After 20 years of riding the buses in the minor leagues, Dave Trembley has experienced a rollercoaster ride in Baltimore this season. Originally hired on an interim basis, Trembley’s contract was extended through the 2008 season on August 22; the Orioles went 29-24 under him, and 29-40 with Perlozzo. That same night, the Orioles suffered their worst loss in franchise history, losing 30-3 to the Rangers in the first game of a double-header. Since that time, the Orioles have gone 3-15.
David talked to Trembley about paying his dues in the minor leagues, his managerial style, and how to react to a 30-3 loss.
Baseball Prospectus: After you were named manager, Kevin Millar was quoted as saying, “Dave Trembley came out of nowhere.” What are your thoughts on that?
Dave Trembley: I guess maybe at the major league level, but I managed 20 years in the minor leagues, including Double-A and Triple-A, and I went to the instructional league 16 years in a row. So I’m a newcomer to the big leagues, but not to professional baseball.
BP: Tell us about the series of events that led to you becoming the Orioles manager.
DT: I came up in September last year, to join the big-league club after the minor-league season was over. Then I went to the instructional league, and from there I went up to Baltimore to talk to Mr. Flanagan and Mr. Duquette about the possibility of joining the major-league staff as a coach for the 2007 season. I was originally hired as the major-league field coordinator, but then Rick Dempsey went to the broadcast booth, so I was hired as the bullpen coach. I also ran spring training, and then unfortunately Tom Trebelhorn’s wife had a stroke and I became bench coach. When Sam [Perlozzo] left, I became the interim manager. So, that’s how it happened, kind of in a whirlwind nutshell.
BP: When most people think of Orioles managers, the first name that comes to mind is Earl Weaver. In which ways are you similar to Weaver?
DT: I met Earl Weaver in spring training, and I’d say that I know his history and what he brought to the table. He’s a winner. He spent an awfully long time in the minor leagues and developed his craft there. He was a guy who believed in attention to detail, competitiveness, and he pushed his players. He backed his players up, and he restored–he established–a rich tradition and sense of pride to the Orioles. I should be so fortunate in my career as a manager to have some of those similarities.
BP: Weaver’s reputation included playing for the three-run homer. Do you share a similar philosophy?
DT: I think you have to adapt, and adjust, your philosophy and approach to the personnel that you have. I’ve always been a believer in baseball fundamentals, and to me that’s a repetition of basic baseball skills. It’s pitching, defense and timely hitting. I think you win more games, or at least have the opportunity to win more games, if those things are in place. Obviously, the three-run home run makes it a lot easier, but if you don’t have pitching and defense, a three-run home run doesn’t mean a hill of beans.
BP: When Andy McPhail announced that your contract would be extended, he said, “I don’t think anyone makes a secret of the good job Dave is doing. I think the results speak for themselves.” Was he talking about the team’s win-loss record, or about something else?
DT: What we’re trying to establish here, and what we are establishing, is a philosophy and an identity of what the Baltimore Orioles are and what the Baltimore Orioles will be. What that is, is a blue-collar approach; a basic approach of fundamentals and doing things right. It’s a little bit of a National League style of play in the American League, with good pitching and defense, running the bases, and timely hitting. It’s also attention to preparation before the game, and a return to basics. I believe that my worth in the minor leagues, and in my short time managing here in the big leagues, is not based solely on wins and losses but also on the process. That’s what will allow you to get the results you’re looking for.
BP: How much impact do you feel a manager has on whether his team wins or loses on a day-by-day basis?
DT: One: I think the manager is responsible for the preparation of the players. Two: he’s responsible for the attitude and the approach that the players take. Three: more times than not, ability far supersedes anything that a manager can do. Sparky Anderson was a great manager when he had the Big Red Machine, but he wasn’t quite so smart when he went to Detroit. It was the same thing with Mr. Leyland, with some of the teams he managed, like when he went to Colorado. It’s talent and ability, but as a manager, it’s also attitude, work-ethic, and preparation. It’s making people feel important, defining roles, using your whole roster, and implementing your bench so that they feel important. It’s also about getting input from your coaching staff.
BP: As a manager, which is more difficult: losing a game 30-3 or giving up two in the ninth inning to lose by one run?
DT: A loss is a loss. It’s the major leagues, and some hurt a little more than others, but I don’t think the final score–or the way you lose–really has any more effect one way or the other.
