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June 5, 2001
Before the din of their World Championship celebration died down last year, Chris Chambliss was fired from his job as the hitting coach for the New York Yankees. He resurfaced this spring as manager of Florida's Triple-A team, the Calgary Cannons.
Chambliss is probably the most qualified managerial candidate in baseball today, but has yet to have the opportunity to manage in the majors despite interviewing for many vacancies over the past few years. He was kind enough to take time out of his schedule and talk with us recently before a game against the Tacoma Rainiers.
Baseball Prospectus: What prompted you to join the Marlins' organization after you were let go by the Yankees? Did you have any other managerial offers?
Chris Chambliss: No. This is the best and only offer I got.
BP: This Cannons team has more veterans than it has had in recent years, so developing young players isn't as much a focus here as it has been. Nonetheless, how do you balance player development in the minors with trying to win?
CC: It's not hard for me. It's really an individual thing. Some parts of some players' games may need developing, and you pay attention to that if need be. That helps create a winning environment. I don't really feel the two things are in conflict. It depends on who your players are. If you've got a lot of players who are very young at this level and you're trying to accomplish certain things with their game, it can sometimes get in the way of winning, but I don't really think it does that often. If you're teaching people some of the fine points of the game, you're also teaching them how to win.
We try to have plans before the game starts of what we need to do with certain players and pitchers. Once we know what the plans are, then we follow those plans and try to win the game.
BP: Within the framework within you have to work--certain prospects need to get playing time, etc.--how do you like to construct your lineup?
CC: It depends on the personnel, but generally I make a lineup the way you normally would to help the team win. That is, if you have speed [players], you try to get them ahead of the power guys. You put your best RBI hitters in the middle of the lineup. If there's a young hitter coming up and he needs development, there are ways to move him around in the lineup to get him a combination of the experience that he needs, as well as the opportunities that he needs to face certain situations. None of that is very difficult.
You make a lineup down here just like you would any other lineup. The hardest part is getting everybody playing time. Everybody at this level is looking to advance and to do that they need to play; that's the juggling act. You try to get everybody playing time so they have the opportunity to show what they can do.
BP: Are there any particular in-game strategies that you like to use?
CC: I react to what is needed on the field. Sometimes hit-and-runs are necessary, sometimes bunts are necessary. If they are necessary and I've got the right hitter at the plate who can perform the duty, I'll call for them. At this level, if there's a hitter who needs to work on a particular drill, you want to give him the opportunity more often. I do things as situations call for them. It's not about whether you like to do them, it's more about whether you need to do them or if the game situation calls for those plays.
BP: You've played and coached for a lot of different managers over the course of your career. Have any of them greatly influenced your managerial style?
CC: I feel like I've learned a lot from many of the managers that I've had. Ken Aspromonte was my Triple-A manager and also managed me in Cleveland, so I'll always remember him. Billy Martin has always been one of my favorites because he was managing when we had some of those World Series years with the Yankees. Bob Lemon took over later and he was great. There was a certain way about him that was wonderful. Certainly, Joe Torre has been a tremendous influence on me, having spent eight years as a coach and also playing for him in Atlanta. I also played for Bobby Cox in Atlanta before Joe [Torre] got there. I've been around a lot of great individuals in baseball. I just hope that I've learned a little bit from all them, and then try to be myself.
BP: What do you feel is the most important aspect of a manager's job?
CC: I think the most important thing is the relationship with the players. You've got to connect with the guys and get the most out of them. That can be tricky. Players want instruction, they need instruction and you try to give it to them, and at the same time let them play the game, develop and get better.
BP: Have you heard anything from the Marlins about the job opening that they have at the major-league level?
CC: No, not at all.
BP: Obviously, it was a messy situation in Florida. One of the many things Dan Miceli said was a problem is that John Boles doesn't have any major-league playing experience. How important a factor is that in managing in the big leagues?
CC: [Miceli's] statement was really unnecessary. There are a lot of good managers who have not played in the majors; that's not really a factor. A manager is hired by the GM and the owner, they choose who they want, and whether he was a major leaguer or not, that's who has the job.
BP: You've won a couple of Manager of the Year Awards in the minors, played on two World Series champions and were the hitting coach for the Yankees as they won four of the last five World Series. You've proven yourself and seems that you've earned the opportunity to manage at the major-league level. It seems like you're due to catch a break. Do you plan to keep plugging away?
CC: What would you do? I don't have an answer for that. I'm working hard in the game, I enjoy what I do, and that's the way it is. Until a general manager chooses me to manage a club, I won't be there. I'm tired of worrying about it. When will it happen? I don't know. I'll just continue to work and do the best I can.
Jeff Bower is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.