The way Octavio (Cookie) Rojas sees it, getting the boot as manager of the Angels with only 10 games left last season was all part of life in the topsy-turvy world of professional baseball.
What bothered him the most was that the ugly side of the business caught up with him sooner than he would have liked.
“I think we did what could be done under the circumstances,” said the Cuban-born Rojas, who for 16 seasons was a standout second baseman with Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Kansas City. “I’m satisfied with my work. I think I deserved the opportunity to manage at least one more year. But baseball is like that. I wasn’t the only manager fired last year.”
Rojas is being gracious. Others in his position might have spit a bit more fire. He certainly had ammunition to support his case.
There was, for instance, that pitching staff that Rojas inherited from the Gene Mauch ruins. It gopher-balled its way through the summer until it ended one step from the bottom of the American League in ERA at 4.54 and missed the plate enough times to give up 568 walks. Only Texas pitchers were more generous.
If pitching is truly 75% of the game, as baseball gurus claim, look no further for an answer to the club’s calamities. But the Angels, an organization long on money but short on tact, blamed Rojas for the team’s maladies, when a trip to Lourdes was the only thing that could have helped that bunch.
Amazingly, though, the affair did not sour Rojas on managing.
“I would like to manage again, but starting the season with my own coaches and players, and with a two- or three-year plan. That’s the time that is needed to properly evaluate a manager, the coaches and the players,” he said.
For now, however, he’ll stay off the unemployment rolls by serving as the advance scout for--you guessed it--the Angels.
When the 1989 baseball season opens next month, Nick Leyva of the Philadelphia Phillies will join Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles as the only major league managers who are members of minority groups.
Leyva, a Mexican-American from Ontario, got the job with the Phillies in October. He coached with the St. Louis Cardinals for five seasons and managed another five in the minor leagues, where he was Texas League Manager of the Year in 1983.
Leyva was a minor league infielder in the Cardinal system but never got higher than Double-A ball. At age 35, he will be the youngest National League manager since Dave Bristol took over the Braves at 33 in 1966.
He becomes the eighth Latino manager in major league history. Others were Cubans Mike Gonzalez, who was an interim manager; Preston Gomez and Rojas; Pat Corrales, a Mexican American, and Al Lopez, Dave Garcia and Lou Piniella, who are all of Spanish ancestry.
The appointments of Leyva and of Bill White, a black, as National League president hopefully indicate that more opportunities will open up for Latinos and blacks in key positions in baseball.
One good place to start is in the managerial ranks.