BP: Players obviously react to losses. As a manager, is your job any different after a particular kind of defeat?
DT: Well, I think body language is important. You have to be consistent, because players look to a manager to see how he’s going to react in good times and bad times, and they play–and feed–off of it.
BP: You’ve done graduate work in sport psychology. How does that impact what you’re doing here?
DT: I think that all it’s done is give me another tool in knowing how to deal with people; nothing more than that.
BP: Since being hired you’ve talked a lot about respecting the game, and you recently said of your players, “What they represent is a history and tradition of a very proud organization.” Do you feel that most players today have a full appreciation of the history and tradition of the game?
DT: No question about it. I think they’re very much aware of the opportunity that they have. I think they’re very appreciative of the people who have allowed them to be where they’re at. Of course, I think that like everybody else, they need to be reminded once in awhile.
BP: If you could have managed in any other era of baseball history, which would it be?
DT: The Golden Era of baseball; the ’50s and ’60s. There’s no doubt about it. Guys played for the love of the game, there wasn’t a whole lot of money, the competition was better, there wasn’t a whole lot of expansion, the travel was better, players stayed with one team longer. All of those reasons.
BP: When Cal Ripken was pursuing his consecutive-games streak, some people felt he was hurting both the team and his own performance by not taking any days off. Had you been the Orioles manager at the time, how would you have handled the situation?
DT: The same way the other guys did. I think Cal Ripken earned that respect by what he did for the game, and for the Orioles, and he should have been consulted on which direction he wanted to go.
BP: What is your approach to the use of statistics and statistical analysis?
DT: Well, it’s gotten a lot more sophisticated since I first started. I like to look at match-ups, right/left, and situational things. I think it’s a tool, and I think that a lot of the services that provide this information have some good things, but it’s not a sole basis for making decisions. I think the game is still played between the white lines, and there are a lot of decisions that are made by your gut, not by what you see on paper.
BP: Would you call yourself more of an old-school manager?
DT: When I first started managing in the minor leagues, we didn’t even have any coaches. So yeah, I would definitely say that I’m an old school kind of guy.
BP: What is your opinion of the relative value of OBP and SLG?
DT: I think that on-base percentage is something that everyone is looking for, and there’s validity to that. I think slugging percentage can be somewhat skewed. I took statistics in college, so I understand about plus and minus standard deviations. With statistics and match-ups, you don’t really know when it happened; what was the situation, the score of the game, when did the guy hit, how important was the run? I think you can use those things, but they’re not the end-all, or be-all, in making decisions.
BP: [Friday night] you were thrown out of the game, your first ejection as a big-league manager. What happened?
DT: Basically, I had a difference of opinion with the umpire. That’s all.
BP: Do you have any thoughts on how often, and for which reasons, a manager should find himself being ejected from a game?
DT: No, you don’t preplan when you’re going to get thrown out. There’s no set quota of how much you think you should, or how much you shouldn’t. The nature of the game dictates when those things happen. Umpires have a tough job, and you have to respect what they’re doing. I think most of the time you get thrown out as a result of sticking up for your team.
BP: What do you see as the biggest difference between managing at the major- and minor-league levels?
DT: Guys are a whole lot more sophisticated here, so you keep it short, simple, and to the point. You lay out the plan before they play, you establish parameters, you give direction, and you show a lot of respect for your players. You allow them to have the freedom to utilize their skills and abilities.
BP: You’re finally getting a chance to manage up here after 20 years in the minor leagues. When you look at the people you know in the minor leagues, which of them stand out as being the most deserving of the same opportunity?
DT: Well, with all due respect, I wouldn’t name names, but I think there are a lot of people who are just as qualified as I am. As a matter of fact, to be in the big leagues, you don’t have to be a big leaguer. I think there are a lot of people in the minor leagues who understand how to teach the game and understand the nuances of the game. They do it because they love it, and they would make very valuable additions to major league organizations.
BP: Do you miss the bus trips?
DT: No, I don’t miss that. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I have here. They didn’t give it to me, and I didn’t network for it; I had to earn it. I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing, and there are a lot of people who would give a lot to be doing what they wish they were doing. I’m 55 years old, and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and most people who are my age can’t say that. I’ve never felt like this is a job.