MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Buddy Bailey doesn't want to count how many miles he's covered on team buses over 29 seasons. In the past 14 years, he's spent 300 days each year on a baseball diamond, either in the U.S. or Venezuela. Naturally, Bailey wanted to be a big leaguer,
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Buddy Bailey doesn't want to count how many miles he's covered on team buses over 29 seasons. In the past 14 years, he's spent 300 days each year on a baseball diamond, either in the U.S. or Venezuela. Naturally, Bailey wanted to be a big leaguer, but Joe Torre helped direct him toward coaching and managing.
Bailey has managed at every Minor League level, from Rookie ball to Triple-A, with stops in Pulaski, Va.; Durham, N.C.; Greenville, S.C.; Lynchburg, Va.; Pawtucket, R.I.; Daytona, Fla.; Des Moines; Kodak, Tenn.; and now Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Last week, Bailey joined an elite list when he became the 11th Minor League manager to win 2,000 games, doing so when the Cubs' Class A Pelicans rallied from a 4-1 deficit to beat Down East, 5-4. His players doused him with champagne to celebrate. Bailey is now Mr. 2,000 in Myrtle Beach, and his No. 46 is on the ballpark's Wall of Fame.
"Two-thousand wins in baseball is a lot of years, a lot of games, a lot of bus rides and a lot of losses," Bailey said last Friday prior to Myrtle Beach's game against Carolina. "I've been fortunate to live an extended childhood."
Not many people can say that.
"Baseball is a kid's game," the 60-year-old Bailey said, "and I still get to live as a kid and throw a ball and hit the ball every day. My job now as a manager and instructor is you try to find ways to keep the kids' heart in your players, but turn their heads into men's heads and be professional people and professional players. ... If we're doing that, then we're doing our jobs in development."
Bailey was a 16th-round Draft pick by the Braves in 1979, but the catcher didn't play much over four seasons in the Minors, compiling a .210 average. He reached Double-A in '82, but his playing time ended the next spring rather abruptly.
In 1983, Bailey was invited to the Braves' big league spring camp. Then Torre, the Braves' manager, called Bailey into his office.
"I'm like, 'Man, what have I done wrong? This ain't good,'" Bailey said. "Joe said, 'People in the organization up top said they need a Rookie League manager, and a lot of people who have seen you for a couple years recommended you to do it.' I said, 'Joe, I'm only 25 years old.' Joe was smart. He said, 'They're trying to tell you something. If you want to stay around, you better think about this.'"
Bailey agreed, then went out for practice. When he got back to his locker, it was empty.
"I went to the clubbie thinking, 'I'm going home,'" Bailey said. "That's how naive I was -- country boy from Virginia. I said, 'Where's my stuff?' He said, 'You're a coach now.'"
Bailey's gear had already been moved to the coaches' quarters, next to Bob Gibson, who was on the Braves' staff. In 1983, Bailey managed the Rookie-level team in Pulaski, which finished first with a 46-26 record.
The next spring, Bailey had the chance to learn the game from Bobby Cox and Bobby Dews, who would take the young manager out to dinner.
"I've been around some good people in baseball," Bailey said.
Bailey has had some good players, too. The smartest player? Jeff Blauser, who Bailey managed for three seasons. Tom Glavine and Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks were the sharpest as far as preparation.
"It tells you how long I've been doing this -- players I've managed are now going into the Hall of Fame," Bailey said of Glavine, who was inducted into Cooperstown in 2014.
Bailey started managing in Venezuela in 2002 with the Tigres de Aragua, and he won the '09 Caribbean World Series. After that first year at the helm, he returned to the U.S. raving about a teenager he saw.
"I said, 'There's this one really good young hitter I had on my team, and I think he's going to be a superstar,'" Bailey said. "I said, 'His name is Jose Cabrera.'"
Good eye. In 1996 and 2003, Bailey was named the International League Manager of the Year, and in 2006-07, he was honored as the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League Manager of the Year.
Bailey managed or coached in the Braves' organization from 1982-90, then the Red Sox from 1991-2004. He joined the Cubs' organization in 2006 as the catching and baserunning instructor. Bailey took over as Class A Daytona's manager for the second half of that season and has worked at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. This is his second season at Myrtle Beach.
Each level in the Minors has different challenges and rewards. Whether one of his players makes it to the big leagues isn't what drives Bailey. He tries to make an impact on each one to make them a better person.
"I have about 40 different boys to help raise every year by the time they move the roster around," Bailey said. "I've got a big family."
Most wins by Minor League managers
- Stan Wasiak (2,530-2,314)
- Bob Coleman (2,496-2,103)
- Mike Kelley (2,390-2,102)
- Johnny Lipon (2,185-1,987)
- Spencer Abbott (2,180-2,037)
- Larry Gilbert (2,128-1,627)
- Bill Clymer (2,122-1,762)
- Jack Dunn (2,107-1,530)
- Lefty O'Doul (2,094-1,970)
- Andy Gilbert (2,009-1,899)
- Buddy Bailey (2,001-1,836)
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.