When Doug Simunic first jogged out to exchange lineups as Fargo-Moorhead's manager, Derek Jeter had just begun his rookie season as the Yankees' shortstop. Major League Baseball itself was recovering from a strike in 1994-95 that had just resulted in the first cancelled World Series. And independent baseball was still a fledgling idea.
Simunic's 22 years as the RedHawks manager came to an end on Sunday as the team announced that he was fired and would be replaced in the interim by RedHawks pitching coach Michael Schlact. The team said it will search for a new manager after the season. The firing came hours after Fargo-Moorhead blew a five-run lead in the final two innings to lose to Gary 12-5.
"Twenty-two years is a long time, and Doug has had an outstanding run with the RedHawks. However, I think it is in the organization's best interests at this time to change the on-field leadership," RedHawks owner and chairman Bruce Thom said in a statement. "We appreciate the many contributions Doug has made to the RedHawks and baseball in Fargo-Moorhead and wish him the best as he pursues future baseball endeavors."
Simunic's teams had slipped some in recent years. The only three losing seasons of his 23-year managerial career have come this decade–2011, 2014 and 2015. The RedHawks bounced back last year to go 52-48 and they were 41-35 this year at the time of Simunic’s dismissal, but his teams have failed to make the playoffs in five of the past six seasons. In the 15 years before that, Fargo-Moorhead went to the playoffs 14 times in 15 seasons and won five titles.
The news ends the run of a manager who arguably was the most successful in independent baseball history. Simunic was the only manager Fargo-Moorhead has had, as he took over the expansion franchise in 1996. In that first season he led the RedHawks to the Northern League championship series. Two years later he won his first title for Fargo-Moorhead. Simunic was named the league’s manager of the year on six occasions.
The Northern League champion 1998 RedHawks can make an argument to be the best team in independent baseball history. Fargo-Moorhead went 64-21 (.743 winning percentage) to win both halves while setting a league winning percentage record. They then won the league title in dominating fashion, sweeping St. Paul while winning the three games by an average margin of nine runs per game.
Twice Simunic’s team won more than 70 percent of their games and half of his teams won 60 percent or more of their games.
His dismissal ends what was by far the longest active tenured in professional baseball. Angels' manager Mike Scioscia (2000-present) is the longest-tenured MLB manager.