By Carl Steward
Friday, August 12th, 2011 at 7:06 pm in 2011 regular season.
In for Joe Stiglich Friday and Saturday …
The A’s always do something special when I’m subbing for Joe, and sure enough, today they added Phil Garner to their staff as a special advisor. While manager Bob Melvin said it was a mutual idea between he and Billy Beane, you can bet Melvin set the tone on getting Garner here all the way. Garner gave him his start as a coach and took time to counsel him on becoming a future manager.
The A’s couldn’t add Garner as a coach, so he’ll be on the field before games working with players and coaches, and he’ll sit in the stands or a box during the game, doing evaluations and then offering his two cents to his one-time protege.
One thing you can say about Garner. He’s a terrific guy with a buoyant personality and the players should love him. He’s got hundreds of great stories. Just ask him any question and he’s bound to tell a good one. I asked him if he got a World Series ring with the 1974 Oakland A’s, even though he wasn’t on the postseason roster and only played sparingly down the stretch (he became a full-time starter in 1975). His response:
“I did. I didn’t really earn it, though. I got on the playoff roster and then they took me off at the last minute and replaced me with Manny Trillo. But I did get a ring. As Rollie Fingers would have said, it was a Cracker Jack box ring. Mine didn’t have a diamond on it.”
So how will he be helping out? Here are some of the things he said before the game:
*-”I”ll be out here pre-game, mixing among players and staff, and helping out Bob any way I can with whatever contribution I can make. Sometimes it’s nice to have another set of eyes to bounce some ideas and opinions off of. I’ll do whatever I can to help him with those things. I’ll tell him what I see and give him some of my opinions, then it’s up to Bob how it sits with him.”
*-”I hope I can do for Bo what Chuck Tanner did for me. Bo’s a much more accomplished manager at this point than I was when Chuck Tanner came around to help me out my first couple of years. Chuck was a great confidante and was great with the players and staff.
*-”Everybody in this sport gets something passed to them along the way and you feel a responsibility to pass something else to the next guy down the road.”
*On Melvin when he served as Garner’s bench coach in 1999 and 2000: ”He was the assistant manager and he was a better manager than I was.”
Melvin said he and Garner have been talking for 3-4 weeks. How did the initial conversation go?
Said Garner, “Bob said, `Look, I want to run something by you. You’re a former Oakland A and we’d like to start to think about the A’s as a tradition and start talking about it. We have young players we feel like can get us back there again. Even though I came in at the tail end of the great Oakland A’s era, I still like I was a little bit of a part of it.”
Garner said he didn’t require much arm-twisting to get back to Oakland for the first time in 35 years.
“I don’t have a whole lot I’m doing these days. I’m kind of enjoying life and I’m really good at doing nothing. I was able to clear my schedule pretty easily and enjoy taking up the opportunity.”
So what has the 62-year-old Garner been doing since he was fired as the Houston Astros’ manager in 2007?
“I’m a real good grandpa. We have five grandkids and they’re all close to us in Houston. I work on my golf game and a tennis game. I do have an office, but my wife busted me at it. She looked at the credit card after I’d been going to the office. I’d go to the office at about 10:30, then at 11:30 she’d see a charge for lunch, then I’d be home at about 1:30.”
His thoughts on Melvin: “Early on Bob had a sixth sense about how players’ psyches worked. He used to provide great analysis on players. That piqued your interest, then you start talking about other players. Bo’s an excellent evaluator of talent and personalities. I think catchers and middle infielders have a little leg up, because that’s what you’re analyzing the whole time you’re playing the game anyway.”
On getting back into baseball after a long layoff: “I’m excited about it. It’s a different gig for me. I kid with my wife because she understands the game better from the stands than I do. I rarely ever watch the game from the stands. All my life I’ve been involved with it on the field. The only time that I’ve not been involved with it on the field is when I was suspended and they wouldn’t me sit in the stands. I’d have to go watch it in the TV booth outside. I’ve never really analyzed the game from the stands, so I’m really looking forward to it. It’ll be a different way to look at things for me, so I’m kind of anxious to get on with that.”
On the possibility of managing again someday: “I’m kind of funny. I don’t miss it when I’m not doing it. I’m involved in a lot of things. I’m totally immersed when I do baseball and when I’ve been fired in the past, I’ve just sort of walked away and not looked back. Once you’re in the game, it’s in your blood, you hear that old line all the time. But I didn’t pine for it, if you want to put it that way. And I’m not sure I’m old enough to come back and manage. Jack McKeon kind of set the bar a little high right now. You never say never, but right now, I’d like to do what I can to help out Bob and the Oakland A’s.
Said Melvin: ”To have a guy who’s played in the World Series and managed in the World Series, he’s another resource here in this organization – for the players, for me, for the coaches and for the front office. He’s just a great guy to have in the organization.
“I never even thought about managing before I was with him. But he took time to explain things to me whether it was during a game or after a game … why I double-switch here, why I went to the bullpen here, and walked me through it. A lot of philosophies of what I do are because of what he taught me.”