Some things, a man never lives down. As an example, say that man happened to be a baseball player for the Marlins and one day he decided to take pregame batting practice naked — stepping into the cage wearing nothing but hitting gloves and cleats – as his shocked teammates howled laughter.
So it was that nine years later, his legend preceding him, Mike Redmond on Friday became the first newly hired major-league manager likely in history to begin his media introductory by saying, “They advised me I should keep my clothes on for this press conference.”
It happened approaching the All-Star break, his team stuck in a slump, the clubhouse filling with anxiety and way too much quiet.
“It was something crazy to help guys smile and relax. It was just that one time,” Redmond, 41, was saying. A smile bloomed on his face. “It did its job.”
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That was the summer of 2003, when a team once 12 games under .500 went on to win the World Series behind — and I use the word advisedly — Redmond’s nude inspiration. (Hey. Thankfully at least it was an indoor batting cage!)
The Marlins handed the keys to the team to a member of the family Friday, and it felt good. It felt right. Redmond becomes the first former player to lead the club, and for once the Marlins have a manager who knows this franchise from its birth days, who was raised by this club and cares about it like only family can.
The man his friends and old teammates call “Red” recalled signing his first pro contract with the Marlins’ Single A Kane County Cougars in 1993, and how excited a young catcher was to pose for his first baseball card.
Later he was surprised to notice that on the back of the card was written the prophecy: “Will be a coach when his playing days are over.”
“I think this was picked for me,” he said Friday.
He would play for the Marlins from 1998 to 2004 to begin a long career that lasted until 2010. Always a backup, never a star, but one of those good, needed “clubhouse guys.”
On Friday, his ’03 World Series ring shone from his right hand.
“I wear it on special occasions, and this is absolutely a special occasion,” he said. “When I lift this thing up and think about this, I smile, I laugh. I think about everything. Dontrelle Willis. Miguel Cabrera. Mike Lowell hitting a home run in the playoffs after not playing for a month. Jack [McKeon] calling Luis Juan and Juan Luis.’’
The Marlins just hired a guy who loves this club and wants for it in a way that Ozzie Guillen did not. That no other manager could.
Redmond spent the past two seasons successfully managing Single A teams in the Toronto Blue Jays system. When Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria called to ask if he’d be interested in the Miami job, Redmond was on a friend’s 100-acre farm. They were putting out deer feed for hunting season. After the call ended, Redmond let loose a sound that must have ricocheted across all hundred acres.
“I think I screamed right out there in the field,” he said. “It was something like, “Expletive, yes!”
This is this man’s dream job, and as he accepted it formally on Friday as his wife of 16 years, Michele, looked on along with their boys Ryan 11, and Mookie, 10. The boys were beaming in new Marlins jerseys they’d been handed.
His wife said, “This is like coming home.”
They met during spring training at an Outback steak restaurant where she was a manager. “After a couple of beers they wanted to know who I was,” she said. “They asked to see the manager.”
Redmond taking over this club starts out as a feel-good story without question, but will only stay that way if Loria has more patience now than he has shown in making this the team’s fifth manager within three years.
Redmond needs time to succeed, and a chance to succeed. The task is bigger than him and his current players. It also requires that the front office, led by president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, does a heck of a lot better job than it has in terms of drafting and player development. And makes smarter decisions than, say, the Heath Bell signing.
Given the time and the tools, I like Redmond’s chances.
Fundamentally, he has the most contagious thing on Earth, something that doesn’t need to be cured but rather needs to spread: enthusiasm.
Guillen never had it — or at least failed to convey it. Guillen led the league in F-bombs but otherwise came off sour and unexcited, like, I don’t give a [bleep]. That attitude infected the clubhouse.
Redmond will be a positive hire simply if his attitude becomes that of the team.
“I wish spring training started tomorrow!” he said. “To the fans, things will get better. I will give every ounce of effort out on that field. I’m going to create a great environment for these guys so they can’t wait to get to the ballpark and compete. And the fans are going to feel that.”
If this is the new face of the franchise, it’s an upgrade. It matters not if the face of the Marlins is black or white or Hispanic. It matters not if the face talks with a heavily flavored accent or speaks the Queen’s English.
But it does matter that the face of the franchise has a smile on it. Conveys excitement and enthusiasm.
Redmond has an easy, self-deprecating humor, as when he joked Friday that he just joined Twitter and has two followers. “I’m not sure my message is getting out,” he deadpanned. He said he’d spoken to about half of his new players, adding, “A lot of ’em probably saw [my name on caller ID] and let it go straight to voicemail.”
Players will love Redmond, of course, because he is one of them. He knows when to have fun, but also has a respect for the game borne of an overachieving catcher who forged a 13-year career out of effort and love.
“We gotta get back to basics; no sideshows,” he said, perhaps an allusion to Ozzie the One-Man Circus. “When we walk in that clubhouse, it’s all business.”
Redmond’s two sons were babies on his arms in 2003. “They don’t remember the World Series celebration when I took them into the clubhouse,” he said.
That’s reason enough to make another one of those moments happen, and I can’t imagine anybody could want that more than the new man in charge of the dream.