If ever there was a classic baseball old-timer, it’s Tony Torchia.
He has the salt-and-pepper hair and the expanded waistline.
He has an old-school approach to managing a team.
Most important, he has the stories. Boy, does he have the stories.
Bring up his days with the Boston Red Sox and he will gladly tell you how he helped teach Wade Boggs how to hit to the opposite field. Ask what he thinks about dollar-beer night and he will tell you about the time his team got behind early and had beer thrown at it for the rest of the game.
It’s like that when you have been around as long as Torchia. In 1962, Torchia was the best player in the Midwest League. He was 18 then and newly signed with the Dodgers.
He hit .398 and had 95 RBIs, both of which led the league. Torchia spent another 12 seasons as a player, but he never made it out of the minors. He became a minor league manager with the Red Sox in 1976 and has been coaching since.
Admittedly, mid-Missouri wasn’t where he hoped to be when the year began. But, Torchia said, nothing else materialized, and he enjoys being a part of the game.
“Each year the body deteriorates and it becomes just a little bit harder to get a job,” Torchia said before the season began. “I eventually hope to be a major league scout, but for now I still love being on the field.”
Shortly after the season began, it became apparent that Torchia wasn’t focused on winning. The front office was.
Torchia was fired July 6 after 40 games. Angel “Papo” Davila, the team’s pitching coach, replaced him. Management said it wanted to make a push to win more games and it didn’t think Torchia had the fire to make that happen.
The biggest debate revolved around a pair of utility players named Anthony Lester and Joe Nichols.
As an old baseball man, Torchia believes in identifying talented players and letting them play until they prove themselves, no matter how poorly they perform. That was the approach he took with Lester.
A leg injury hampered Lester during spring training, so he never received a chance to show his skills before the season. Once the season started, Lester was in and out of the lineup, but the results were always the same. By mid-June, Lester was hitting .070, but he kept showing up in the starting lineup.
On June 11, Torchia pinch-hit Lester for Wes Fewell with two men on in the eighth. The Mavs trailed 6-4 at the time. Lester struck out swinging.
The next night, he grounded out in the ninth with a man on base to end the game, which the Mavs lost 3-2.
Meanwhile, Nichols continued to sit on the bench, amassing 17 at-bats in the first 40 games.
In late June, Lester and Nichols were released. At the time, Nichols had similar numbers to Lester but half as many at-bats. General Manager Pat Daly said he felt that Torchia never gave Nichols enough of a chance. When Torchia was fired a couple of weeks later, Nichols was back on the team.
“I think Papo’s going to be a fair manager in that he’ll leave guys in who are producing, but he won’t be afraid to replace guys who aren’t and give someone else a chance,” Nichols said when he returned to the team. “That’s a different approach than Tony had.”
Daly promoted Davila to manager to light a fire under his team. It didn’t take the new manager long to show his fighting spirit.
During a game at River City shortly after Davila’s promotion, the opposing catcher was thrown out for arguing a call and when the new catcher came in, the pitcher began throwing extra warm-up pitches.
Knowing this wasn’t allowed, Davila, who had been coaching third, raced down the base line and stood on home plate between the pitcher and the catcher, yelling to the umpire that the warm-up pitches were illegal.
Davila knows the rules of professional baseball. He pitched with the Oakland A’s organization for seven years, including a brief stint in the majors in 1972. He also served as the bullpen and special assignment coach for the Cleveland Indians in 2000 and is technically a part of the Indians’ organization.
He received Cleveland’s permission to work with the Mavs this summer to be closer to his family, but part of his job is to look for big league prospects.
The Indians offered him a spot as a roving coach in their farm system, but that would have meant spending eight months away from his family. So he decided to coach in the Frontier League.
That doesn’t mean he’s OK with losing.
“I am a winner, not a loser,” Davila said before the season. “We’re going to try to go all the way. Just because this is minor league ball, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to win.”
Losses were bound to come and they took an emotional and physical toll on Davila.
After losing seven games in an eight-game stretch, Davila resigned Aug. 17, citing health concerns. Daly said the stresses of the season had been too much for Davila.
Intensity can be a doubled-edged sword.
Hitting coach Mark Schlosser, who had been brought in to help Davila shortly after the All-Star break in mid-July, managed the final 15 games and used pitchers Justin Stine and Grant Dorn to help with the coaching duties.
Schlosser won four of the team’s final 15 games, never making many changes from the way things had been done under Davila.
Daly says Schlosser is being considered for a spot on next season’s coaching staff, but the manager’s job is undecided. That’s nothing new for the Mavericks.
“Hopefully we put together a solid coaching staff so things aren’t quite as crazy next season,” Daly said.
Either that, or they could put in a revolving door.