Isom happy at the helm in Helena

First-year manager has Brewers streaking through July

Helena's Jeff Isom spent seven previous seasons managing independent baseball clubs. (R. Dean Hendrickson)

By Mark Shugar / | July 27, 2007 6:00 AM

The old saying is that success usually starts at the top, but if you asked Helena Brewers manager Jeff Isom, he may point one hand up and the other down.

Isom, who is at the helm of one of July's hottest teams in all the Minor Leagues, is quick to pass credit to his organization and to his players for the Brewers' 18-5 performance this month after a 6-6 start to the season in June.

"It helps out a bit when you have decent players," Isom said. "As a manager, you have to have good players to win ballgames and that's what we've got here. The Milwaukee Brewers have done an excellent job with their scouting."

But perhaps the Brewers' smartest move was choosing Isom to manage their Short-Season affiliate in the Pioneer League, even if he wasn't their first choice.

The Brewers originally named Johnny Narron as the team's manager for the 2007 season, but they had to scramble to replace him when Narron left to take a coaching position with the Cincinnati Reds.

Enter Isom, who after seven seasons managing independent baseball clubs, including a 57-39 season with the Traverse City Beach Bums in 2006, seized the opportunity to give managing in affiliated baseball a chance.

"You're always interested in getting to the big leagues," he said. "As a player or as a manager, it's your lone goal."

Isom gave his best efforts to make it to the Major Leagues as a pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates' and San Diego Padres' farm systems from 1993-95, but he came to the realization that he would have to change his career path in hopes of some day making it to the show.

"During my time as a player I realized that I wasn't going to make the big leagues. It wasn't realistic," Isom said. "So that's when I turned my attention toward the coaching and managerial part of [baseball].

"I started asking a lot of questions, not necessarily second guessing managers, but to find out why they did what they did, what made them successful and why they were successful."

And perhaps Isom's most valuable attribute was his willingness to listen.

"I've had some very good managers, and I've had some managers that weren't so good," he said. "But I learned from all of them."

It is that curiosity about the game that Isom hopes he is instilling in his Helena club, a generous mix of players in their sophomore seasons and fresh out of college or the First-Year Player Draft.

"As a manager you go out there and take the mindset that, 'Hey, they should have made this play,' but I've learned you can't assume anything with these guys," Isom said. "There's always a time where you have to go out there and teach, and these players have to learn."

For Isom, his role as manager in the Pioneer League is less about wins and losses, and more about developing players in their first season of professional baseball.

The development process involves everything from getting hitters used to using wood bats as opposed to aluminum, or making sure pitchers work the inside of the plate and develop a threatening change-up.

"It's just a matter of the players themselves getting the repetition in, learning about professional baseball and making adjustments," Isom said. "That and playing with each other. As the season progresses, you get used to what somebody else is going to be doing."

Isom also works hard to make sure his players get a dose of professional etiquette when under his wing. Pro ball is a far cry from high school and college diamonds across the nation.

"The hardest thing is teaching these players that, when you have a big lead or you're down by a bunch, to be professional in those situations," Isom said. "Don't run up the score, don't be stealing bases in certain situations -- that's a big adjustment for a lot of these younger players.

"We're never trying to show up another team because you don't want to be shown up if you're on the opposite end of that score."

Very few teams have gotten the best of Isom's club this season, though. The Brewers are 24-11 and a game ahead of Great Falls in the league's North Division.

And with Isom at the helm, chances are good that the Brewers will continue to head in the right direction.

Mark Shugar is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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