MIAMI — Even as a Lansing Lugnut, Mike Redmond loved managing.
Close friend Mike Lowell recalls a conversation they had in 2011, shortly after Redmond became the skipper for the Single-A Lugnuts, who happened to be playing a Midwest League road game.
“I went to visit him in Kane County. He was like, ‘This is awesome!”’ says Lowell, laughing and shaking his head. “I’m really impressed he has that passion for it.”
Two years later, Redmond still thinks his job is awesome. It’s just that the stage is bigger. He’s one of six new managers in the majors this year, replacing Ozzie Guillen with the Miami Marlins.
No more Midwest League bus trips.
“Things have changed a lot — in a great way,” says Redmond, a former major league backup catcher. “When I retired, this was the goal — to get back in the big leagues. The Marlins have given me a tremendous opportunity, and I’m going to go out there and give them everything I’ve got.”
Guillen became a symbol for all that went wrong with the Marlins last year, which was a lot.
An uncharacteristic spending spree that included the hiring of Guillen made the Marlins the buzz of baseball as they moved into a new ballpark. But the season began to go bust in the first week, when Guillen caused a tempest by praising Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
Guillen nearly got fired then. Instead, the Marlins waited until the end of their disappointing 93-loss, last-place season to let him go.
The 41-year-old Redmond takes over a roster reconstructed after a dismantling pared the payroll from $90 million to about $40 million. Expectations are as modest as the budget, with the Marlins widely projected to finish last — again — in the NL East.
“Nobody gives us a chance,” Redmond says. “So we’re going to go out there and see if we can prove them wrong.”
That sentiment is common among the new managers, which is understandable since new managers tend to join teams that have been lousy. Also taking over clubs that finished last in 2012 are Walt Weiss in Colorado, Bo Porter in Houston and John Farrell in Boston.
Terry Francona takes over fourth-place Cleveland. John Gibbons is back for a second managerial stint with Toronto, which also finished fourth but has high hopes in the AL East after landing a bounty in a trade with the dismantling Marlins.
While Redmond comes to the majors from Single-A, Weiss made an even bigger leap. A year ago he was at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., guiding his son’s team to a 20-6 record and the state semifinals.
The former big league shortstop will try to turn around a club that endured a franchise-worst 98 losses and finished last in the NL West.
“There’s a clear vision of what we’re trying to do,” Weiss says. “We keep talking about trying to build an atmosphere where players can thrive, where they respect each other, they respect the staff, they trust us.”
Porter, another first-time big league manager, takes over a team that was the worst in the majors each of the past two years, going 111-213. He previously was the third base coach for Washington, which led the majors with 98 wins.
“We don’t have many established major league players,” Porter says. “At this time next year, I want that number to be greatly increased.”
The Red Sox, coming off a 69-93 season that was their worst since 1965, turned to their former pitching coach. Farrell was with the Sox in 2007-10 before leaving to manage the Blue Jays for two seasons.
Farrell says the experience of having to make “hundreds of decisions” every day as a manager has been invaluable.
“If I haven’t learned anything in two years, then shame on me,” he says. “Having never managed in professional baseball before, it has been an incredible learning experience, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity that was provided by Toronto. And while you think you might be prepared for that next opportunity, you’re never fully prepared. There’s no way, because once you’re in that seat your neck is out there.”