The thrill of managing a Triple-A baseball team was never more apparent for Pat Listach than in 2008, when he led the Iowa Cubs to an 83-59 record and earned recognition as the Pacific Coast League’s manager of the year.
But the award isn’t what he remembers most.
The highlight of that season came in early September, when Listach called Casey McGehee into his office to tell him that he was headed to the big leagues for the first time. McGehee, who was 25 at the time, had spent five years working his way through the Cubs’ farm system after Chicago selected him in the 10th round of the 2003 draft.
His oldest son, Mackail, was born with cerebral palsy, which led to costly medical bills that weren’t easily covered by a minor league salary. So Listach won’t forget the day he told McGehee he’d be boarding the next flight to Chicago to make his big league debut.
“I said, ‘Tomorrow, when you get to Chicago, you’re going to be able to take care of little man a little better than you were yesterday,’” Listach recalled during an interview last month at the Seattle Mariners’ spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona. “And he just broke down and started crying.”
McGehee’s been a fixture in the majors ever since — in addition to a stint in Japan in 2013 — and is currently a member of the San Francisco Giants.
And now that Listach is back in the PCL, this time as the manager of the Tacoma Rainiers, he hopes to continue fulfilling his stated goal of developing minor league players into major leaguers.
“When you can’t play anymore and you still want to be competitive, this is as close as it gets to playing again,” said Listach, whose Rainiers host El Paso at 7:05 p.m. Friday in its 2015 home debut at Cheney Stadium.
“I know a lot of the other managers in the league. They’ve been around. So just going out and trying to beat some of those guys is going to be fun. But getting guys to the major leagues is the most important thing. I think we’ve got a really good major league team, and the minor league team is going to be ready if something does happen up in Seattle where they need a player or need a pitcher or whatever. They’ll be ready to go.”
If Listach’s name rings out, it’s likely because he won the American League rookie of the year award in 1992 as a shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers, for whom he stole 54 bases and batted .290. He played until 1997, then later became the manager of the Double-A West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx in the Cubs’ system in 2006. After that successful stint managing at Triple-A Iowa in 2008, he joined the Washington Nationals as third base coach in 2009-10, then spent two seasons on the Cubs’ coaching staff before becoming the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league infield coordinator in 2013.
He returned to a big league dugout last season, coaching third base for the Houston Astros under former manager Bo Porter.
That job was “like having your cake and eating it too,” Listach said, because he had played for Houston in 1997 and still lives there. But when Porter was fired on Sept. 1 and A.J. Hinch was hired to replace him, Listach knew he was unlikely to be retained.
Despite that, he said he’s grateful for the season he spent there.
“I don’t look back on it as something I wouldn’t do again. I’d do it all over again the same way,” Listach said. “It just didn’t work out. They’ve got some prospects over there. I think we won a lot more games (70-92 final record) than people thought we would win last year.”
So he wound up in Tacoma as part of a Mariners organization that he said is “run the right way, and it’s all about winning — trying to bring a World Series to Seattle.”
His role in that endeavor is to get the most out of the players on the Rainiers’ roster, developing each of them enough to be relied upon should a call-up be necessary. He’s excited, he said, to work with young prospects such as Ketel Marte, a promising middle infielder who Listach said shares similarities with Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar.
Coaching last season in Houston, an American League West rival, helped him get acquainted with Seattle’s big league roster. Now he’s trying to help the Mariners’ minor leaguers make it there.
“You make the most of what you have,” Listach said. “If you’ve got guys that can run, you let ’em run. If you’ve got guys that hit home runs, you let ’em hit home runs, you let ’em swing 3-0.
“You try to put them in a situation where they can succeed, and you try not to put them in situations where they fail. … You put them in a position to win, teach them to win, and teach them development, as well. It goes both ways. It depends what type of players you have. That’s the type of manager you have to be. You can’t sit back and wait for a three-run homer if you’ve got a bunch of singles hitters.
“You manage what you have. And I think we’re going to be pretty good.”