Why Skipper Treanor Continues to be Perfect Fit For Indians and Pirates
By Mike Lopresti
INDIANAPOLIS, July 21, 2015 – It is mid-afternoon in the manager’s office, and here’s the big news. The phone isn’t ringing. No new injury in Pittsburgh. No new call to Indianapolis, seeking another replacement — the next Indian up.
Lately, the phone has sounded like a pizza delivery line on Saturday night. The formerly healthy Pirates have suddenly started a parade to the training room and disabled list, meaning the Indians clubhouse has turned into something like a train station, sending out reinforcements to the National League Central frontline. “Our phone didn’t ring here for two or three months,” Dean Treanor is saying Monday.
“Yesterday there were a half-dozen discussions (about possible moves), and there may be more today. It took me a half hour to do the lineup today. But that’s part of it. This is the reason why we’re here.”
That’s Dean Treanor, the old vet, speaking. The skipper closing in on his fifth winning season in five years with the Indians, something no manager here has ever done, all the way back to before the Wright brothers boarded the first plane.
At such a moment, it seems natural to ask – just how many victories does Treanor own? “I have no idea,” he answers. Try 374, through the close of business Monday, No. 4 on the Indians’ all-time list. And counting.
More about that in a moment, but we have other Dean Treanors to hear from today, celebrating the journey through a decades-long love affair with baseball, to this Monday afternoon in Indianapolis, wrestling with his lineup card.
Start with Dean Treanor, the little boy growing up in San Luis Obispo, California, learning a passion for the game.
“My dad loved baseball. He took us to the Angels when they first got there. We’d go to Giants games a lot. I remember parking in somebody’s yard in LA.
“He played some semipro ball. He worked tough hours, he worked for the railroad, and sometimes he worked all night. But whenever he came home, it was a game of catch, no matter how long he’d worked.
“We all played in the neighborhood. Everybody, every day.”
Dean Treanor, the college pitcher with such high hopes, trying to emulate a star to better follow his major league dream.
“I remember taking off by myself, ditching school, and driving to San Francisco to see Bob Gibson. I still have a picture of Bob Gibson pitching in Candlestick Park.
“You hear you’re going to get drafted and you’re going to have a good chance of going to the big leagues and all that stuff. Then you get hurt, and all that changes. It was tough to accept, but it’s all part of it. Everybody’s got a story.”
Dean Treanor, the minor league pitcher whose career washed out too soon with rotator cuff problems; a fate that echoes to this very day, and the way he treats his players.
“How that applies now is I like to think I will always err on the side of caution and take care of my players. Because in my mind, I don’t feel like I was taken care of.”
Now there’s something which must have been hard to get past.
“I’m not sure I am past that…Not knowing what might have happened, that stays with you.”
He remembers that feeling every time he must deal with an ailing player.
“I just would have liked to have seen how far I could go. My son played and he had two surgeries. I’m more tore up about that than he is.”
Here’s Dean Treanor, the pitching coach in Reno, and the staff so depleted one night that extraordinary measures had to be taken. Now pitching for your Silver Sox, a 43-year-old guy with a bum shoulder. It was the last inning he’d work in his life.
“I had been activated three or four times. I don’t know how many one-dollar contracts I signed that year. The inning went ok. They were taking a lot of pitches, so that ticked me off.
“That’s not what you dream of, going back out at 43 to throw an inning.
“We had run out of pitching. It may happen tonight.”
He was joking. Presumably.
Now we return to Dean Treanor, the baseball lifer. He understands why he is here, and what he must do. It is not simple or easy to be a manager at this level, for it requires a deft mixing of two powerful motivations; the primary mission of developing players for the next level, and the natural inclination to win.
That means Treanor must sometimes sit a player he would normally start, to give him the experience of pinch hitting, and a taste of what he will be doing in Pittsburgh. That means putting players in varying positions, to test their versatility for the Pirates. That means a roster in flux, even as the International League pennant race hits the home stretch.
So this is Dean Treanor, the teacher, who seeks fulfillment in sending a man up the road, ready to help the big club.
“I know this is cliché-ish, but the challenge is getting the most out of these guys, and motivating these guys, knowing on an individual basis how to motivate. You’ve got to talk to this guy this way, you’ve got to talk to that guy that way. It’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge.”
But winning ranks up there, too. “The Pirates going through 20 years of not having winning seasons…you don’t understand what it takes to win. I think that’s part of the development here, the mindset of understanding what it takes to win. If we can learn how to win here, it carries over to there.”
And it has. Treanor’s finest achievement might be how he has assisted in a transformation of culture within the Pirates organization; a change of goal and a change of expectation.
As for the personal adulation, “Honestly, personally, I don’t think in those terms. It’s more about their story. Guys have cried in this office when they found out they were going up. Guys will run out and call their family and I know they’re crying outside.”
He will turn 68 this December, and time is running out for a shot at a major league manager’s job. Treanor believes he’s up to the task, but the people who hire for that spot have ever-changing partialities. Right now, it is in vogue to prefer a man with big league playing experience. So he has watched the chances go by, sticking to his business, remembering what friend and former big league manager Jimy Williams once told him.
“Never try to beat your players to the big leagues.”
Instead, he prepares them to go there.
“If this is where the career finishes,” he says “I’m good with that.”
But might that leave a void? A pause. A moment to ponder.
He has put so much into the game, working 11 months a year when he managed winter ball in the Dominican Republic, getting back home to San Luis Obispo only the spare week here or there. But real life issues are calling, and he will forego the Dominican this winter.
We should let him return to his Monday afternoon business. You never know when the phone might ring again. But one last thing. Seeing his name so high on the Indians list, doing something no Indy manager has ever done…surely that must mean something.
“It probably means something to my mom. But to me it means the Pirates organization is on the right track, when they keep running players through here.”
He mentions Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco. Upward bound prospects who had a layover in Victory Field and helped build that record. All he asks and all he hopes and all he seeks is they be ready when they land in Pittsburgh, and they play the game the right way.
“That’s the big picture for me. The wins here, they’re nice for the guys. I’ll probably kid the Indians and say I want a street named after me. But you have to keep this in perspective. All it does mean is I’ve been here awhile.”
Mike Lopresti is a Ball State University graduate and Richmond, Ind. native and resident. He was a sports columnist for Gannett newspapers and USA Today for 31 years, and covered 30 World Series and 33 Major League Baseball All-Star Games. He is a voter for Baseball Hall of Fame. When he retired he was 16th in nation in seniority on Baseball Writers Association of America.