Management Decision : LeVasseur Became a Skipper When Griffey Sr. Skipped Out


As managerial assignments go, the Arizona Rookie League is not exactly a plum.

The weather is obscenely hot. The games are played in stadiums that are virtually empty. And the players often treat baseball’s fundamentals the way a dog treats a fire hydrant.

But 31-year-old Tom LeVasseur is glad to be there. The first year of his retirement as a player was supposed to be spent as a third-base coach, but thanks to a last-minute vacancy in the Seattle Mariner system, LeVasseur is already managing.

Jim Skaalen, Mariner coordinator of minor league instructors and a friend of LeVasseur’s, picked LeVasseur to run the club’s rookie-level team in Peoria, Ariz. “He’s perfect down here,” Skaalen said in a telephone conversation. “This is tough duty. It is very hot. It’s tough to keep the kids motivated. You need an energetic, positive guy who can handle it physically. And he fits all those.”


LeVasseur, a 1982 graduate of Santa Paula High, welcomed the opportunity to manage. Even in the Arizona League.

“I think this is a really good platform for me to get some insight as to how baseball is run,” he said. “I don’t think you can get into the front office unless you are sensitive to how it goes.”

LeVasseur has already seen baseball from several angles.

He was a shortstop in the San Diego Padre system, batting .309 at triple A when a separated shoulder ended his season in 1990. He spent three years in Italy, playing baseball twice a week and touring Europe. “[Playing in Italy] might not have been the best thing for my major league career,” he said, “but it was the best thing for me as a person.”

LeVasseur returned to the United States last spring with a new appreciation for the game. On Skaalen’s recommendation, the Mariners signed him to a triple-A contract.

He became a player-coach midway through the season, and was slated to coach at Riverside this year. But Ken Griffey Sr. decided just before spring training that he didn’t want to manage Riverside, creating a ripple effect in the organization that resulted in LeVasseur’s being hired for the Peoria job.

He thought he was prepared for what he would find in rookie ball, where most of the players are weeks removed from high schools or junior colleges. But he wasn’t. “I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but I could not say I was ready for what I saw,” LeVasseur said. “I’ve got some kids who are really really rough.


“This is the heart of the game. There are no fundamentals here. Anyone who had a command of the fundamentals wouldn’t be here.”

LeVasseur’s definition of a good prospect in the Arizona League is someone who could wind up as a below-average major leaguer.

LeVasseur tells a story of one of his early games, when a batter swung and missed a third strike, but the ball got away from the catcher. LeVasseur screamed from the third-base coaching box for the hitter to run.

“The kid turns around and runs as fast as he can back into the dugout,” LeVasseur said. “Half the people knew what was going on and the other half didn’t.”

LeVasseur also said game-managing in the league is not so much a matter of hit-and-runs and pulling pitchers, “but it comes down to who can keep the scuds from flying around the infield the most.”

Second baseman Adonis Harrison, 18, said LeVasseur has been a good manager so far. “He’s a very good teacher,” Harrison said. “He teaches us something new every day.”


One of the lessons LeVasseur has found himself teaching the most is that players can’t expect the same success in pro baseball as they did in high school or college. “In high school these kids play twice a week and if they have a bad week, it’s one for eight,” LeVasseur. “But here, playing every day, if they have a bad week they go one for 35 and they want to commit suicide.”

In such situations, LeVasseur recalls what he learned in Italy, where he could walk down the street and find people who didn’t even know what baseball was.

“You realize that it is just a game,” he said. “There are very few real worries you can have in baseball. Not getting a hit in a couple of games is not such a big deal.”

Still, LeVasseur says much of what he says and teaches needs to be said and taught all over again the next day.

“All the polish you have taught them on something, in 24 hours it can be gone and you are right back to Square One, and it’s difficult,” he said.

“You’ve got to love the job to be here, and I really do.”