By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Mellower Mad Dog Managing In Minors
New York, NY.—With the patience of the proverbial saint and the wisdom of a martial arts grand master former 4-time National League batting champion Bill Madlock is rapping up his inaugural season in his first managerial job.
It’s in the independent Atlantic League with New Jersey’s Newark Bears.
For 15 big-league seasons the Memphis, Tennessee native simply hit the ball! Lacing singles and extra base hits into the outfield gaps amassing a career .305 average. On two separate occasions he won two batting titles with different franchises (Chicago Cubs 1975 and ’76 and the Pittsburgh Pirates 1981 and ’83), making him the first player to win more than one hitting crown with two clubs. Furthermore, his .336 career average in the windy city is the highest in team history for players with at least 400 games.
However, you don’t get the nickname Mad Dog by just being an outstanding hitter.
In his day Madlock had several run-ins with umpires, opposing pitchers, teammates and club owners, the latter perhaps justifying why he played for six ball clubs. Nevertheless, teams looking for a professional hitter and the consummate competitor always found room (he came to the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates via trade from the San Francisco Giants in the middle of the 1979 season and batted .329 helping them to the World Series championship).
In September of ’87 his hard slide against Toronto infielder Tony Fernandez breaking up a double play sidelined the second baseman for the remainder of a hotly contested pennant race, which saw Madlock’s Detroit Tigers overtake the Blue Jays on the last day of the season.
Ahh, but how we mellow with age.
These days the 52-year old first-time manager has only been ejected seven times by umpires. His mantra sounding very similar to those of any seasoned field general, “They’re too inconsistent with their calls.”
Yet, the most noticeable aspect of this transformation is how understanding Madlock is of the limitations facing his last place club.
Teams in the Atlantic League are not affiliated with any major league ball club and therefore have to rely on lesser developed players.
Moreover, despite winning the championship last season the Bears hired Madlock a few weeks before the start of spring training.
“We probably have the slowest team in the history of baseball”, he says with a smile while giving every indication that will not be the case next season.
“I’m enjoying it, I wanted to do it so I could learn at this level, and in a non pressure situation.”
Madlock served as a hitting instructor in the minors and with the Detroit Tigers, and like most old-schoolers he sees a difference in today’s players.
“Guys today don’t think about the game as much as we did. They think about it at 6:55 p.m., and game time is 7.”
“We asked questions. Now they have so many other things in their lives like cell phones, video games etc… I had to back off. It’s tough, but fun.”
Perhaps further hammering home Mad Dog’s bone of contention with the players was the arrival of sure first ballot Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson and pitcher Jose Lima to Newark earlier this season. Both were hoping to get another shot in the majors.
“Those guys were great. Rickey especially. He was a professional and another coach, but I don’t think the young guys fully took advantage of his knowledge. They should’ve been right behind those guys every day.”
Henderson landed a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Lima is pitching in Kansas City with the Royals.
Indeed there have been other players who have made their way to the big time without the credentials of the aforementioned Henderson and Lima.
Outfielder Michael Coleman joined the Reds from Newark and Pedro Borbon, Jr. joined the St. Louis Cardinals after pitching for the Long Island Ducks.
However, many lesser talented players unfairly view the Atlantic League as a pit stop along the way to realizing their professional dreams.
“We have a lot of role players in Newark”, Madlock says.
“There’s very little preparation at the developmental level today. Guys are pushed through the system.”
Before arriving in Newark Madlock worked in the Major League Baseball Commissioner’s Office as an on-field operations supervisor. One of his responsibilities was the unenviable task of speeding up the game.
Eventually he would love to get back in the majors as a manager or hitting instructor.
If it’s as a manager the always outspoken quintessential hitter would prefer that the process be handled with respect.
“I don’t like the rule for minority coaches that the NFL and MLB currently have.”
The two leagues require owners to seek out potential coaches of color during the hiring process, regardless of whether they already have someone (not a person of color) in mind.
To baseball’s credit they have several black manager’s, but the collective angst of Chris Chambliss and Willie Randolph (both former players and well respected coaches), to name a few suggests there’s more work to be done.
Meanwhile, the National Football League recently fined the Detroit Lions for not interviewing a black coach before hiring Steve Mariucci, but looked the other way when Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones openly pursued Bill Parcells.
“If somebody really wants me, interview me. If not don’t waste my time. Why should I come in for a token interview.”
“I’m not gonna say it’s racial, because you really don’t know. But it is about who you know. It’s a buddy system. It starts at the ownership level. Ownership is important.”
Here’s hoping that Bob Johnson won’t be the only person of color to own a major sports franchise, and that he knows some of us.