At just 38 years old, Kevin Cash is younger than 18 different people who have played in the majors this season. In his second season at the helm of the Tampa Bay Rays, Cash is the youngest manager in the bigs. He's also one of an even 10 current skippers who were primarily catchers during their major-league careers—a group that's accounted for five of the past seven championships.
During the Rays' visit to Fenway Park last week, we sat down with Cash to discuss why catchers make good managers, the value of veteran players, and why struggling as a player has made him a better manager.
Tim Britton: At what point in your career did managing become something you thought you might want to do?
Kevin Cash: It probably never crept in as a player. It was more once I got into coaching with the Indians and getting to be involved with Tito and his staff and the Indians' front office. I can't honestly say it ever crossed my mind until I heard from the Texas Rangers that I was going to get an interview with them when Ron Washington stepped down.
TB: When you're in those meetings with Cleveland, what was it about the job that made you realize this is something you would like to do?
KC: I don't know if there was one thing that stuck out. In this position, you're involved in a lot. I was so fortunate to be not a very good player but to play for a lot of very good managers and to watch how they interacted and watch what made them good. I think that was pretty enticing to get to that position at some point.
TB: How vital was it to have a guy like Tito as your mentor in Cleveland?
KC: Very. Tito sets the bar really high. You watch how he interacts with players, you get to hear some of the closed-door discussions and the thoughts. So you see what he feels and then how he goes out the next day and handles it or deals with situations. That was very valuable.
TB: How much do you think that prepared you for your first job here?
KC: Quite a bit. You're still learning as you're going. But that, and also having really good coaches here that continue to help us and myself prepare. You've got to have the right people you're working with and trusting people, and that's what we feel we have here.
TB: How is Year Two different for you than Year One?
KC: The biggest thing is you've developed the relationship with the players over the course of that first year. People asked that in spring training quite a bit, and this past year in spring training, it wasn’t them walking in and introducing themselves. It was, 'Man, how are you doing? How was the offseason? How's the family, how's the kids?' There was much more of a relationship at that time.
TB: When you're coming in, how important is establishing credibility? You're a young guy and this is your first job. Do you feel that's a necessary step or did you think you had that coming in already?
KC: To an extent, you want to do your best at establishing credibility, but it's not something that you can force. You've got to be yourself and be true to yourself. It's more important to establish the relationships. I don't think it was my job to come in and take a stance on something like, 'This is who I am.' I think that could have been perceived as being over the top. It was more about establishing and building the foundation of having good relationships.
TB: How do you build that foundation?
KC: You talk, man. You bring them in. You've got to find a way to talk to them through good times and through bad times. These players have a lot going on in their minds—off-the-field stuff, on-the-field stuff. Everybody deals with it differently. A lot of your good managers and coaches have a knack for finding not what makes them tick, but a way you can have a positive influence with them while they're here.
TB: You've talked about how important Evan Longoria is to your franchise. When you're coming in, you've got a guy who's been through the ups and downs here. How important was that to your clubhouse?
KC: Very. You lean on him quite a bit because he's experienced so much. He's experienced a lot more than I have in this organization. I try to ask him questions. I still do that. 'When you guys were doing this in two-thousand-whatever, what was going on? What was the vibe? What was your sense?' You rely on a lot of his experiences.
TB: There are a fair amount of managers who were catchers in their career, and that seems to be the position that translates best to managing. Why in your mind is that?
KC: I don't know that that's necessarily true. I know a lot of people take that and run with it.
I think the biggest thing is, as a catcher, if you really bought into it, you value the guy's performance on the mound probably more than your own. That takes having strong relationships with a pitching staff. You can do it at other positions, but that one position, you're so involved with somebody else's performance that night and performance that season and ultimately their careers that you begin to care so much about them.
TB: Is there also that ability to understand things as a position player and then have to know what a pitching staff goes through?
KC: I think so. And a lot of times you're delivering messages as a catcher, and some of those messages can be similar to the messages that a coaching staff would give. When a catcher goes out to talk with a pitcher on the mound and there's no coach involved, you're not coaching him but you're trying to deliver something that's going to help him get through that inning.
TB: You mentioned getting to play for a few different good managers. Do you think that experience bouncing around helped broaden your experience?
KC: Yeah, it definitely did. Not just the coaches and managers I played for, but the different teammates. I was so fortunate to be here for parts of three years and then also be a part of the Yankees briefly for a half-season. My time in Toronto.
You build up all this interaction with players and how different players respond to different things. You try to put it in your memory bank, and you pull from those experiences when you're dealing with some of the players in this clubhouse.
TB: One thing that's tough for us as reporters is to gauge the job a manager does. We just have that 7:00 to 10:00 window. In your mind, what makes a good manager?
KC: All managers care a lot. You have to put the team first. It's not about individuals. It's doing what's best for the team, and that's a difficult thing to do at times because when you do that, you're probably making some decisions that aren't going to sit well with specific guys. When you're able to do that and then you get the guys over time to get onboard with that same thought, that's probably what makes guys successful.
TB: How do you judge the job you're doing over the course of a season?
KC: Well, we're all judged by wins and losses, so in that regard not as good as I would like. Are the messages that you're delivering being put into action? And not just from myself, but from our coaches. I'd like to think more are than are not, but it's still an ongoing work in progress.