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 looks at the recent mass turnover of managers within the league, including five first-year managers this year.
A Change in Command
When you have three of the most well-known managers in independent baseball history running teams in your league, it can overshadow the fact that there are a lot of new managers in the this year. So many that it may surprise you how “new” to the league most of the skippers are.
There Are Only Four “Old-Timers”
In a recent episode of Mound Talk, a fan asked Sioux City Explorers Manager Steve Montgomery how he felt about being he fourth longest tenured manager in the league? Montgomery is in just his fifth year with the team, and it shocked him to think that he was an elder statesman.
It is easy to miss that fact. When you have Greg Tagert with the Gary Southshore RailCats, Rick Forney with the Winnipeg Goldeyes, and George Tsamis with the St. Paul Saints, a group who have 40-plus years of managerial experience in independent baseball, it is easy to ignore the turnover this season, but there are five managers who will be in their first full season with their team this year, nearly half the league.
One manager in that group has a little experience with his team already. Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks Skipper Michael Schlact took over for the final 24 games of 2017, and posted a 16-8 record. He not only benefitted from a month of managing the team, but has had a full off-season with the club as well, and has used that to build the kind of club that meets his expectations.
Butch Hobson will take over the new Chicago Dogs franchise, but the Skipper is not new to managing in any way. Hobson not only managed the Boston Red Sox for three seasons, but has an extensive record in independent baseball, posting a 1235-1071 record in 18 seasons, mostly in the Atlantic League. This will be his first in the American Association, however, and so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the different player rules.
Three managers will be running their club for the first time, and no one has more pressure on him than new Wichita Wingnuts Skipper Brent Clevlen. He is a Wichita guy, spending parts of six seasons as a player with the club, so the expectations and culture will not be an issue. The pressure will come from the fact that previous Manager Pete Rose, Jr. took the team to the American Association championship series both years he managed the club and his predecessor, Kevin Hooper, was one of the best managers in the game, no matter what level you are talking about. The first three letters in Wingnuts is “W-I-N” and that is what Clevlen will be expected to do.
While not officially confirmed, Shelby Ford will be the manager of the Cleburne Railroaders in 2018. It is not surprising that the team made Ford their choice. He is one of those guys that everyone around the league knew would be a successful manager when given the chance, and he does have a little managerial experience, taking over for the Sioux Falls Canaries for the final 46 games in 2016. Some may give the new Skipper a little grace period, but his predecessor, Gabe Suarez, did a great job with this team last year, and so he will need a 53-plus win season to be looked at as a success.
Yet to be determined is who will lead the Texas AirHogs this season. Maybe the more appropriate thing would be to say is “yet to be announced.” Reports have confirmed that Billy Martin, Jr. is stepping down from his position as field manager to focus on player acquisition, and so a new skipper will be at the helm.
Don’t Forget the Other Newbies
What adds to the irony of the situation, is that there are three other managers who have no more than two years of experience with their clubs. Lincoln Saltdogs Manager Bobby Brown, the guy before Ford who everyone knew should be a manager, is an “elder statesman” of the group, taking over the Saltdogs in 2016.
Sioux City Canaries’ Mike Meyer and Kansas City T-Bones’ Joe Calfapietra have just one year with their clubs. Meyer was a highly touted coach who earned quite a reputation around the league when he was with the Laredo Lemurs. Calfapietra had 14 highly successful seasons in the Can-Am League, including making it to the title series in five straight seasons.
This should make for a very unusual season in the American Association as teams not only have to figure out how to pitch to opposing batters or what kind of stuff an opposing pitcher has, but also have to learn the idiosyncrasies of the manager in the other dugout. This may truly be a year like no other in the league.
Featured Image by Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA