Rozner: Former Cub Scott Servais managing quite well
Scott Servais smiles a lot these days.
And it's not just because the team he manages had the best record in baseball for the first week of the season.
In his fourth year as Seattle skipper, the former Cubs catcher is enjoying life in the dugout.
Now, the surprising part is not that he's a big league manager, or that he's good at it -- Jim Riggleman predicted it 20 years ago -- but to know Servais during his Cubs years would leave you pleased to see him walking around with a grin.
He was an excellent catcher, terrific at managing a pitching staff and calling a game, but there was no part of baseball that was easy for him.
And like most grinders, he didn't smile a lot. They take the game seriously because it's takes all of their energy to produce on the field.
"I've changed. I certainly take it seriously, but I do a better job now of understanding how the guys take it serious in their own way," Servais said. "Some guys are going to be lighthearted. Some guys are going to joke around and have more fun.
"And I wish I could have done more of that as a player. I'm trying to do more of that as a manager.
"But I have a better understanding of how everybody is wired, way better than I did 25 years ago when I was a player. I'm having more fun now than I did when I was a player."
As a player, Servais was disturbed -- and he wasn't alone -- that some players didn't seem to care enough, and some didn't care as much about winning as their own numbers.
"I thought everybody had to take it as seriously as I did. That was just me," Servais said. "But if I had 25 of me as a player, it would be a disaster."
He stopped to laugh at himself and added, "It doesn't work."
Servais played 11 years in the majors, nothing to sneeze at, and started 700 games behind the plate. Not bad for a guy who did it mostly because of hard work.
"When I was in the front office, I got a better appreciation for the true talent in the game," Servais said. "Some guys make it look easy. I was one of the guys who never made it look easy.
"I appreciate the talent now more than I ever did, because that's what wins. Talent wins. So how do I take that talented player and put him in a good spot where the environment around him is really conducive to getting the most out of that talent? And then also forcing him to be a good teammate. I spend a lot of time on that.
"I was really excited that we came in here (Thursday) and had a team dinner and 23 of the 25 guys were at the team dinner, and the other two had their families in town.
"That says a lot."
After finishing his playing career in 2001, the 51-year-old Servais began his coaching career in 2003 as a rover in the Cubs' minor league season, working for GM Jim Hendry, who was his head coach at Creighton when Servais was the catcher.
After a year as a pro scout, in 2006 Texas GM Jon Daniels brought Servais to his front office, before Servais moved to Anaheim as assistant GM to Jerry Dipoto in 2011.
When Dipoto went to Seattle as GM in the fall of 2015, he immediately hired Servais as his manager.
"I took a little different route when I got done playing," said Servais, whose Mariners are here taking on the White Sox this weekend. "The big break was I went to Texas with Jon Daniels and kind of built their farm system, got exposed to a lot of different things there. It's huge to see another side, get a different perspective.
"With the Angels, oversaw all of scouting and player development. I was overseeing probably 120 people, so you have a lot of those conversations and try to figure out how people are wired and how to get them motivated.
"Nothing has prepared me for this job, but you're managing people more than managing the game. The game is fun to manage, but managing people is really the job."
Servais, who won gold with Team USA in the 1988 Olympics, never forgets that he walked in a player's shoes.
"We spend a lot of time looking at the numbers and the matchups and all that other stuff, but the biggest part of the job is getting people on the same page," Servais said. "I love players. That has never changed. They're challenging, but I enjoy the challenge.
"My first year managing, we had guys from 11 different countries on our team, with so many different backgrounds. I've spent a lot of time in the Dominican Republic working with Latin players and that has given me a pretty good idea of how people from different places are wired."
The Mariners have gotten off to a fast start as one of many MLB surprises. It's quite early, but when you go through as many alterations as Seattle has, quick starts can be huge.
"For me, the focus is on getting the environment right around our group and making sure they understand our culture and what's important to us," Servais said, "and then be very clear in defining what's important to us.
"If players have the structure and understand what we're about, they have no problem with it. It's when they don't quite understand and no one's taken the time to clarify it, that's when it becomes an issue.
"I got three kids, similar in age to a lot of these guys in the clubhouse, and they just want to know where the boundaries are, and that's up to me and my coaching staff to make sure they understand what they are."
That includes a heavy dose of sabermetrics, which is just fine with a manager who was born into, and played through, the old school.
"I love the game today. I enjoy the numbers part of it," Servais said. "It really started when I worked in the front office. I've learned a ton about how to use the numbers and the information, but the information is only as good as your ability to put it into play on the field.
"Players play the game so they have to have some understanding of how this plays into helping us win, and I think we do a pretty good job of educating our guys.
"Big thing for us this year is educate, don't dictate. Often times, people just dictate and players don't buy that. You have to educate them.
"We give strong suggestions, but ultimately it's up to the players."
And with that, Servais excused himself to head to a meeting -- with a smile on his face.