In his second season as Manager of the Lincoln Saltdogs, Bobby Brown has his team in first place in the Central Division of the American Association, boasting a 46-25 record, the best record in the league. It has been a focus on old school ideas with a twist of his own management style that has the team chasing its second American Association title.
There is an old adage in baseball that pitching and defense wins title. Despite the success that some teams have had as offensive juggernauts, it is the team that has the stellar pitching staff and plays great defense that is usually the one going on to win the title.
Despite a proven track record, this is not the modern way of thinking. Analytics, sabermetrics and all the other kind of -ics you can think of have drastically changed the game, making it more about who has the best IT department than about who has the best rotation or plays flawless defense.
One manager is clearly bucking the trend and has turned his team into a powerhouse in the American Association. Lincoln Saltdogs Manager Bobby Brown is using an old-style formula, and the results clearly speak for themselves. He has his team in first in the Central Division and they currently hold the league’s best record (46-25) heading into a three-game series against the Wichita Wingnuts, the team with the second-best record in the league.
A Solid Baseball Career Provides Education
Robert “Bobby” Brown has been involved in baseball for nearly 40-years now. The California native grew up loving the game, and after attending the University of Oklahoma, he embarked on a professional career.
Bobby was not drafted coming out of college, so he signed with Springfield in the Frontier League in 1996. He appeared in just one-game there before signing with the Kansas City Royals organization. In 1997, he was assigned to Spokane in the Northwest League, where he appeared in 14-games.
Bobby did not get much opportunity there before he was granted his release, so he returned to the Frontier League, this time joining Canton. Finally given a chance to prove himself, Brown appeared in 77-games and had a monster season, hitting .363 with 9-homers and 63-RBI. He also scored 58-runs and had 28-doubles.
In 1999, Bobby Brown joined the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks in the Northern League where he would put up another big year at the plate. In 84-games, he hit .304 with 8-homer and 51-RBI.
The next three years he would spend north of the border, joining the Winnipeg Goldeyes in 2000. Bobby hit .299 his first season, .267 his second, and .309 his third. After three seasons in Winnipeg, Bobby split the 2003 season between Brockton of the Northeast League and Saskatoon of the Canadian Baseball League. He combined to hit .267 in 48-gamesa and drove in 16.
In 2005, Brown returned to the Northern League, signing with the Sioux City Explorers. He spent two seasons there, hitting .283 in 2005 and .303 the next season. He finished the 2006 season in San Diego in the Golden Baseball League, where he hit .329.
Turning Education into Action
Bobby Brown had an extremely successful career in independent baseball, hitting .301 over his nine-seasons, with 368-runs driven in in 623-games. His time in the different leagues not only gave him the opportunity to improve his skills at the plate, but to also learn what it took to become a successful manager in independent baseball.
After retiring, Bobby turned to coaching where he spent time coaching and managing at the college level in California. The opportunity not only gave him the chance to share his insights but also piqued his interest in relation to becoming a full-time skipper.
“I used to manage a summer collegiate team out in California and I really enjoyed it. I kind of pursued it after that and I actually had some hitting coach jobs, but I just kind of liked leading guys and trying to help their careers move forward.”
In 2011, Bobby was the hitting coach for San Angelo in the North American League, and would move to Abilene the next season to fill the same role. He proved that he had the requisite mindset and abilities to lead a team and, in 2013, the Amarillo Thunderheads named him as their manager.
Bobby spent three years in this role, posting a combined record of 134-165. In his first season with the team, Amarillo went 52-48 their best record in the team’s five years of existence. Brown not only helped to improve the quality of the play on the field, but had a keen eye for talent. In 2013, the Amarillo Manager gave David Peralta an opportunity which eventually led to him being signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks and playing in the Major Leagues one year later.
The following season, John Holdzkom was signed by Brown, and would be pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates by season’s end. These were two of five players that were signed by affiliate clubs during his tenure as manager.
Adding Some Bite to the Lincoln Saltdogs
At the end of the 2015 season, Bobby Brown was let go as the Thunderheads’ manager. He opted to become the hitting coach for the Lincoln Saltdogs, but would never serve in the position as the team’s manager, Ken Oberkfell, was forced to step down due a family emergency. Brown had been coveted by many teams at that time to take over as their skipper, but decided that Lincoln was truly the spot for him.
