The sudden end to the Buffalo Bisons' season probably means the end of the Herd career of manager Marty Brown.
But don't think the parent Cleveland Indians are punishing Brown because their Triple-A team collapsed in the Governors' Cup playoffs. Far from it. After three solid seasons in Buffalo, Brown is almost certainly looking at a promotion in 2006.
"Marty is going to have a vital role in our player development system," Indians farm director John Farrell said after Sunday's 6-4 loss to the Indianapolis Indians in Game Five of the International League semifinals. "We have talked about some things where he can have a chance to impact not only players here in Buffalo but throughout the system."
If Brown does not return, his logical successor as Bisons manager is Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Torey Lovullo, a star on the Bisons' 1997 and 1998 championship teams.
Lovullo is the shooting star in the Cleveland chain, having directed Class A Kinston (N.C.) to a Carolina League championship last year and Double-A Akron into the Eastern League finals this year. The Aeros begin that best-of-five series tonight at Portland (Maine).
Farrell said he's already spoken to Brown about a coordinator role, which is a step up for a Triple-A manager. Cleveland's minor-league hitting coordinator slot is currently open because Derek Shelton was promoted to the big leagues as hitting coach after the June firing of Eddie Murray.
Brown could slip into Shelton's old job, or the field coordinator post if Tim Tolman, who currently has that position, takes over the hitting post. Field coordinator is a key slot in organizing spring training and the organization's six minor-league affiliates. It's the position former Buffalo manager Jeff Datz held after managing the Herd in 1998 and 1999. Datz is currently Cleveland's first-base coach.
Distraught by his team's third straight loss at home, Brown declined to speculate about his future after Sunday's defeat. Reached Monday on his cell phone as he was en route to a flight home to Sarasota, Fla., he acknowledged there's been talk of a move.
"There's a lot of good things happening below Triple-A with Torey and that will be good for Buffalo if that's the decision we make," Brown said. "But who knows? I might be back, too. Normally you work these things out right after the big-league season is done but they have a lot of other things on their mind up there now (with the American League wild-card race) and that's a good thing for our organization."
Brown in 238-193 in his three seasons at the head of the Herd, behind only Brian Graham (253-179) and Terry Collins (246-186) on the team's modern-era victory list. He's tied with 1940s legend Paul Richards (1947-49) for 10th on the all-time list over the franchise's 121 seasons.
Brown will attend Cleveland's organizational meetings in a couple of weeks in Tampa and then head to the team's Florida training base in Winter Haven for its fall instructional league program for young players and veterans coming off injuries.
Brown's 2003 Buffalo team finished 73-70 after a 5-22 slide in August knocked it from playoff contention. The 2004 Bisons, led by IL MVP Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore, finished 83-61 and won the franchise's first Governors' Cup in six years with a stirring five-game semifinal win over Durham and a four-game triumph over Richmond.
After a 6-1 victory over the R-Braves closed the championship series, Brown took the Governors' Cup and made an impromptu lap of the ballpark to allow fans to touch a trophy the Bisons had not won at home in Dunn Tire Park's first 17 seasons.
The Bisons repeated as North Division champions this year, going 82-62 as they finished by winning 15 of their last 19 games in one of the most memorable stretch drives in franchise history. The Bisons were 23-7 in May, belting a franchise-record 55 home runs during the month. It was their ninth playoff trip in 11 years as a Cleveland affiliate but the fifth Game Five loss.
"We had a good club this year and we played very well in stretches," Brown said after Sunday's game. "We had ups and downs and you guys (the media) lived them every day just like I did. Overall, it was a very successful season. A lot of guys went to the big leagues and hopefully they'll help the Indians get over the hump."
"It was a very successful year in terms of this team and individual development," Farrell added. "In any playoff situation you've got to have good performances and some fate on your side and that didn't happen . . . But from start to finish, this has been a very strong year from Marty and the staff. We've got a plan in place for Marty. He's well aware of it. We're fortunate that we've got a guy who is as hard-working, understands the game and works with people as well as he does."