After Pawtucket won the 1984 Governors’ Cup, manager Tony Torchia was promoted to Boston as the team’s bullpen coach.
He was replaced by Rac Slider, a veteran minor league manager whose primary experience had been at the Class A level.
Slider tried to apply his Class A approach at the Triple-A level, and the 1985 season morphed into a minor-league version of Mutiny on the Bounty.
The players bristled at Slider’s many new rules – rules which might have been necessary in rookie ball but which were ill-suited for older men, some of whom had major league experience.
Bottom line? The 1985 PawSox finished with the worst record (49-91) in franchise history and Slider was reassigned.
That season was an example of how different skills and approaches are required of managers at different levels in an organization.
“You crack the reins on guys early so you don’t have to do it at the upper levels,” said Portland manager Arnie Beyler. “It’s like raising your kids. You have to instill some discipline and work ethic. Hopefully, by going through routines and how to play the game and how to be a pro, and how things are done, by the time they get to high-A ball or Double A or Triple A, you shouldn’t have to deal with those issues any more.”
Pawtucket’s Ron Johnson, who began managing in 1982, speaks from experience when addressing this issue.
“I’ve got a guy like Keith Ginter who’s had four or five years in the big leagues,” he said. “If I start saying ‘Keith, you didn’t shave today’, or ‘Your socks are too low’, that’s not going to happen.
“But with a (Triple-A rookie) Dusty Brown, yeah, you have to be there.”
And the lower the level the more the manager has to “be there.”
“There are a lot of hats these guys wear at the lower levels,” said Boston director of player development Mike Hazen. “The empathy they can show while players are transitioning into professional baseball is important. At the lower levels in a lot of cases, it’s more about how do we cope with distractions so we can play every day.
“There are distractions at the upper levels, but at the lower levels it might be something like ‘Where do I get my laundry done after a 10-day road trip?’ There’s a level of detail that exists at the lower levels that needs to be watched over by our staff. We take a painstaking approach to educating our guys about rights and wrongs.
“If their career is the most important thing to them,” continued Hazen, “then they’ll make the right choices.”
When the major league club makes a choice regarding who to call up from Triple A to fill a need, the ensuing reaction in the clubhouse is completely in the manager’s hands.
“‘RJ’ must work with developing their confidence, so if somebody gets called up, what’s the effect on the other two guys who don’t get called up,” queried Hazen. “They’re going to have to deal with not getting called up and focus on getting ready for the next opportunity.
“(Gulf Coast League manager) Dave Tomlin and (Greenville manager) Kevin Boles only have to worry about that to a lesser extent. Those are the skills ‘RJ’ has mastered and learned through years of experience, and why he’s so valuable for us.
“‘RJ’ works as hard as anybody we have and is a good motivator,” added Hazen. “He just needs to apply his skills.”
Beyeler seconded that motion.
“All those guys at the Triple-A level are reading the transactions,” he said. “They know it’s an insurance factory. It’s a place for guys on the way up. That’s a tough level to keep guys happy and keep them playing.
“Basically you are the team and you evolve with the team. If you have young guys or selfish guys who don’t care about the team, as a manager you have to be a little stricter and polish the edges a little bit.”