PHOENIX — Mark Grace sat in front of his locker after every game, a cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other, and baseball on his mind.
Teammates would wander over, grab a cold one and talk baseball with Grace. That night's game. The next day's pitcher. Why their swing didn't feel right.
Those late nights were a little slice of heaven for Grace. Few players are as passionate about the game as the former Diamondbacks first baseman. When Grace dies his ashes should be poured onto the dirt around the first base bag at Bank One Ballpark.
Someday, the qualities that made Grace a great teammate — his knowledge, zeal and communication skills — will make him a capable manager.
But he shouldn't be the Diamondbacks' manager in 2005.
That's not a criticism of Grace but an acknowledgement that Arizona's other reported candidates — minor league manager Wally Backman, former Seattle Mariners manager Bob Melvin and Anaheim Angels bench coach Joe Maddon — are more qualified for the job.
It's possible to go straight from the broadcast booth to the dugout and succeed without having any prior coaching experience. Larry Dierker put down his microphone to become the Houston Astros’ manager in 1997 and promptly won four division titles in five years. (Bob Brenly, if you're wondering, was a coach with the San Francisco Giants before becoming a broadcaster.)
Dierker published a book about the experience entitled, "This Ain't Brain Surgery: How to Win the Pennant Without Losing Your Mind."
The title refers to Dierker collapsing with a grand mal seizure during a 1989 game against the San Diego Padres. He underwent brain surgery two days later and returned to lead the Astros to their third straight NL Central title.
It's also indicative of Dierker's belief that experience can be overrated.
In some cases, that's true. And if the Diamondbacks' list of applicants to succeed Al Pedrique included a bunch of retreads and unknowns, hiring Grace would make sense.
But Arizona has several attractive candidates to choose from.
Backman, for example, was named minor league manager of the year by The Sporting News for guiding Arizona's Class A advanced affiliate in Lancaster, Calif., to first- and second-half division titles.
Melvin was fired after the Mariners lost 99 games this season, but he inherited an aging club that couldn't have won with Connie Mack on the bench.
He knows the Diamondbacks organization and players, having served as Arizona's bench coach in 2001 and 2002, and he has the managerial skills and temperament to handle the kind of transitional period Arizona is in.
Maddon is not as well known, but in baseball circles he's considered a great catch. He managed for six years in Anaheim's farm system and was the Angels' interim manager on three occasions.
All he needs is an opportunity. If the Diamondbacks don't give it to him, the Mariners probably will.
A major league manager has a demanding and difficult job. The hours are brutal, the second-guessing can drive the most self-assured man crazy, and the players are so self-absorbed — and so highly paid — that massaging 25 egos is more important than filling out the lineup card.
To think Grace can step in and be good at it because he's, well, Mark Grace, is simplistic thinking.
Grace needs to earn his stripes, either as a manager in the minor leagues or as coach for a major league team. If, after a couple of years, he decides the 13-hour days and Maalox moments are for him, then a team would be stupid not to give him a look.
But the Diamondbacks have enough rookies on the field.
They don't need another one in the dugout.