For now, PawSox uniform fits fine
But new manager Torey Lovullo is surely headed to the big leagues
PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- The new manager of the Pawtucket Red Sox is not long for the job.
Don't take that the wrong way. Torey Lovullo, 44, is a great fit for the position, coming to the PawSox after eight years of managing on nearly every rung of the Cleveland Indians' system.
But despite the disappointment of being passed over for the Indians' job last fall, when Eric Wedge was fired but replaced by a man from outside of the organization (Manny Acta), there is little question that the day will come when Lovullo is managing in the big leagues, and it may be soon.
Brad Mills, Terry Francona's longtime bench coach, got his chance when he was hired last fall to manage the Houston Astros, and Francona has others on his staff who fit the profile: new bench coach DeMarlo Hale has been interviewed for jobs, including Francona's before he was hired; pitching coach John Farrell turned down chances to interview in Pittsburgh and Cleveland; and new third-base coach Tim Bogar is rapidly putting together a résumé that will attract attention.
Lovullo, a former utility infielder who once played for Francona when he managed the Phillies, rates as a top prospect, too, although he could probably do without the hype. He had enough of that as a player. In 1989, just two years after being drafted out of UCLA, Lovullo had a great spring for the Tigers, and manager Sparky Anderson, who was known for going overboard on a young player, gave Lovullo the full Monty.
"This guy is as good a natural hitter as I've ever seen,'' Anderson raved. "If he could run, he'd be a million-dollar player. I'll die before he comes out of the lineup."
It was Lovullo, however, who was DOA in the big leagues that spring. He went hitless in his first 20 at-bats before singling off Jamie Moyer, and was batting .115 in May when he was sent down. He never played again for the Tigers, getting traded in the spring of 1991 to the Yankees, the second of eight big league teams with which he played, the last Francona's Phillies in 1999. He retired as a player after spending the 2000 season with the Yakult Swallows in Japan.
"I was always criticized for being rushed through the Tigers' system,'' said Lovullo, who had his best season in the majors with the Angels in 1993, when he hit .251 in 109 games while playing five positions. "I don't ever put expectations on a kid that he can't legitimately follow through on. I'll try to downplay success and help out the failures, even things out.
"Sparky Anderson was an icon of mine, and I was the golden child because of Sparky Anderson. He was so brilliant, and I wanted to make him right instead of just relaxing and playing baseball.''
If an easier life had been Lovullo's goal, he might never have picked up a baseball glove. Hollywood was an option for the Southern California kid. His father, Sam, was executive producer of "Hee Haw," the highly successful countrified musical-comedy variety show.
"I have so many 'Hee Haw' stories they all kind of roll into one,'' Lovullo said. "I remember watching Junior Samples, Buck Owens and Roy Clark perform their skits in the cornfield. It took them two hours to do it, because they couldn't stop laughing. There was no audience, just the people on the set, but it was so contagious, it would take that long for what was probably 35 seconds on the show.
"I remember sitting down and playing cards with Roy Clark -- you know, 'Crazy Eights' or 'Go Fish' -- without ever knowing who he was. He was just Roy.
"Dad gave me every opportunity. I worked in the mailroom summers when I was in high school, handling the fan mail, but I never had the desire to get into it. Everybody said you're crazy, this industry is full of nepotism while there's just one in a million chance of being a ballplayer. I guess I took the high road, and did what I wanted to do.''
The life he chose has been an itinerant one. As a player, he wore the uniform of 19 different teams and played on two different continents in the span of 14 seasons, so endearing himself as a player in Triple-A Buffalo that he was chosen to the team's Hall of Fame.
It hasn't changed as a manager. Lovullo told Indians GM Mark Shapiro when he was hired to manage in 2002 that he wanted to experience what the Indians' system was like, from the bottom up. Shapiro obliged, and Lovullo, who had begun as a minor league instructor in 2001, went from Columbus, Ga., to Kinston, N.C., to Akron, Ohio, to Buffalo and finally Columbus, Ohio.
Even when he was home in Southern California in his offseasons, the earth shifted beneath his feet. He was living just a couple of miles from the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake in 1994 when he awakened to furniture crashing all around him.
"I was totally a California kid,'' he said, "but that one crippled my mind, my spirit. I remember saying, 'This is the big one, and we're going to be floating out to sea. I never experienced anything like it.''
Twice named manager of the year in the Indians' system, Lovullo was interviewed for the Dodgers' job that went to Grady Little, and also was interviewed by the Pirates before they hired John Russell. But last season, after managing a total of 35 players who wound up in Cleveland, Lovullo appeared poised to become manager of the Indians. The Indians instead hired Acta, who had been fired by the Nationals earlier that season but had big league managing experience on his résumé and also appealed to the Indians because of his potential of reaching such key Latin players as Fausto Carmona and Jhonny Peralta.
"I thought I was finally in the right classroom,'' Lovullo said, "and it was like all of a sudden they switched schools. It's not that they didn't feel I was good enough. Mark and I had long conversations about it. He expressed sorrow and wished me luck and said in a way he felt like he didn't finish the job with me. It was not his fault. He apologized.''
But it was clear to Lovullo that it was time for change. And in Pawtucket, where the man who hired him, Mike Hazen, worked with him for years in Cleveland, as did Farrell, he has found a place to call home. For now.
"Time to move on,'' he said, "and spread my wings.''
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.