American Association Daily will provide 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, the Winnipeg Goldeyes success is discussed as well as how ready this team is to make a run for their third straight American Association title.
Recognized for Brilliance
If you look through the annuls of sports history, you will find a group of coaches that have become true legends. What separates them from others in their field is the fact that they were winners. Men like Vince Lombardi, Curly Lambeau, Sparky Anderson, Whitey Ford, and Tommy Lasorda seemingly always had their team on the precipice of another championship and became legends in their sports because of the ways they inspired their team to find ways to win.
Sadly, coaches these days do not earn that same respect. When a coach has a long period of success there always seems to be the speculation as to what really led to the team’s winning ways. To see this, one need look no further than the New England Patriots. Because of the team’s recording of opposing teams back in 2007, now a vast majority of sports fans assume that every time that the Patriots win that there must be some nefarious reason that they did so.
Never mind the fact that Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback of all time or that Bill Belichick is an outright genius. Credit is simply not going to be given.
Count Rick Forney in that Category
While not garnering the same kind of scrutiny as Belichick, when you have success at any level there are going to be those who are skeptical of that success. This is the current plight of Winnipeg Goldeyes Manager Rick Forney.
Forney will be entering his 13th season as the skipper of the Goldeyes, and has posted an impressive 657-524 (.556) record. During his tenure, the team has made the playoffs nine times and won championships in 2012, 2o16, and 2017. Since the American Association first began play in 2006, no team has won more championships than the Goldeyes.
The success speaks for itself, but it has also brought out a number of skeptics who question how the Winnipeg Manager has had so much success. This criticism has reached a point where it is sometimes overshadowing the brilliance that has allowed the manager to keep his team on top.
For those familiar with independent baseball, there are two open secrets that are speculated related to every successful manager: circumventing the salary cap and sabotaging players attempts to get signed by affiliate teams.
The American Association has a cap of $125,000 per season, with two exceptions being made for the players who make the most and the second most amount of money. Despite the cap, teams have cheated by paying players under the table. This occurred in 2015 when it was learned that the Laredo Lemurs had been paying one of their star players more than that reported salary. The team received a $5,000 fine, but they were allowed to retain their championship from that season, really making the fine almost comical. The league has done its best to take this issue seriously, but often with limited success.
Sabotaging of players’ chances to move onto an affiliate club is an entirely different story. There is no rule that prohibits this. A manager is more than able to give a bad report to one of the Major League organizations, hoping that team will pass on the player. This helps a team looking for an American Association title to keep their star.
It is true that this is an incredibly unethical practice, but that does not stop the speculation from surrounding successful managers. When a team continues to win, the skeptics will naturally assume that the manager is following this practice to keep his players around. Only former Wichita Wingnuts managers Kevin Hooper and Pete Rose, Jr. have seemed to have escaped these accusations, which have, unfairly, fallen squarely on the shoulders of the Winnipeg Goldeyes skipper, providing the real reason why his team has been so successful over these last two seasons.
Non-Sense Bordering on the Suicidal
To be honest, the antagonists feel that they have a strong case against Rick Forney. Over the last two seasons, the Winnipeg Goldeyes have had three of the best starting pitchers in the American Association and a core of hitters that made them the ’27 Yankees of the league. At one point last season, the Goldeyes had five of the top six hitters in the American Association and six of the top 10. When critics look at those numbers, they just know that something has to be wrong. Why else would these players not be signed?
To understand why, a little reality is necessary here. First of all, one must understand that baseball is a very small community. Even with its global influence, a player in the independent leagues is really only two or three people removed from knowing the manager of the World Series Champion Houston Astros or Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper. Every player knows someone that knows someone that could tell you personally about any manager at any level of the sport from college on up.
This is not an exaggeration and is something that is important to understand because for a manager to sabotage a player’s career would be akin to sabotaging his own. If a player had any inclination that his manager was speaking ill of him out of turn that manager would be done. No one would sign there, because the ultimate goal of every player is to return to affiliate ball and every manager knows that.
The managers want that as well because it not only gives them a sense of pride at helping a player get back to where they have a shot at playing in the Majors one day, but it is also a great recruiting tool for the manager. Who does not want to play for a manager where they had six players signed by affiliate clubs the previous season? No one gets this better than Rick Forney.
