Baseball America

2005 Manager Of The Year: Ken Oberkfell

PREVIOUS WINNERS
1981–Ed Nottle, Tacoma (Athletics)
1982–Eddie Haas, Richmond (Braves)
1983–Bill Dancy, Reading (Phillies)
1984–Sam Perlozzo, Jackson (Mets)
1985–Jim Lefebvre, Phoenix (Giants)
1986–Brad Fischer, Huntsville (Athletics)
1987–Dave Trembley, Harrisburg (Pirates)
1988–Joe Sparks, Indianapolis (Expos)
1989–Buck Showalter, Albany (Yankees)
1990–Kevin Kennedy, Albuquerque (Dodgers)
1991–Butch Hobson, Pawtucket (Red Sox)
1992–Grady Little, Greenville (Braves)
1993–Terry Francona, Birmingham (White Sox)
1994–Tim Ireland, El Paso (Brewers)
1995–Marc Bombard, Indianapolis (Reds)
1996–Carlos Tosca, Portland (Marlins)
1997–Gary Jones, Edmonton (Athletics)
1998–Terry Kennedy, Iowa (Cubs)
1999–John Mizerock, Wichita (Royals)
2000–Joel Skinner, Buffalo (Indians)
2001–Jackie Moore, Round Rock (Astros)
2002–John Russell, Edmonton (Twins)
2003–Dave Brundage, San Antonio (Mariners)
2004–Marty Brown, Buffalo (International)

Triple-A Norfolk might not have won the Governor’s Cup in the International League this season, but the Tides’ skipper firmly established himself as one of the top managers in the minors.

Ken Oberkfell led Norfolk to a 79-65 record, winning the IL’s South
Division by 14 games in his rookie season in Triple-A. The club bowed
out in the first round of the playoffs, but took eventual champion
Toledo to a deciding fifth game before doing so.

Over his 10-year managerial career, Oberkfell has become known for
drawing on his depth of personal experience as a player with the
Cardinals, Braves, Pirates, Giants, Astros and Angels.

“You just instantly respect him because of everything he’s been
through,” Norfolk third baseman Rodney Nye said. “He just lets you play
the game. As a player he’s easy to play for because of his laid-back
approach. Guys respond to that and have good years under him for those
reasons.”

“There is enough pressure at this level,” righthander Jason Scobie
said. “He just lets you go out there and do what you have to do. We all
make mistakes, but Obie’s approach is to take it easy and that helps a
lot. His door is always open and he’s the best manager I’ve ever played
for.”

It is that openness, that experience, and the outstanding job he did
this season in Norfolk that makes him Baseball America’s Manager of the
Year.

Getting It Started

Oberkfell took two years off after retiring in 1992, essentially
playing a lot of golf and figuring out what he wanted to do next. He
decided he wanted to manage, but there were no offers around in
affiliated ball. Never one to be discouraged, Oberkfell took a job in
the independent Northeast League, managing the Mohawk Valley Landsharks
to a second-place finish with a 47-23 record in 1995.

“It was a lot harder than I thought it’d be,” Oberkfell said of
landing a managing gig. “You can’t walk in to some major league front
office and tell them you want to manage. It just doesn’t work that way.”

From New York’s Mohawk Valley, Oberkfell spent another year in the
independent leagues before then-Phillies GM Lee Thomas gave him a shot
with low Class A Piedmont in 1997. He remained there until 1999,
leading the Boll Weevils to the playoffs in 1998.

Oberkfell and the Phillies parted ways after the 1999 season, and
then the Mets came calling. He returned to the South Atlantic League,
but this time to Capital City. He was with the Bombers for one season
before heading to high Class A St. Lucie, leading the Mets to the
playoffs in 2002 and winning the Florida State League title in 2003.

He moved up again last year, this time to Double-A Binghamton, where
the B-Mets finished 10 games over .500 and made the postseason.
Counting this year’s appearance, Oberkfell has four consecutive playoff
berths at three different levels.

“He’s done a great, great job of implementing our organizational
philosophy and yet keeping our plan for individual players,” Mets farm
director Kevin Morgan said. “We felt that through his experience and
extreme wealth of knowledge, he’d be a prefect fit for Triple-A. He’s a
strong communicator with an innate ability to express what’s needed out
of his players.

“Triple-A is a psychological game as well, simply because of all the
moves that occur throughout the season. You have to have strong
interpersonal skills, and Ken does an outstanding job of getting to
know each player’s personality. He understands what each player is
going through because of his playing experience and his ability to
communicate. They relate to him.”

Strong Base

Growing up in suburban St. Louis, all Oberkfell ever wanted was to
play for his hometown team. His dream became a reality in 1977, when he
broke in with the Cardinals, finally making it to the big leagues for
good in 1979.

In Oberkfell’s 16-year big league career, he tasted the postseason twice, winning the World Series with the Cards in 1982.

“There’s no question that was the year packed with the greatest
memories,” Oberkfell said. “To win the World Series in your hometown
was an amazing experience. We didn’t have a bunch of superstars, but we
were so consistent and so strong defensively. We were just a bunch of
hard-nosed, fast players who played good defense.”

And Oberkfell was one of the hardest noses of the bunch. During his
career, he averaged 130 games a season despite knee surgery, a broken
thumb and an elbow injury.

“I always just tried to play through everything,” he said. “Nowadays
with the amount of money clubs are investing, it’s a different story.
You just try to get to know the player as best you can. That tells you
more of what kind of player they are than anything else.”

Oberkfell also had a lot of good brains to pick. Over the years, he
played for Whitey Herzog, Jim Leyland, Joe Torre and Chuck Tanner. But
he regards Herzog as having the biggest influence on his managerial
style.

“I learned a lot from Whitey in terms of handling players and
communicating–especially with extra players,” he said. “He always had
a way of keeping them positive, keeping them ready. That’s so important
if you want to have success at any level.

“And just like Whitey, I like to run. I like to be aggressive on the
bases. I’m a pretty laid back guy until we have runners on base.”

After the season ended, Oberkfell went to Houston, where he now
calls home, before he heads to the Arizona Fall League in October. His
name has been mentioned–along with Leyland’s–as a possible candidate
for the vacancy in Pittsburgh for next season.

And there is no doubt he’s ready to get back to the big leagues again.

“A lot of superstar players maybe get the opportunity (to manage in
the big leagues) because of their name, but it’s not that easy,”
Oberkfell said. “You should pay your dues. I think you learn once you
try it. Having been in the minors for 10 years, I think I’ve learned a
lot. Don’t get me wrong, Triple-A isn’t a bad gig, but I want to be
back in the big leagues–everyone does. If they tell you any different,
they’re lying.”

Minors | #2005 #Awards #Manager Of The Year

Add a Comment

comments powered by Disqus