Winnipeg Goldeyes Hit Homerun with Hiring of Greg Tagert
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 examines the hiring of Greg Tagert by the Winnipeg Goldeyes and how this move could help the team returned to the championship series for the first time since 2017.
A Tough Act to Follow
There are few teams in independent baseball/partner league baseball history who can match the success of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. Since the team first took the field in 1994, there has been a long history of success. The team has had just five losing seasons in 29 years and have won four league titles (1994, 2012, 2016, 2017).
Former manager Rick Forney was a big reason why the team had so much success. He had been with the club for 26 years, pitching for the team for four seasons before becoming the club’s pitching coach. In 2006, he was named as the third manager in franchise history, and delivered an incredibly impressive performance over his 17 seasons at the helm, winning 887 games and three championships.
However, the tragic loss of his son David in 2020 clearly changed the priorities for Forney. He chose to leave the Goldeyes this off-season, heading east to take over the York Revolution (Atlantic League), a move that would move him closer to home.
Go Big or Go Home
While Rick Forney had established himself as one of the best managers in the American Association, recording 13 winning seasons in his 17 years as manager, including taking the team to the playoffs 10 times, Winnipeg had failed to make the playoffs in four straight seasons (2018-21), finally breaking the string in 2022.
There are extremely high expectations in Winnipeg, and following in the footsteps of Forney was not going to be easy for anyone taking over the club. Not only had the former Goldeyes skipper proven to be a winner, but he had managed to some of the best players in American Association history, including Reggie Abercrombie and Kevin McGovern. He had helped dozens of players return to affiliate ball, and had built a reputation for finding, developing, and leading that few could match.
This is why it was not surprising that Winnipeg management opted to take their time in finding the right person to fill the position. Forney resigned on October 24, and there was a great deal of speculation about who the club would bring in to become their fourth manager in franchise history.
The previous three managers reads like a “Who’s Who” of independent league greats when it comes to managers, as legends Doug Simunic, Hal Lanier, and Forney not only had a great deal of success for the Goldeyes, but all three have won championships. This is why it was clear that the team needed to a manager who not only had an impressive resume, but one who could take the club back to the championship for the first time since 2017. After almost 2 months of searching, interviewing, and analyzing, the club selected former Gary SouthShore RailCats manager Greg Tagert.
No One Does It Like Tagert
How do you replace a living legend? You replace him with another living legend. That is who Greg Tagert is.
Tagert managed in the Frontier League for 10 seasons, making the playoffs in six of those years. In 2005, he was hired to take over the RailCats and quickly turned the club into one of the premier organizations in both the old Northern League and in the American Association. Tagert won championships in 2005, 2007, and 2013 and reached the 1000 victory mark in 2016. At the time, it made him one of just five managers in independent baseball history to reach the mark, coincidentally joining Simunic and Lanier.
While some saw this as a surprising move, it actually made perfect sense for the Goldeyes. The reality is that Tagert is arguably the best evaluator of young talent in baseball, and it was not surprising that he joined the San Francisco Giants organization in 2022.
Tagert has figured out ways to win regardless of what the dynamic of the organization is. In his first 10 years with the RailCats, Tagert was free to acquire veterans and reach near the salary cap to develop winning ball clubs. That led to the championship in 2013 in the team’s third season in the American Association.
In 2015, Tagert was forced to take a different track to forming his team. Ownership was looking to spend less, but still expected big results out of the club. The Skipper delivered, forming a team based primarily around college graduates and first and second year players. Tagert was able to take his team to a winning record in three of the first four seasons under the new formula. That included two trips to the playoffs, and he led the team to the top record in the North Division in 2018.
Fundamental baseball became the focus in Gary SouthShore, and Tagert became a master at developing young talent and turning them into proven commodities quickly. He also developed a style of baseball that became known as “Railcatted.” Many would look over the roster of 15 or 16 rookies and think that there was no way that this team could win. However, Tagert not only turned these young men into winners, but annoyed virtually every team in the league. They never seemed to be out of games, and always made those late-season pushes to get back in the thick of the race.
Teams affectionately recognized the “Railcatted” style of baseball, as it was one where the team could erase five and six run deficits by methodically and fundamentally battling back in games each and every night. They became an enigma, the annoying gnats of the American Association. They also proved that Tagert could find a way to win even when the conditions meant that his team should do everything but win.
How He Turns the Goldeyes
From the start, the Winnipeg Goldeyes have not been afraid to sign veterans and give their manager all of the financial resources necessary to create a winner. Greg Tagert should greatly benefit from a payroll that allows him to sign the maximum number of veterans and to fill his roster with 16 or 17 experienced affiliate players. That is clearly the benefit for the Manager.
For the Goldeyes, they get a manager who knows how to evaluate young, inexperienced talent like no one else in independent baseball. Tagert has found the gems, turning young players like Daniel Lingua, Colin Willis, Daniel Minor, and Thomas Walraven (just to name a few) into All-Star players.
In a league where every team has 10 or 12 exceptional players with great talent, it is often the young talent, those first and second year players that make the biggest difference. It is that leftfielder with speed, utility player who winds up taking over a starting role because of injury, or the middle reliever who holds leads for the back end of the bullpen that make the biggest difference of all. Tagert is excellent at finding those young players and turning them into valued members of his club.
In essence, Tagert will now benefit from the best of both worlds. He will have the financial resources to sign the best talent available while also being able to pursue the young players he has so masterfully used to benefit his club. This could mean that the Winnipeg Goldeyes could be that annoying team that sticks around in games, winning late and breaking opponents hearts.
Maybe in 2023 we will be coining a new term. Can you say “Goldeyed?”
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By Robert Pannier