“I was in the league when Lincoln first came in. I played five different seasons against them here and, managing in the league in Amarillo, we came up here four or five times over the three years that I was there. It’s just a first-class organization from Jim Abel to Charlie Meyer, and just the way that they operated it was really a dream kind of job. I am very humbled that that they offered me the job here.”
With over a decade of experience in the Northern League/American Association, Bobby had not only developed a strategy on how he wanted to build a team, but he also had the connections to make that a reality. His goal was to ensure that he had the best possible starting pitching staff available, knowing that it gave his team the best chances of winning.
“I try to start were starting pitching. Just being in the league long enough to know it puts your offense in a bad spot if you’re starting pitching doesn’t give you a chance from the first-inning on. If you don’t have good starting pitching you’re at a big disadvantage from the first pitch of the game.”
The Proof Is in the Pudding
With a focus on pitching and finding position players who slick and solid in the field, Bobby Brown liked his chances to start out the 2016 season. The Lincoln Saltdogs saw instantaneous success, going from a team that won 34-games in 2015 to one that won 52 a year later. In fact, the team was in first coming out of the all-star break, but injuries to his team coupled with a red-hot Sioux City Exploreres run led to the Saltdogs falling out of contention on the last weekend of the season.
Despite the disappointing finish, the team showed marked improvement. The 2015 Saltdogs were 11th in the league in pitching (5.11) and committed the sixth most errors (110) in the American Association. A year later, the focus on how he was going to build his team proved positive right away. The team was second in ERA (3.71) and committed the fourth fewest amount of errors (84). It was easy to see why they were winning.
Choosing Character Above Talent Is a Bobby Brown Standard
While focused on building a solid team, Bobby Brown is even more focused on finding young men who come with a solid reputation. In a game where you spend 120-days around one another, the last thing needed is a player that is focused on himself or who becomes a cancer in the locker room. Bobby was not going to allow anyone like that on his team.
“Being a college coach for a few years and being in independent ball and knowing people and organizations, I try to call people looking at their background, where they went to school, where they are from, what organization they are with, who might’ve played with them. I try to call three or four different people on the makeup of the guy, because no matter how good the guy is, if the makeup is not right then I usually pass. You try to build a good locker room. A lot of these guys spend a big portion of their life in the summer together and you have to make sure that they can coexist.”
He also expects his veterans to set the tone. While he can lay down the law as to what he expects from his players, the Lincoln Manager understands that it is the players who determine the team’s chemistry.
“The veterans have to be good people, good leaders, who help the younger guys. At this level, the younger players learn more from the veteran players than they do from the coaches, believe it or not. I want guys that are not selfish, guys that maybe have that characteristic to be a coach someday and the veterans we have here are just a blessing.”
Following in the Footsteps of His Mentor
This season, the Lincoln Saltdogs team is proving to be a real blessing to their fans. They have the league’s best record and are threatening to run away with their division. Exactly one month ago, the team began a run where they have gone 21-5 to move from third in their division to 5-games in front. During the streak they won nine straight games at one point (July 11-19), second longest in the American Association this season, and they have taken four of six from the Kansas City T-Bones during the run, the team that is in second in the division.
Bobby Brown has put together a pitching staff that is even more dominant than last year’s group. The Saltdogs are first in the league in ERA (3.28) nearly a half-run better than the second-best team. They are also the league’s best team defensively, ranked first in fielding percentage (.982) and they have committed the fewest number of errors (48). It may seem old-school, but the strategy is providing results.
The turnaround of this team has Bobby in line as the American Association’s Manager of the Year, but the second-year manager acknowledges that he would not be where he is today had it not been for his mentor, Doc Edwards.
“I worked for him for a year and he helped me get my first managing job in independent ball in the same league as him. We played him 33 times. Before games, after games, even when I was managing against him he was still teaching me what I did right, what I did wrong. He is maybe the greatest minor-league manager that ever lived. The only guy I have ever known who has never been wrong.”
Maybe Bobby Brown isn’t as perfect as his mentor, but the Lincoln Saltdogs Manager has sure been making a whole lot of correct calls since joining the team. By combining old school ideas with his own style of management, the team is on a run that no team may be able to stop. Maybe teams in the American Association won’t be able to collar these ‘Dogs, but they might surely be fitting them for rings.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA