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Inside Baseball: Wathan poised to join group of ex-Bisons as MLB managers

The roll call of former Bisons connections managing in the big leagues has been cut by two this month with the essentially forced retirement of Terry Collins in New York and the dismissal of John Farrell in Boston.

But a new name has surfaced as a potential leading candidate to join the group that now numbers five skippers.

Ex-Buffalo catcher Dusty Wathan, the clubhouse conscience of the 2004 team that is the Herd's last Governors' Cup championship club, is down to the nitty-gritty as perhaps the key player to replace Pete Mackanin as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wathan, in fact, was cited in the last couple days by USA Today as the leading candidate for the job, although there has been some indication the Phillies had interest in talking to Farrell. It's unclear about Joe Girardi's status in the wake of his forced exit from the Yankees on Thursday. The Phillies and Nationals both have open jobs, although Washington seems like a much more ready-made situation for a veteran manager like Girardi.

Wathan, 44, would be a good fit for the Phillies because of his familiarity with the key young players in the system who have graduated to Philadelphia. Wathan managed the Lehigh Valley IronPigs this season, directing them to an 80-62 record and the International League wild-card slot. He has managed at every level of the Phillies organization over the last 10 years since retiring as a player following the 2007 campaign, and had spent the previous five seasons at Double-A Reading.

At one point in July, Wathan had managed 17 of the 25 players on the Phillies' major-league roster - including nine players from Lehigh Valley's Opening Day roster - and seven of the team's top 10 prospects as listed by Baseball America.

Wathan has managed five playoff teams and has gone to the postseason three years in a row. His overall record is 730-640 (.533), and his teams are 249-165 (.601) the last three years. He became Reading's all-time victory leader with 373 victories in his five seasons, topped by an 89-52 mark in 2016.

Wathan is the son of former Kansas City catcher and manager John Wathan and went 3 for 5 over three games with the Royals in 2002, his only appearance in the big leagues. Wathan played 221 games for the Bisons from 2003-2005, becoming a popular presence in the clubhouse and a favorite of manager Marty Brown.

Brown offered referred to Wathan as a second manager on the field and pitchers loved working to him. The Cleveland Indians often had someone else in mind to be the starter in Buffalo but Victor Martinez got called up halfway through the season in 2003 and Wathan simply earned his time in his final two seasons here.

Wathan batted .303 for Buffalo's '04 champions and set career highs in home runs (14) and RBIs (51) for the '05 team. He's best remembered here for his three-run double that broke up the clinching Game Four of the '04 finals against Richmond, and his three-home run game here against Toledo in 2005.

That matinee outburst easily ranks as one of the most unlikely feats in franchise history as Wathan had never had three home runs in an entire Triple-A season until 2005. His final home run that afternoon was a grand slam, giving him a franchise-record nine RBIs that still stands.

Dusty Wathan holds the Governors Cup with teammate Mark Little as Bisons owners Bob and Mindy Rich salute the team at Dunn Tire Park on Oct. 1, 2004 (James P. McCoy/News file photo).

Wathan won the Herd's Joe De Sa Most Inspirational Player Award in 2003 and shared its Fremo Vallone Community Service Award with Mark Little in 2004. He was named the booster club's Unsung Hero in 2003 and 2005

Wathan may not be the only former Bison in line for a big-league job. Former shortstop Jay Bell, who played in the final season at War Memorial Stadium (1987) and the second season at then-Pilot Field (1989) before a long big-career mostly in Pittsburgh, is getting some mention as a candidate for the Yankees' job. Bell managed Class A Tampa last season but has been a major-league coach with Cincinnati.

Most fans know 2013 Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Dave Roberts is managing the Dodgers in the World Series. Roberts, still the Bisons' all-time stolen base leader, finally got the Dodgers back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1988. As for other Buffalo-tied skippers, here's the rundown:

* Torey Lovullo (Arizona): The Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer, who played and managed the Bisons for a combined six seasons, led the Diamondbacks to 93 wins and a wild-card berth in his long-overdue first year as a big-league manager. Arizona had not made the postseason since 2011 and was coming off a 69-win season, so Lovullo might nose out Roberts in the voting for National League Manager of the Year.

Inside Baseball: Bisons gave Roberts a leg up on his career

Lovullo gets long-awaited chance to manage with Diamondbacks

* Bud Black (Colorado): The longtime big-league pitcher who was the pitching coach for Buffalo's 1998 championship team got the Rockies back to the postseason for the first time since 2009 by posting an 87-75 record. Colorado lost to Lovullo's Diamondbacks in the National League wild-card game.

* Jeff Banister (Texas): The Rangers slipped back to 78-84 this year and fourth in the AL West after the former Buffalo catcher's first two seasons resulted in division series losses to the Blue Jays. Banister, the 2015 AL Manager of the Year, has a three-year record of 261-225.

* Andy Green (San Diego): He's easily forgotten because he was a utility infielder on the 2009 Buffalo club, the Herd's first with the New York Mets. But Green always made an impression on this corner with his frank analysis and disgust for the performance of that team, which finished 56-87. Green, who just turned 40 in July, has gone 68-94 and 71-91 in his first two seasons with the Padres but they are so high on him that in July they extended his contract through 2021. It was set to expire after next season.

