows how the game should be played. I don't think you necessarily have to have played to be a good manager. It's been proven that's not a prerequisite."
Collins' acumen has shined through in one of the best seasons in Mets history. Early in the season, when the offense stalled and pitching kept them afloat, Daniel Murphy credited Collins for "keeping the fabric of this ballclub together."
Second-guessed constantly for his in-game decisions, Collins has batted 1.000 in the postseason. He rolled with Jacob deGrom for six innings with the Mets facing elimination against the Dodgers, the payoff being a thrilling Game 5 victory in the NLDS. He stuck with a slumping Lucas Duda, who knocked in five runs in the first two innings in the clinching game against the Cubs in the NLCS.
Through it all, Collins solidified his standing in the clubhouse and around the game. It has come, Leyland said, "not by talking about how much you know about baseball and all that. It's just about how you handle yourself, how you handle people, how you deal with people, your decision-making during the game, your preparation.
"I'm really, really proud of him for that."