Anthony Barone Looks to Churn Milkmen into Winner
American Association Daily provides insights and features on the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions going on with teams around the league. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier features new Milwaukee Milkmen Manager Anthony Barone who takes over the second year club this season.
Anthony Barone Leads Milwaukee Milkmen
It’s been an exciting 15 months for the Milwaukee Milkmen. The expansion team opened a new ballpark, although it took an extra month before it was ready, forcing the team to play their first dozen “home” games in Indiana. They put together a great entertainment and promotions staff that made attending Milkmen games the most enjoyable day at a ballpark south of St. Paul. They also managed to get in 100 baseball games, going 38-62 in their first season.
There was definitely a lot to remember about the 2019 season for the team, but the news did not end when the season concluded. Ownership decided to go in another direction, opting to install Anthony Barone at their manager. Now, in his first season as the manager of a professional team, the new skipper looks to churn together a Milkmen club that looks to compete for the American Association championship.
It’s All in the Name
It is not surprising that Anthony Barone would rise to become the manager of a professional baseball team. After all, his surname is Barone which means baron, a powerful person in a business or industry.
However, his name did not earn him the Milwaukee Milkmen job. Barone had built up an impressive resume through his time as a coach in baseball. After serving four years as an assistant coach, he was named as the head coach at Jamestown (NY) Community College, where he led the team to a school record 207 victories. In 2008, he was named as the NJCAA Region 3 Coach of the Year after leading his team to their fifth straight NJCAA Regional Tournament appearance.
In 2012, the Milkmen skipper moved onto California State-Bakersfield as an assistant coach. He remained in his position for four seasons, helping the team win a Western Athletic Conference championship. He also took over the Jamestown Jammers (Prospect League) in 2015. In 2017, the Jammers reached the championship series and a year later they were the league champions. Barone was named as the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League Coach of the Year in both 2017 and 2018.
After four seasons with the Jammers, he was hired by former Milkmen Manager Gary McClure as his assistant coach, a position he held during the team’s inaugural season.
It was clear that Anthony Barone was destined to be a professional manager one day, but he never took an attitude of it being inevitable. “I just take things day to day. I don’t really look too far ahead, or I don’t look in the past too much either. I just take it day to day and I knew if I kept working hard and putting in the time and doing the right things that this opportunity would come to fruition. I’m so blessed that it happened.”
Wading in Unfamiliar Waters
While spending all of his adult life coaching or managing, 2020 presents a new challenge. Anthony Barone had never managed at the professional level, and he enters the 2020 American Association season fully aware that he has some learning to do as well. “The games a lot quicker, I’d say. I think it’s a little bit of everything that makes this a challenge. It’s professional baseball, so you’re dealing with contracts and different things. The facilities are better. It’s a thousand things that you have to learn. It’s definitely the speed of the game.”
However, the Skipper also gets that, in the end, the same things that made him successful at the collegiate level will help him in the pros. “I try to think of it as the same thing where it’s relationships and communication. That’s why I think I was really successful where I was at before just because I get that you have to communicate well, and I think I’m a person that relates to people.”
The relationship a manager develops with his players is crucial, but it is quite different at the professional level. The Milwaukee Manager once again is drawing on his knowledge to help him to build the confidence of his team.
“You’re trying to develop players, but you’re also trying to get those guys to the next level like in college summer ball. I think you’re managing a team of guys that want to play at the next level. So, it’s similar to the point where you’re playing every day and, and you have to manage, the team, the bullpen and the clubhouse.”
It is true that players want to move to the next level, but he will be managing guys who have already played at the highest level of the game. Clearly, their goals and the way they expect to be treated is a little different, and Anthony has taken his experience from last year to help him develop the kind of locker room he knows his team needs.
“Last year, I learned about the league and that’s what’s unique about our league. We’re allowed to have five veterans and most of the vets have been around, whether it’s been in big leagues, Double-A, Triple-A. They want to get back there. They want to know how myself and our organization can get those guys back to that level. You still have to relate to them, to talk to them, openly communicate. I think that’s the most important thing that we communicate with them and help them to get back to where they want to be.”
The biggest mistake that many first-year managers make is that they want to be “the guy” about everything. They don’t put their confidence in their coaches or others who can help them to make the team better. Barone is in no way that egocentric. He enters this year counting on his veterans to play a key role.
