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How Can You Keep Them Up on the Farm? : Minor League Managers Must Deal With the Devastated Psyches of Demoted Young Stars

August 01, 1993|BRIAN JARAMILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tucked away in a dark corridor of Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Wash., is Bob Boone's humble office.

It's a cramped room that apparently symbolizes an architect's fascination with the bomb-shelter school of design.

Inside, there's a cluttered desk, a sofa, some lockers and a few makeshift shelves. There are no windows.

A photograph of Boone's dog hangs on a bulletin board. This amid thick, mostly bare concrete walls.

"In their office," said Boone, manager of the triple-A Tacoma Tigers, "is where a manager earns his money."

It is also where Boone practices what he calls "managing as art," a concept that has little to do with baseball games, much to do with comforting distraught young men.

It's the job of triple-A managers such as Boone, to nurture minor leaguers who, for whatever reason, couldn't compete in the majors.

"I deal with (demoted players) daily," said Boone, in his second year at Tacoma.

Boone is not complaining. Unstable rosters are reality in triple A.

Anyway, Boone has a passion for his job, especially when it involves taking a struggling player, restoring his confidence, and preparing him for a return to the big leagues.

"My job, the thing that I gain satisfaction from, is to know that I touched somebody and helped them make it," he said. "To me, that's what my life as a minor league manager is all about."

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In the last week, nearly 20 players were demoted to the minors, for various reasons.

A lot of them were players only baseball nuts would know. Joe Kmak?

Others were would-be superstars, such as Yankee Kevin Maas and Angel first baseman J.T. Snow.

After an April in which he hit .365, Snow hit .188 after May 1.

Suddenly, he was a liability.

"He needed it," Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said of Snow's demotion to triple-A Vancouver. "He needed to get out of here.

"He (has) to go down there and show what his work ethic is."

Rodgers, and several triple-A managers, say Snow's demotion was inevitable.

"At the major league level, there's a lot of pressure involved," said Marv Foley, manager of the Iowa Cubs. "Winning is everything. If you're not helping the club win. . . ."

Bill Russell, manager of the Albuquerque Dukes, said: "It's a business. They've got to accept that fact.

"Once (demoted), they can do two things: They can go down there and work hard, or like (some) players, let it upset them, let it upset their performance."

When Snow learned of his demotion Monday, those who saw him say he was shocked and upset.

"I really didn't expect it," he said.

Later, he added: "I'm going down there to work my butt off . . . and get going again."

Those who know him say Snow will not be another one-time phenom--another Joe Charboneau.

"This is a big challenge for him and he's going to conquer it," Angel infielder Torey Lovullo said. "I'm sure we'll see him back here real soon."

Lovullo can speak legitimately about Snow's plight.

Not only were they roommates at triple-A Columbus last season, but Lovullo was also demoted after a rookie season defined by high expectations.

During spring training in 1989, it was Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson who burdened Lovullo with one of his typical spring-training comments.

"I'll die before he comes out of the lineup," Anderson promised.

Lovullo struggled and was sent to the minors within a month. Anderson is still with us.

"I thought I could live up to his expectations and prove him right," said Lovullo, 28.

Now, after six demotions, Lovullo believes his prospects of staying in the majors are good.

"I think I have the roots firmly planted here," he says.

"Going back and forth to the minor leagues is no fun. I've done it too many times."

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There is no typical response when a player is told he's going to the minor leagues, according to the experts, the demoted players.

"Everybody's situation is different," said Padre infielder Craig Shipley, who has also played in the Dodger and Met organizations. "You have to evaluate your role on that particular team and act accordingly."

Sometimes, players sit in their manager's office, offering few alibis, quietly accepting the decision.

"It's a devastating feeling," said Padre outfielder Billy Bean, another former Dodger with many minor league stops. "You feel like you're part of the team and all of a sudden, they take it away."

Some players, such as Snow, appear shocked, but Bean contends: "It's never really a shock."

"They may say that," he said. "But you know if you get called into the manager's office, if you read the paper and you're hitting a buck fifty. . . ."

Says Rodgers: "Players know. The handwriting is on the wall."

Still, some players become angry, smashing the nearest object with the nearest baseball bat.

Others complain about being treated unfairly, to which Bob Boone says: "Listen, the game of baseball is not fair."

And finally, when they are demoted enough times, when they become regulars in the transactions section of the newspaper, some players become noted philosophers.

Said Bean: "It's kind of a learning experience that coincides with life."

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