There are thousands of Minor Leaguers trying to make it to the Majors, and who better to show them the way than former big-league stars and journeymen? Each week, MiLB.com talks with a Major Leaguer-turned-Minor League manager or coach to get their unique take on life down on the farm.
This week, the 2007 manager of the Hagerstown Suns, Tom Herr, shares his Major and Minor League experiences. Herr spent over nine seasons (1979-1988) playing second base for the St. Louis Cardinals before spending the final four years of his playing career with four different organizations. Herr returned to baseball in 2004 as the manager of the independent Lancaster Barnstormers and led them to their first-ever Atlantic League championship in 2006. In the upcoming season, Herr will take over as manager of Washington's Class A affiliate.
MiLB.com: What do you remember most about your first time around in the Minor Leagues?
Tommy Herr: I remember the ballparks weren't as nice, that's for sure. Nowadays, Minor League Baseball has become such a viable business that communities are building such great facilities and really making it a better experience.
MiLB.com: Have times changed that much? How different are the Minors from when you were a player?
TH: That's a tough question because obviously the game's changed in the sense that today's athletes are not the same as the ones I played with. They're stronger, faster, weight train all year...there is also a lot of video and instruction available. If that's a good thing or a bad thing, I'm not sure. It's good because knowledge is helpful, but baseball is a game where you have to keep your emotions level and having too much information might counter that.
MiLB.com: Life in the Minors can be surreal. What's your favorite tale of the Minors, either as a player or on the bench?
TH: There's too many, I'd have to sit back and really think about it. One thing that stands out is winning championships at all levels in the Minors. I went through the Cardinals system and we won championships at every level; not many players can say that, it's pretty unusual.
MiLB.com: How have teammates you played with in the bigs reacted to your current gig?
TH: They're sympathetic (laughs). Seriously, they're supportive and they know it's a fun lifestyle. A lot of players never get baseball out of their blood so they'll stay in the game once they finish playing. In my case, I left it for a good 15 years to be with my family until my sons went to college and then came back. Now I'm just trying to work my way to the Majors, like the players.
MiLB.com: Do the guys on your team know much about you and your history as a player?
TH: The last two seasons I was in the Atlantic League, which is a bit of a veterans league. They knew about my past from being more in tune with the history of the game. This year, my players will be much younger so I'm sure they'll have to look it up instead (laughs). It's important to have credibility, but the rest is on me developing personal relationships.
MiLB.com: What have the players on your team taught you? Do they keep you up-to-date on pop culture?
TH: My sons are 20 and 25 so they always kept me up-to-date on those kinds of things. Let's hope it helps when my players are talking about things like that this year (laughs).
MiLB.com: What kind of reaction do you get from fans?
TH: The fans are always good. They're very plugged into the game's history and you'll always find your autograph seekers and those who have memorabilia signed. That's a part of the game that will always be there.
MiLB.com: What city or cities do you most look forward to stopping in during the season?
TH: I'm not real familiar with the Sally league, but I know Lexington has a nice city and nice facility. In the Atlantic League we went to Atlantic City, so that was nice, being on the boardwalk and seeing the sights.
MiLB.com: What's the toughest part of the job?
TH: I'm 50, and there's still some physical exertion involved. Throwing batting practice, helping guys hit and instructing them, the stress of managing a game can be physically taxing -- but that's a part of the game I enjoy most, too.
MiLB.com: What do you think of your bobblehead?
TH: They did a bobblehead of me in Lancaster last year, and it was a lot of fun. It didn't really look like me, though (laughs). I remember having to sign a lot of bobbleheads that day, but I made sure I grabbed one for myself.