Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Brush with greatness: Joel Skinner
On the bad side, managers are not as enjoyable to interview as players. For one, unless they are Ozzie Guillen, there is the whole self-censorship thing. A manager has a team and a whole organization to consider, so he is eternally worried about throwing someone under the bus. And that leads to some very boring, "say nothing" quotes. Another problem is the attitude you get from managers. You can get attitude from players, too, but the manager's attitude is almost always along the same irritating line: "Here comes this guy with the stupid questions who doesn't know as much about baseball as me and I've got to deal with him."
This is more apparent when a writer is dealing with a minor league team in which he's the only guy covering the team.
That brings me to Joel Skinner.
You might think I'm going to rip on Joel Skinner. I'm not.
Skinner did carry the "here comes the reporter" vibe with him, but unlike other managers, he kept it well-hidden. He wasn't overly forthcoming or bag of laughs -- he certainly wasn't the excitable type -- but he did his job with the media and remained friendly through it all.
Skinner, who has been in the Indians organization since 1989, was the manager of the Class A Watertown Indians when I talked to him. I wasn't the beat writer, but I covered a few games. Skinner gave me information that I needed during those times in a rather reserved way. He was quiet. A thinking man's player. But on the good side, there were no lectures, no temper tantrums and no endless cliches.
Perhaps it was because it was his first year of managing. He had just retired as a player the year before. Maybe he was still feeling his way around.
But the Indians won the New York-Penn League title that year and Skinner was named the league's manager of the year. He rose through the minor league ranks, winning manager awards all the way through. Eventually, he got to the majors, worked on the Indians coaching staff and was even interim manager for the Indians after Charlie Manuel's departure.
Skinner has returned to his minor league managing roots for this season, moving from Indians third base coach to Double A Akron, where he was manager 12 years ago.
Until I met Skinner, I knew him as the son of former major leaguer Bob Skinner, and as a poor-hitting catcher for those lousy Yankees teams of the late 1980s. Now, when I think of Skinner, I think of a guy who did his job with the media, without making it seem like it was agony.