NEW YORK—By all accounts, baseball lifer Dave Miley is well respected by players, bosses and opponents. He has been a big league manager and led clubs from Cedar Rapids to Greensboro.
And through all the minor league stops—he recently completed his 26th season as a minor league manager by leading Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to the International League North title without playing a home game—the Tampa native has understood the basic tenant of being a manager not working in the big leagues: Make the players better.
Miley, 50, does not hide the obvious. He knows everyone in the minor leagues has an eye on the next floor of the baseball elevator. Yet, that doesn’t mean the focus isn’t on the job that pays the bills.
And if that means correcting a player in an aggressive way, so be it. According to Miley, he is paid to improve players, but it’s also nice to walk out of whatever park with a victory.
“He knows the drill. He understands the organization’s objectives,” Yankees farm director Mark Newman said of Miley’s grasp of blending development with winning. “And he does it with poise and a very level head.”
David Robertson remembers getting the full menu of Miley while pitching for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2008.
“He was a great manager, kind of stern. He expected you to play hard and the right way and expected to win,” Robertson recalled. “I messed up a swinging bunt play and didn’t get the double play. I got to the dugout and he was all over me.
“He asked me, ‘Do you know what you did wrong?’ I said I did and that was it. That was over. What I did was try to throw to third and there was no one running to third. Then I was too late to second and then I was too late to first.”
His Best Work
This past summer may have been Miley’s best managing job. Forced to play every game away from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre while PNC Field went through a renovation, Miley led the Yankees to an 84-60 record and won the division by five games.
“No home games and win the division, that’s pretty unbelievable,” Newman said. “He is a really good person and very good at his job.”
Miley would rather talk about anybody but himself. Yet, he isn’t shy when he addresses his players.
“I tell the players the first day of the season, everybody has aspirations to get to the big leagues or go back to the big leagues. That goes from the clubhouse guy all the way through,” Miley said from Puerto Rico, where he was managing Mayaguez for the second straight year after winning the Puerto Rican League title a year ago. “If you aren’t going to be in the big leagues, Triple-A with the Yankees is tremendous to me. It’s been great. I have been treated outstanding. The communication involved has been great. We all want to be in the big leagues and go back to the big leagues, but it has been a great experience.”
Miley has posted a 1,973-1,610 record (.551 winning percentage) in 3,585 minor league games, but oddly doesn’t get mentioned when big league jobs open.
How many early workouts? How many talks with a player frustrated that he is so close from the big leagues yet not knocking on the door? How many times welcoming back a player who has been sent down?
That’s all part of the gig: today is a day to improve; tomorrow will take care of itself.
“Everybody here wants to be there, but what we try to explain to the players is this: You are where you are,” Miley said. “We have to develop, but I am a firm believer that if you can win while you develop it’s more beneficial, not only for us, but for (Brian) Cashman or Joe (Girardi) if they need a player, they will get one with a winning attitude also.”
Playing a full season on the road presented a rare challenge. The team was based in Rochester, N.Y., and played most of its “home” games there, along with five other ballparks. Miley said if the character of his players wasn’t so strong, it could have been a miserable five months.
“All the years I have been with the Yankees they have sent quality players and good guys,” Miley said. “I think that really had a lot to do with the success we had. We knew going in it was going to be a different thing. From Cashman to (assistant general manager Billy Eppler) to the pro scouts to Mark Newman, they gave us players who love to play the game and that is a big part of what we were able to accomplish.
“The guys they bring in, the talent is not a question but the character on and off the field has been off the scales for me. We sign guys who have a passion for the game regardless of where they are . . . That was huge factor in us winning the division.”
So, too, was having a coaching staff he knew well. Hitting coach Butch Wynegar was in his seventh season. Pitching coach Scott Aldred finished his fourth. Frankie Menechino, who worked with the infielders, was in his second. Trainer Darren London logged his 23rd in the organization.
Miley also credits the communication with the big league decision-makers for balancing development and winning.
“When we leave spring training we have a pretty good idea what the big leagues will be looking for out of players,” Miley said. “You look at our lineup on a daily basis and we move guys around more than any team in (the International League) to get guys ready to go up there.”
And for those who don’t move up?
“There is a plan laid out for every player we have. That’s our first goal and when Cash or Joe Girardi need somebody, hopefully we did our job and those guys on any particular night, they can go up there and help them win a game,” Miley said. “Up there it’s a whole different situation. You have to win up there. Down here it’s working with guys who can help in the big leagues and hopefully it’s all of them. Like we tell the players, ‘We are going to make sure you are working on what you need to get better development-wise, but while we are doing that there is nothing better than shaking hands after a game.’ Our best part of the job is when we send a guy up. Our toughest part of the job is when a guy is sent down.”
For a long time, the Reds were all Miley knew. A second-round pick in the 1980 draft out of Chamberlain High in Tampa, the catcher played seven minor league seasons and then spent 19 years in the organization as a coach or manager. He was the Reds’ manager from 2003-2005 and posted a 125-164 record in 289 big league games.
So has Miley become a better manager after seven seasons away from the big leagues?
“I thought I was a pretty good manager when I went to the big leagues,” he said. “You hear things like, ‘You didn’t have the horses.’ But let’s put it this way, when I got fired from Cincinnati I recognized some of the things I could have done better and maybe should have done better. I should have applied that before I went to the big leagues.
“I am sure there are some things that I have changed, without getting into it, that I might not have done before I got the opportunity to manage in the big leagues.”
One thing Miley understands is the education never stops.
“I have learned from being around the Yankees in big league camp. I was around (Joe) Torre and his staff and Joe Girardi and his staff and all the coordinators,” Miley said. “By no means do I know everything. There is always a chance you can learn something different every day. If it happens again, a big league manager or a coach, there are things I would do different.”