Who Is American Association’s Top Manager? Candidate 4: George Tsamis, Kane County Cougars
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier finishing his look at the top four candidates for American Association Manager of the Year. Today, he looks at Kane County Cougars Manager George Tsamis.
Doing the Most with the Least?
When you have a lot of talent on your team, it is much easier to win on a regular basis. There is no denying that the American Association has 12 very talented clubs, but there are clearly some who are a level above the rest. That is a testament to the manager or player personnel director of the team, where they are able to bring in the very best talent.
In some instances, a manager finds a way to win when he does not necessarily have the most talented team. Often, it is the ability to make significant changes that pan out that set the manager apart from others. Some have had success in doing this before, and have been able to use that inner sense they have that tells them when to make moves and how to restructure their club.
George Tsamis Has Done It Before
That is the story of Kane County Cougars manager George Tsamis. In his second year with the Cougars, Tsamis has the club already locked into a playoff berth and now they are not only fighting for second place in the East Division, but also still have a legitimate shot of winning the division outright.
The Kane County Skipper has a long history of success. He took over Waterbury in the now-defunct Northern League East in 1999 and managed the club for two seasons before taking over New Jersey. In 2003, he was hired by the St. Paul Saints as their new manager, and spent 18 seasons in St. Paul, winning more than a thousand games with the club.
In 2021, St. Paul jumped out of the independent baseball ranks, becoming the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. That left Tsamis without a job, but he was unemployed for just a very short period of time, hired by the Cougars as their new manager.
Kane County was dropped from minor league baseball, opting to join the American Association. Tsamis was the perfect choice for this club, as he had a long history of success, including winning three championship titles in St. Paul and had 12 winning seasons.
Because of how late he was hired in the off-season, Tsamis did not have as much of an opportunity to work his magic on building the Cougars. That led to a 44-55 record in his first season in Geneva.
This season has been a different story altogether, as Kane County jumped out to an 11-5 record in the first month, hitting .317, the best batting average in the American Association. The club was almost completely overhauled from the previous season. Tsamis already had former Major Leaguer Vance Worley in the rotation, but added another in Ryan Tapani. He brought in Jimmy Kerrigan and Sherman Johnson from the Twins organization, keeping just a handful of players from the previous campaign.
That also included a new coaching staff. For the first time in a decade, Ole Sheldon and Kerry Ligtenberg were not in the dugout with Tsamis. He had to learn an entirely new coaching staff while also learning how to put a mostly new team in a position to win.
One of the biggest moves of the year was to turn former Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks starter Logan Nissen into his closer. Nissen had very little experience in this role, but performed well, saving seven games while posting a 2.38 ERA in 19 appearances before he went on injured reserve.
This was one of the many moves that Tsamis made that have worked out for the veteran skipper. That included replacing Nissen with Tapani as the closer following the All-Star break. Tapani had gotten off to a fast start and was pitching well for the team, but began to struggle around the break. With Nissen out, Tsamis turned to the right-hander as his closer and the results speak for themselves, as he has saved four games and has given up runs in only three of his 10 relief appearances.
Working through injuries and struggles, the club went 11-16 in June and 12-14 in July. They looked like they would be relegated to second or third in the division, but a 15-9 August coupled with the struggles of the Chicago Dogs suddenly finds this club in position to be division champs.
Kane County has three games against the Gary SouthShore RailCats to begin the week, then welcome the Chicago Dogs to town for four to finish out the season. It has been a remarkable turnaround for this team, led by another masterful performance by Tsamis, and he has this team in a position to overtake Chicago.
However, his chances of winning American Association Manager of the Year may depend upon where this team finishes in the standings. At this point, Tsamis and Milwaukee Milkmen Manager Anthony Barone are likely the top two Manager of the Year candidates. Both are fighting for that second spot in the division, if not the division lead. Whoever winds up winning that race will likely win the award. Since both clubs finish with Gary and Chicago, this will be a chance for voters to watch to see who performs best in these pivotal series.
No matter the results, Tsamis has done a spectacular job this season. He is not only trying to develop a winning club in Geneva, but teaching Cougars fans what independent baseball is all about. Fortunately for fans, they are learning from the master.
By Robert Pannier