It is true that his roster has stayed much the same over the last two seasons but, instead of being proof of something wrong, it is actually proof of what he is doing right. Players return to the Winnipeg Goldeyes because they love playing for their manager.
No one need look further for proof of this than star outfielder Reggie Abercrombie. Abercrombie played in the Majors for the Houston Astros and could be playing at AAA even in his mid-30s but, if any of the reports are true, he has turned down the opportunity to return to affiliate ball because he loves playing in Winnipeg. That is just the reality.
One must also consider that how Major League organizations make decisions about personnel often seems psychotic. Last off-season, the Oakland Athletics signed outfielder Josh Romanski, but he was cut by the team at the end of Spring Training. All Romanski did when he returned to Winnipeg was put up career numbers and win the American Association MVP award. Yet, the A’s didn’t have room for him, and no team has signed him this off-season. That is Forney’s fault? It’s really just a case of blind scouts.
Prepared to Make It Three
The truth is that Rick Forney is just good at what he does and that he is exceptional at making connections with his players. To many fans, he may seem gruff and even a bit surly (a reputation I am sure he relishes in some ways) but the truth is that this is one of the most personable men anyone will meet. However, he is incredibly competitive and fiercely protective of his players, and that is why they love him.
What really is making him successful is the strategy he has employed the last three seasons. Most managers around the league wait until February and March to start building their team, but the Winnipeg Manager has been making a considerable number of moves starting in December and January, and that has helped him to get the players he wants.
In November, Forney signed two of the best players off the Salina Stockade, outfielder Jonathan Moroney and catcher Jesse Baker. These two had outstanding seasons for a team that was put together one week before the season began and who played all 100 games on the road. Baker hit .253 in 92 games with 8 homers and 35 RBI and was brilliant behind the plate, handling a pitching staff that seemingly changed on a nightly basis. Moroney hit .294 in 50 games.
Eight days ago, Winnipeg reacquired right-hander Cameron McVey. McVey pitched for the 2016 Goldeyes team that won the championship and was ridiculously good for the Lincoln Saltdogs last season, going 1-1 with a 1.62 ERA in 33.1 innings pitched. He will easily make the loss of last year’s closer Ryan Chaffee (who was traded to the Atlantic League) a lot more palatable.
Monday, Forney added three more arms, bringing in Jordan Wellander, Zach Hartman, and Josh Tols. Wellander dominated for Joliet (Frontier League) last season, posting a 2.27 ERA in 31 appearances while striking out 41. Hartman was in the Dodgers’ organization last season, and Tols pitched in Australia this last year following a solid season with the Kansas City T-Bones in 2016.
To be honest, there is no real mystery as to why the Winnipeg Goldeyes have been so successful. Their Manager acquires the players he wants who he knows will fit his roster when he has the chance, while other teams are waiting to see who might be available. Then, he makes sure that they know he has their back. It may just be that simple.
The 2018 American Association is about four months away, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes will be looking to make a run for a three-peat. It will also be the 25th anniversary of the team, which would make the feat all the more memorable. This team already has the look of a team that could easily repeat, so haters get ready. You will likely have a whole lot of opportunity to complain.
AAD Notes: The Sioux City Explorers announced the release of infielder Joe Bennie on Monday. Bennie was another one of the nuggets that Manager Steve Montgomery was able to find last season when his team was plagued with injuries and saw several key members signed to affiliate contracts. Bennie started the season in AA-Midland (Oakland Athletics) and played exceptionally well for the Explorers, hitting .264 with 3 homers, 27 runs scored, and 14 RBI in 47 games. One has to wonder if the infielder is considering retirement. Bennie is 26…The exodus of American Association players to the Atlantic League continues as Denis Phipps was traded by Texas to Sugarland. The former Major Leaguer hit .314 in his 12th season with 10 homers and 58 RBI. He also had 99 hits…Ty Morrison will remain in Sioux Falls in 2018. In 2017, Morrison hit .289 for the Canaries with 10 homers and 47 RBI. The outfielder stole 21 bases…The Lincoln Saltdogs re-signed right-hander Shairon Martis. Martis only appeared in seven games for Lincoln, but he was brilliant, posting a 4-1 record and a 2.01 ERA. If healthy, he should help to anchor the starting rotation.
By Robert Pannier