Everybody pines to be in the Major Leagues, especially members of AAA rosters. A phone call away can make you…well…sit by the phone. This dynamic requires the managers of these clubs to be very aware. They need to be equipped to manage disgruntled souls and bring positive energy perpetually. This is no easy task. Andy Haines riffs below. Enjoy.
In 2012, while managing in the Florida State League, I met Gabe Kapler. My hitting coach, Corey Hart, introduced us after a game on the long walk back to the clubhouse in Port Charlotte, FL. I remember it vividly. Corey looked right at me and said “Hainsey, that guy’s wheels spin more than yours.” Wow. Now I’m intrigued.
The next day, Gabe didn’t come to our game, and my plan of ambushing him with questions about our great game was rendered moot. Fast forward a few years, and suddenly I’m reading his posts about squats and drinking organic coffee. When I was asked to contribute, I immediately thought about that one night in Port Charlotte. For those of you who know me, and are currently picturing my Jimmy Leyland or Billy Martin type physique, you’re surely aware this won’t be about deadlifting or crushing a kale salad. The coffee part, I’m confident in. It’s simply not possible to drink more of it, or enjoy it, more than I do.
What I can contribute is the answer to the question I get asked more often than any other – “what is the biggest challenge of your job?” As AAA manager for the Miami Marlins, my response is unequivocally “removing the clutter.” This applies not just to my players but also to my coaching staff and yes, for yours truly as well. The clutter of AAA is very real and significant.
Buck Showalter once said “AAA is the hardest place to coach on the planet.” That isn’t to say that other levels don’t have their own challenges. I remember managing in A ball and having a distraught player come into my office. He simply didn’t have enough money to pay his clubhouse dues for that day and needed to borrow some. I obliged, even knowing that my wife would be asking where our milk money for the week was.
That player is now in the big leagues, and if he has a brain (or a financial advisor), his kids will never have to work a day in their lives. That’s what you call life changing, and you can’t get any closer to it than AAA. I’m not sure it’s possible to have a bigger proverbial carrot dangling in front of you on a daily basis than the world called the Major Leagues. It can become the biggest distraction you can imagine…for everyone.
That is the “clutter.” Leadership 101…the big leagues need to be a motivator, but sometimes that carrot can turn into a toxic drug that makes players and coaches jaded, a shell of themselves. They become genuinely hard to be around as they’re distracted and enamored with the future, instead of remembering that their only power exists in the present moment. The challenges of a manager come not in bullpen usage or the double switch, but in leading and guiding men every night.
As a manager, I need to be a leader. I’m the man up front that the group needs to be able to count on to post up every single minute of every single day. My job is to convince 25 guys that the team is sacred, the competition should come first and we are going to be a band of brothers like no one has ever seen before…all while most players are checking Twitter on their phones, obsessed with the Major League roster.
My background is a little different than most in my position (that’s a whole separate article), and I have been fortunate to learn from a wide range of people. I’m continually impressed by the quality of people that exist in the minor leagues. I’ve gained so much respect for how many tremendous baseball people and leaders grind away in anonymity in the minor leagues. Through these experiences, I’ve been able to formulate my own ideas on leadership. Authentic works. Every great leader has their own quirks, and copycatting is not a strategy that the best of the best have used.
When I can be honest and upfront with players, I can better relate to them, remove unnecessary layers and get down to what is going to help remove what “clutter” there is to remove. Many people may be shocked if I make the earth shattering announcement that I dream about the big leagues, just like my players. I admit it to my players as well. I cringe when I hear people say “the big leagues aren’t important to me, I’m only it in for the players.” Really? Uh, excuse me. You’ve either already been there for a very long time, are very rich, have no ambition in your life, or you’re lying to me and yourself. I’m not buying it, and your players aren’t either. Sorry to be so harsh.
My life’s mission is to be a great leader. To do it in a Major League dugout…wow. It doesn’t serve my players or coaches to deny that I’m human, and the big leagues are real and up close for me too. I can walk in and honestly talk to people about those dreams. What is truly going to help you compete at the highest level possible? What is going help you to make big pitch after big pitch, throw out some relentless at bats night after night, and be the best teammate those guys in the clubhouse have ever seen? That should be your focus. All the rest is useless clutter that is not helping. How can we use the Big Leagues as a resource to empower you, not drag you down to this person that is utterly useless to a baseball team?
If I want to be a great manager, I have to do the same. Some days are easier than others. Plain and simple. You want to be in a major league dugout with the best in the world? Then we had better start preparing and competing in a way that resembles those goals, and my favorite part of this sport is that you have to do it every single day. Over and over again.
I had the chance to experience the drug in 2011. It was the best 14 days of my life, but who’s counting? It’s standard practice that a coach or two gets invited in September to tag along after the minor league season has concluded, and I was lucky enough to get the call that year. In my mind, I managed all 14 games (and even practiced my manager’s pose in Milwaukee with a packed house on the night they clinched with a Ryan Braun HR).
For the sake of full disclosure, my responsibilities were throwing BP and crushing the big league spread like it was my job, but hey, let me have my moment. But that night in Milwaukee was the most electric thing a competitor can imagine. To be in that environment is indescribable and impossible to replicate in the minor leagues. I can understand the powerful feeling of being on the field, competing at the highest level in the world, and then having to come see me in New Orleans, Louisiana and listen to this manager all fired up about the team being sacred.
Rest assured, though, I send the message loud and clear. I’m with you, big guy. The dream is real for your skipper too. Now let’s get some coffee and get after it.
Thanks for having me,