At triple-A Albuquerque, Tim Wallach also waits for his shot at big leagues
It’s an early morning after a late night, yet Tim Wallach’s dark blue Chevy pickup rolls into the restaurant parking lot right on time.
Paying attention to detail is important if you want to be a major league manager. And Tim Wallach wants to be a major league manager.
“That’s my No. 1 goal,” he says over coffee.
The only questions are where and when. Six teams have changed managers this summer and could be looking for permanent replacements this winter. There will also be openings in Toronto and Atlanta, when Cito Gaston and Bobby Cox retire after the season.
Then there are the Dodgers, the team Wallach works for as manager of their top minor league affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes.
Dodgers Manager Joe Torre hasn’t said what he will do when his contract runs out this fall. Nor has Ned Colletti, the team’s general manager, who reminds questioners that, for the time being, the Dodgers don’t have an opening.
“Joe and I are going to have some conversations as the season comes to an end,” Colletti says.
But even if those conservations end with Torre stepping down, hitting coach Don Mattingly, the man Torre has been grooming as his replacement for the last six seasons, could be stepping up — and over Wallach — into the manager’s job.
“At this point, Donnie is probably the leading candidate,” Colletti says.
Mattingly has no managerial experience, which is why he’s going to the Arizona Fall League next month to learn his craft alongside the rookies and middling prospects who will be trying to learn theirs.
Wallach, on the other hand, is finishing his fourth season as a minor league manager, the last two at triple A, the highest rung on the minor league ladder. Last summer, he led the Isotopes to a playoff berth and a franchise-record 80 wins (in 144 games), winning the Pacific Coast League’s manager of the year award. Baseball America named him the PCL’s best managerial prospect.
And it’s hard to find anyone, including Colletti, who disagrees.
“I think the world of Tim. He’s going to be a very good big league manager,” Colletti says.
Says De Jon Watson, the Dodgers’ assistant general manager for player development: “He definitely has the skill set to manage a big league club. He’s a blue-collar type, a scrapper.”
Says former major league outfielder John Moses, Wallach’s hitting coach the last two seasons: “He deserves a shot. What you look for in a major league manager, he has all those qualities.”
All of which leaves the Dodgers facing a tough decision: If they promote Mattingly, they are all but certain to lose Wallach to another organization, something Colletti acknowledges.
It has happened once before. In 1999, the Dodgers let the Albuquerque manager jump to the Angels and, in the 11 seasons since, Mike Scioscia has won more games than any other American League manager.
There are other parallels too. Both men played and coached for the Dodgers — Scioscia as an All-Star catcher who later became the team’s bench coach; Wallach as a Gold Glove third baseman from Irvine’s University High who finished a 17-year career as a Dodger before becoming the team’s hitting instructor.
Scioscia wanted to be the Dodgers’ manager. Wallach still does.
“Sure, I want to manage in the big leagues. I’d love for it to be the Dodgers someday,” Wallach says. “[But] it’s really uncomfortable for me to talk about it because Joe and Donnie, they’ve treated me like I’m part of the staff.
“I’d love to see Joe stay because I think he’s a great manager. I really, to be honest, have not thought about that.”
A little while later, but still more than three hours before the second-place Isotopes will play a crucial late-season game, Wallach is wearing a red nylon jacket as he throws batting practice under the punishing desert sun.
He’s working mostly to the steady beat of high-decibel rock music, but everything screeches to a halt when the rock-country anthem “Cinnamon Girl” blares out over the sound system.
Wallach asks a player to name the artist and when he gets a shrug in response, the manager reacts in mock horror.
“ Neil Young!” he shouts. “You have got to be kidding me!”
Tastes in music aside, Wallach, 53, does not appear to have a problem bridging the generation gap to his mostly 20-something players. If he has an obvious strength as a manager, this would be it.
“He’s a great communicator,” says catcher A.J. Ellis, 29, who played for Wallach the last two years. “He’s never rough on somebody, never down on somebody. Just really has a quiet, commanding presence.”
Dodgers outfielder Jay Gibbons, who spent 2½ seasons trying to resurrect his career, credits Wallach with getting him back to the majors.
“He’s a big reason why I’m here,” says Gibbons, 33, whom the Dodgers promoted on Wallach’s recommendation after he batted .347 in 94 games at Albuquerque. “He’s probably one of the better managers I’ve ever had as far as just getting it and knowing what a player has to go through day in and day out.
“I really hope he gets a shot someday to be a big league manager. He’s got all the intangibles to do it.”
Wallach says he interviewed for a big league job once, making the short list before the San Diego Padres decided to go with Bud Black four years ago. But he says it’s a good thing he didn’t get that job because the last two years in Albuquerque provided an invaluable apprenticeship.
“If I hadn’t done this, I would have been overmatched in the big leagues,” Wallach says. “I made a lot of mistakes because I was not ahead in the game. You have to be a couple of innings ahead, six hitters ahead.
“You can’t try to be in the now or you’re late.”
Nor can you be afraid to gamble from time to time. In the first game of a recent doubleheader against New Orleans, Wallach had John Lindsey, the PCL’s leading hitter, at the plate with a runner on first in the final inning of a tie game. Wallach called for a hit-and-run and Lindsey squirted the ball through the hole vacated by the second baseman.
Two batters later, Wallach’s last bench player, Esteban Lopez, won the game with a pinch-hit single.
“He’s a real smart baseball guy,” Lindsey says. “He takes his risks when he needs to. And he lets us play also.”
Wallach says his style is an amalgamation of things he learned from all of the managers he played for, from Augie Garrido at Cal State Fullerton — where Wallach was named the nation’s top amateur played in 1979 — to Bill Virdon, Buck Rodgers, Felipe Alou and Hall of Famers Dick Williams and Tom Lasorda.
“They’ve all kind of influenced me,” Wallach says. “[But] I don’t know that I look back and say. ‘I’ve taken this or this from each guy.’ ”
Hitting coach Moses, who played for Tom Kelly in Minnesota and Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson in Detroit, sees a lot of both men in Wallach.
“Very patient,” Moses says. “Shows a lot of poise under pressure. Handles the pitchers well. Handles the press well. He gets the most out of his players.”
All qualities that Wallach is ready to take to the big leagues.