Former managers adjusting to life outside dugout
Leyland, Manuel, Baker, Johnson embarking on new adventures as camps open
When the Phillies' baseball staff converged at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., last week to finalize plans for another Spring Training, Charlie Manuel was an hour-and-a-half away, at home, working on restoring a 1988 Jeep Wagoneer.
Manuel wasn't the only one in an unfamiliar setting as camps opened. Jim Leyland, Dusty Baker and Davey Johnson also were notably missing from a back field, from leaning on a fungo bat, from answering reporters' questions, from mentally doodling potential lineups. Together that quartet managed a combined 71 years in the Major Leagues, won 5,812 games, appeared in 27 playoffs and captured seven pennants.
They say baseball is a game of adjustments. Each of these accomplished baseball men is adjusting this February to not being at the center of the action.
Leyland, 69, walked away after the Tigers were eliminated by the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. He has the most years on the job of the group, 22 in all, the last eight with Detroit. Three times he was voted Manager of the Year. Leyland is now a special assistant to Tigers president/CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski, but he doesn't plan to show up in Lakeland, Fla., until next week, because he doesn't want to be a distraction to new manager Brad Ausmus.
"Brad, he's been absolutely outstanding. He's treated me with so much respect. I'm just so thrilled, and I'm really proud of him. He's grasped this thing," Leyland said. "I got a real nice call from him the other day and we had a couple discussions about a couple things. I'm thrilled that he included me. I'm ready to go, and I'm ready to take on this new challenge and hopefully be able to do whatever I can to help the club."
That will mean seeing the game from a different perspective.
"I'll be watching it more as an evaluator and not as a strategist. When I'm watching the games, it'll be different for me. I'm really looking forward to it," Leyland said. "I'm not really sure what I'll be doing during the season exactly, but they want me to evaluate the Major League club. I'm going to look at our Minor Leagues and I'm going to be available to go to other games if something's going on."
Leyland will also be going to work with the Commissioner's Office, helping former Cardinals manager and close friend Tony La Russa as expanded instant replay is rolled out.
Baker, 64, was let go by the Reds at the end of last season. He has 20 big league managerial seasons on his resume and was voted Manager of the Year three times. The only one of the four not currently working in baseball, Baker spent the offseason traveling extensively, and he said he hasn't been paying as much attention to the game as he probably would have otherwise.
"It's weird we all don't [have managing jobs]. Some were by choice, and some were fired," Baker said from his Sacramento, Calif., home. "You follow the guys and some of the signings. I'm not glued to the TV watching MLB [Network], like I'd be doing if I were still managing and it was the offseason or during the season. It doesn't do much good now. You have to go on with your life."
This is only the second time since Baker began managing in 1993 that he has been home for Spring Training. He did not manage a team in 2007.
And this is the first time in Manuel's adult life that he hasn't been in camp somewhere.
"I miss it," admitted the 70-year-old, who was replaced by Ryne Sandberg in mid-August last season. "It's about that time of the year. I start thinking about baseball. I keep up. I watch MLB Network and ESPN."
The Phillies have announced that Manuel, who led the team to the second World Series championship in franchise history in 2008, will be added to their Wall of Fame in August. He'll also continue to work for the organization as a special assistant to GM Ruben Amaro Jr. Manuel, too, will delay his arrival to avoid becoming the focus of attention. In fact, he doesn't plan to go to Clearwater until big league camp breaks.
"I felt like it was better for me not to go," Manuel said. "I always thought that the start of Spring Training is really big and the focus is definitely big. I didn't want to be a distraction when they're thinking about doing the work and getting better and starting the season right. I thought it wasn't time for me to start hanging around yet."
In addition to working on the car, Manuel is also played golf and fished.
The Nationals announced before last season that Johnson, now 71, would step aside at the end of the 2013 season to become a consultant for the organization after spending 17 seasons on the bench, including stints with the Mets, Reds, Orioles and Dodgers. He was twice named Manager of the Year.
At the end of last season, Nats GM Mike Rizzo described the role he envisioned for Johnson.
"He'll be meandering through our Minor League system," Rizzo told reporters. "Not only looking at our players, but also helping our coaches and managers, learning their craft, evaluating them and helping them improve."
It's still not clear whether Johnson will make an appearance at Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., this spring. He had indicated months ago that he didn't think it would be a good idea, out of respect for the staff, but new manager Matt Williams made it clear during the Winter Meetings that he'd welcome having Johnson around.
Then again, this is a little different experience for all of these guys, and they'll have to figure it out as they go.