“What is great about this level is you can get a group of veterans who can help those younger guys through the ups and downs in a long season, I think those guys can be so beneficial not only on the field, but off the field. I already talked to a lot of my vets and older guys about sort of leaning on those guys and making sure I can count on those guys to handle the clubhouse.”
A Different Approach to the Game
The 2019 Milwaukee Milkmen were built around a solid pitching staff and a power hitting lineup. They finished eighth in the league in ERA at 4.43, but that was affected by the team trading away one of their top three starters and arguably the best reliever in the league. The lineup hit 70 homeruns, led by Adam Walker, who finished third in the American Association in homers with 22.
However, this was a team that struggled to score runs. They finished 11th in runs scored and struck out 790 times in 100 games. They were also 11th in walks.
All of that made this a fairly one-dimensional team. That coaching staff relied on their pitching to keep the team in games and for Walker to hit a three-run homer. That worked very well for Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver, but did not go as well for the Milkmen.
While wanting to keep a strong pitching staff, Anthony Barone is looking to build a more well-rounded team.
“A big thing that I’m a proponent of is the on-base percentage metric. think we’ve identified guys that get on base at a high level. We’ve identified two guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark maybe better than anybody else in the league in Adam Walker and David Washington. We’ve also got guys that can run. I think we might have a couple of the best base stealers in the league. So, it’s a very, very unique lineup where we have a bit of speed, a bit of power.”
Barone has used last year’s abbreviated home schedule to help him develop a strategy for building a team. He knows that the way the stadium plays that a power hitting team may be at a big disadvantage as the season progresses.
“We were there two months last year and, the first month the wind blew out, everything hit in the air was a home run. Then, the second month, we played there everything blew in and you couldn’t hit a ball over infield. We want to sort of build that speed dynamic into the lineup and we’ve done that. We’ve identified some guys that can do that, so we can score runs no matter how the stadium plays.”
Welcome to Milkmen Stadium
For a manager, what separates independent ball from the Major Leagues is that you are the guy building your team. You are not only guiding the team on the field, but you are also the guy bringing in the players.
To get the right team, you have to be as much of a recruiter as you are a manager. That looks to have put Anthony Barone a step ahead of other first year managers.
“There are some similarities there, but it comes down to being a good communicator. College athletes and professional players want to know they can trust you, that they can have fun playing for you everyday when they come to the ballpark. If you can communicate that you want to see them move to the next level and you are honest and have integrity, they will want to play for you.”
He points out that part of that communication is getting them to see that they can enjoy playing baseball again if they come to Milwaukee.
“I think that’s what’s going to make guys want to come to Milwaukee is we’re really going to have fun playing this game. I think a lot of it is these guys have been at a high level and they’ve had a lot of pressure on them in their playing careers. I want to alleviate that. I want it to be a sanctuary when you come to the ballpark. I want these guys to really have fun, enjoy each other in the clubhouse and just enjoy the game of baseball and then, I think, you know the more you enjoy something, the easier it is to do. So, we’re going to really have that environment where the guys are loose and have fun playing the game.”
What to Expect in 2020
There is no doubt that the North Division in the American Association is going to be a meat grinder in 2020. The defending champions, the St. Paul Saints, are in the division, as are the team with the second best record in 2019, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, and the third best record, the Chicago Dogs. The Winnipeg Goldeyes are always a threat to win a title and Greg Tagert has led the Gary Southshore RailCats to the playoffs in two of the last three seasons. It is going to take the perfect storm for the Milwaukee Milkmen to make the post-season.
However, that churning may have just occurred. The ownership group is fully behind Anthony Barone. The new skipper has already made some moves that should make this a much more dynamic offense, and there are a lot of young arms that have already been signed who should keep this staff formidable. Plus, there will be great energy from the community as the team finally gets to offer a “season opener” as part of their 50 home games.
While many do not think the Milwaukee Milkmen will be reaching the playoffs this season, no one should rule that possibility out. Relying on his wisdom and energy, Anthony Barone could very well churn this team into a division winner. There is one thing you can count on. You can bet that if the Milkmen are competing for the division title come August, a lot of managers in the North are suddenly going to find themselves lactose intolerant.
By Robert Pannier