Mike Redmond couldn’t recall when the thought of managing seriously began to take shape in his own mind.
But the new Marlins skipper does remember the first time somebody suggested it was his destiny.
“Nineteen-ninety-three. Kane County Cougars,” Redmond recalled Friday afternoon during his introductory news conference at Marlins Park.
“Charles Johnson, starting catcher. Mike Redmond, backup catcher. Big day. Photo day. The baseball cards are coming out. I’m all excited, just coming out of college, all fired up. I get my baseball card and what does it say on the back? ‘Will be a coach when his playing days are over.’ Right out of the chute, it was picked for me.”
The journey from catching to managing is hardly a new phenomenon in baseball. In fact, it now seems to be the natural order and a recipe for success when teams go in search of a manager who can lead them deep into October.
All four teams that reached the recent League Championship Series — the Giants, Tigers, Yankees and Cardinals — were managed by former catchers. Since 2007, at least two of the four teams in the LCS have been led by former catchers.
When he signed his three-year contract with the Marlins on Friday, Redmond became the 11th former catcher to fill one of the 30 current big-league managerial positions. No other position is as well-represented across the majors — or even in Marlins history.
Jack McKeon, Fredi Gonzalez, Rene Lachemann, Jim Leyland, Jeff Torborg and Joe Girardi — six of the top seven winningest managers in Marlins history — were catchers either at the big-league or minor-league level.
“It’s a unique position,” Redmond said. “We’re the position on the field who gets to see everything. We have the view of the whole field, every position. You have to be involved in everything. You have to be involved in the pitching, the hitting, base running. You got to know the visiting team, know the players, their strengths and weaknesses. On top of that, you’re trying to hit against their pitchers. You’ve also got to know situations. You call games based on the team that you’re playing. All those things, all those situations — when to pitch around an eight-hole hitter to get to the pitcher, guys that will hit and run, guys that will bunt — you have to be involved in everything.”
Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said the fact Redmond had only two years of Single A managerial experience had little or no impact on the organization’s decision to hire him. It was what the front office saw and knew of Redmond when he was as a backup catcher for seven seasons on the big-league team that they felt good about.
“I think he would have been considered regardless,” Beinfest said. “Mike Redmond has always been talked about in this vain going back to that story he told you about the baseball card. We knew this guy would always make a great manager one day.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt to see another team — the Cardinals — have success after taking a chance on a young, former catcher of its own in Mike Matheny.
Matheny, a 42-year-old who had been forced to retire in 2006 because of concussions, had huge shoes to fill a year ago when he stepped in for Tony La Russa. Matheny, who had never managed before, led the Cardinals to an 88-win season and a return to the playoffs. The club played 13 postseason games, falling one victory short of advancing back to the World Series.
Matheny took notes throughout the season so he could go back to what he was thinking in certain situations when he made important decisions on game days. Matheny referenced the writings throughout the season but said he plans to digest the full volume this winter. It’s one method he’ll use in order to head into 2013 wiser and better prepared to manage on-field situations and off-field personalities.
“To me, that’s the only way you learn is to look at the mistakes you made and make the adjustment,” Matheny told MLB.com. “Or have a real good reason why you did what you did and support the fact that you made the decision that you did.”
That sort of fresh approach to managing is why many front offices in baseball today aren’t just looking at managerial experience — or the lack of it — when deciding on their new on-field leaders.
The White Sox, another team that went with an inexperienced manager in Robin Ventura, finished 85-77 and in second place in the American League Central this past season.
“I think in each of those cases, the organization had experience with those players and had a confidence, were comfortable with them,” Beinfest said. “It was the same thing with Red for us. I don’t know if you necessarily do that unless you know the person. The Cardinals know Mike Matheny. I can’t speak to their situation specifically, but they know those players, know them well. I think you have a certain confidence going into it [that] the guy can do the job.”
Redmond has confidence that despite just two years of managerial experience, he can the job done in the majors.
“I was fortunate enough in the way I was taught, all my managers, all my coaches gave me so much responsibility, it helped me,” Redmond said. “I could call a throw over to first on my own and they knew, ‘He’s got a good idea.’ They gave me the freedom to do that.
“I think back to college. I was one of the few guys who was able to call my own game. And that was as a freshman. I’ve always had a feel for it. I love that responsibility. I want it all on my shoulders. That’s the kind of player I was and the type of manager I am, the type of manager I’m going to be.”
Of course, Matheny inherited a team coming off a championship. Redmond inherits a ballclub coming off its second consecutive last-place finish in the division and had a 69-93 record with questions about third base and left field.
Redmond said he has “some stuff” or new rules he plans to implement in the spring with the hope of turning the culture around.
“I’ve been preparing for this day. I sat on the bench a lot, it’s well documented,” Redmond said. “I watched. I learned. I asked questions, put my teammates up, did the things I knew would help a team win. Now as a manager I know what to do. I know what buttons to push. I can’t wait to go out there and get going. I wish spring training started tomorrow. Can’t wait.”