ZEBULON, N.C. — Edwin Rodriguez climbed the managing ladder all the way to the major leagues. Now the former Florida Marlins skipper has settled into a new home — back in the minors.
Rodriguez is one of a handful of ex-big league managers who have resurfaced this season in the minors. He’s now in charge of the Single-A Carolina Mudcats and relishing the challenge of developing the next crop of Cleveland Indians.
"Most of the guys that got to manage in the big leagues — I would say a high percentage of them — they have been through the minor leagues and the development side, working with the minor-league players, the young players, and that’s one thing that you just don’t stop doing," Rodriguez said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"You really like when you see a player grow up as a player, as an athlete, and it’s a very great moment for you as a coach when you see that," he added. "I’m just talking about myself, but I’m pretty sure everybody would say the same thing. ... So whenever we have a chance to stay in baseball and come back to the minor leagues, I think that’s one thing we’d take into consideration."
He certainly isn’t alone in the minors.
Former Cleveland interim manager Joel Skinner is now with Triple-A Charlotte. Former Nationals manager Jim Riggleman is with the Reds’ Double-A affiliate in Pensacola. Ex-Toronto skipper John Gibbons has resurfaced with the Padres’ Double-A team in San Antonio — with San Diego general manager Josh Byrnes calling Gibbons "a great addition to our organization."
"His knowledge, calmness and competitiveness have all proven to be standout qualities," Byrnes said. "We are lucky to have him."
Indians GM Chris Antonetti said Rodriguez is "invaluable because he provides a unique set of experiences.
"Having managed some of the best players in the world at the major league level and dealing with that dynamic and now going back to the minor leagues and being able to have that impact on younger players and apply some of the lessons that he learned at the major league level and share some of those with the younger guys, is really valuable for us," he added.
It’s not often that former MLB managers slide back to the minors. More frequently, they find work on someone else’s big league staff — perhaps as a base coach or bench coach — while hoping for that next big-league managing gig.
Skinner, the Indians’ interim manager in 2003, first dipped into the minors in 2009 at Double-A Akron and spent two years on Oakland’s big-league staff before coming to Charlotte. Gibbons, fired by the Blue Jays in 2008, was Kansas City’s bench coach before going in San Antonio.
Rodriguez’s ascent started in 1997 as the hitting coach of Tampa Bay’s rookie-league team. He rocketed up the Marlins’ organization and peaked in 2010 when the big-league club made him the first Puerto Rican-born manager in major-league history. He went 78-85 during parts of two seasons before resigning last June following a long losing streak.
Roughly 10 minutes after that announcement, he said, another unnamed big-league team offered a job on its staff — and a different club made a similar offer a week later. He held off and took the Indians’ job because of that club’s reputation for developing players, especially those from Latin America.
"Going back to A-ball, I really have to remind myself on a daily basis that I have to start (teaching the players) from zero," Rodriguez said. "I can’t assume anything with these guys, with the young players, so it’s a daily reminder for me."
The move back down to the minors usually requires a refocusing of priorities. While managers are judged primarily on wins and losses in the big leagues, the emphasis is a little different in the minors — the record matters, but generally not as much as keeping the players developing and moving up the farm system.
Players’ "makeup sometimes is different — they’re a little more fragile mentally, and they have to understand that it’s a grind," Rodriguez said. "It’s a long season, and that’s the part that as a manager or coach, you have to take that in consideration, making sure the confidence is going to be there regardless. ... The difference is, in the big leagues, you have to make sure they’re doing their work and all that. In the minor leagues, you really have to work on the mental side of the player."
Their experience certainly gives them added credibility with their impressionable players.
"He treats us like men," said Tony Wolters, a 20-year-old shortstop with the Mudcats. "If I was in the big leagues, I think that’s how it would be."
Rodriguez insists he isn’t in a rush to get back to that level. Sure, if a big-league team wanted to talk, he’d take the call — but that’s not what drives him these days.
"If I retired today or they fired me today, I would be pleased," Rodriguez said. "I just want to be in baseball for as long as I can and they want me here. There’s no goal, there’s no agenda of going back to the big leagues. If there’s some team out there that would want my service? Yeah, of course, why not? But it’s not a goal. ... I can retire tomorrow or today, and I will be pleased with what I’ve done."