Teixeira: Yanks need communicator

Girardi was accepting of analytics but it's well known he didn't have the softest touch with his players when it came to explaining his decisions. And over the course of Girardi's 10 seasons, communication to your players has taken on a much bigger importance in baseball than what was inside the manager's infamous binder.

GM Brian Cashman had an obvious choice when he went from Joe Torre to Girardi following the Yankees' 2007 division series flameout against the Indians. There's no such easy call this time, except for the fact the Yankees want to get younger -- and probably much gentler -- in the dugout.

"We know Joe’s a tight guy, we know he’s intense, and it just seemed to me that 'Cash' wanted to go with a manager that would be a little better communicator with the new young talent because this team is going to win a World Series,” former Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, now an ESPN baseball analyst, told Newsday Thursday in Houston. "The current Yankees team is so talented, and I think you’re probably looking for a manager that can just be a little bit better communicator, maybe not wear his emotions on his sleeve every day.”

Mike Harrington: Girardi's time with the Yankees simply ran out

Teixeira, who collected the final putout in the Yankees' 2009 World Series victory over Philadelphia, said he didn't mind Girardi's style but admitted his ex-skipper "managed every game like it was Game 7 of the World Series."

"He’s a very good manager and people respect him, but over the long season, that can get tough,” Teixeira said.

The firing of Girardi is as stark an illustration of the trend of the manager losing power as we've seen in a while. Girardi didn't want struggling Chris Carter in his lineup earlier in the season as the slugger was flaming out in New York, but the Yankees' analytics team and Cashman won that discussion. That never used to happen. The Jim Leylands and Lou Piniellas of the world need not apply to manager in MLB, circa 2018.

“Old-school baseball, with the manager running the clubhouse and the GM never being in the clubhouse, that’s over,” Teixeira said. “When I first came up, GMs weren’t in the clubhouse, never. Now the GM and the front office runs the team and the manager needs to be the communicator with the team: ‘This is why we’re running the team this way.’

"We spend a lot of time and effort in sabermetrics, and when I tell you you’re not playing, I need to be able to explain to you and have a good enough relationship with you to say, ‘Hey, this is why you’re not playing or this is why I pulled you after five innings. It’s not personal, but this is what the numbers tell us.’ It is information-driven and that’s new-school baseball, and we’re all waking up to that fact.”

Game Two for the books

How crazy was the Astros' Game Two win over the Dodgers? It was full of never-before-seen nuggets brought to life by a Facebook post from longtime ESPN writer Jayson Stark.

* The game was the first one in history, regular season or postseason, that featured a combined five home runs in extra innings.

* The Astros became the first team to homer in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings of any game in history. Again, regular season or postseason. That's astounding.

* In 593 previous World Series games, there were 17 home runs hit in extra innings. The Astros and Dodgers combined to hit five in 42 minutes.

* The back-to-back home runs to start the Houston 10th by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa marked the first back-to-back shots in extra innings in any World Series game, and the first time a double-play combination had accomplished the feat in any inning of any Series game.

* The Astros joined the 2011 Cardinals (Game Six vs. Texas) as the only teams in postseason history to score in the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings of a game. Houston entered the eighth trailing, 3-1.

* The Dodgers' homers in the 10th and 11th innings made them the first postseason team to homer in two extra innings and still lose the game.

Around the horn

* Speaking in Los Angeles while accepting the Hank Aaron Award as the NL's top offensive player, Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton said he has had no contact with the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group and has no idea if they're going to keep him or trade him.

"I think we're all going to take care of that after the World Series. I don't know, to be honest," Stanton said. "I've had thoughts on both sides, but I don't know any specifics."

* The sackings of Farrell and Girardi mean 2018 will mark the first time since 1992 that the Yankees and Red Sox will both go into a season with a new manager, dating to when Buck Showalter took over for Stump Merrill in New York and Butch Hobson took over for Joe Morgan in Boston.

* Former Canisius College star Connor Panas, a standout for the Blue Jays' Class A team in Dunedin (Fla.), is going to play winter ball in Australia this season as he continues his transition from college third baseman to professional outfielder. Panas, who batted .276 with 18 homers and 55 RBIs for Dunedin, made just four errors in the outfield this season. He was a ninth-round pick of the Jays in 2015

* Speaking of the Blue Jays, they have raised eyebrows in Toronto for the firing of more than 20 employees in anciliary departments, notably three of the four members of their media relations department. The club said they were jettisoned to help promote different styles of engagement with its fan base.

It's a woefully short-sighted move that has raised the ire of the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America (Disclosure: This corner is a member). The departed Mal Romanin, Sue Mallabon and Erik Grossman have been nothing but gracious to me for many years and they will be missed. Romanin, it should be noted, feels a lot of your pain. He's a die-hard Sabres fan in Leafs country. His son, Mattingly, played this season for the Jays' A team in Vancouver.

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