Minor League Manager Of The Year: Todd Claus
Ultimate gamer finds his niche as a teacher
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Since his playing days, Todd Claus has always been a gamer.
A nondrafted free agent out of North Florida signed by Angels scout Tom Kotchman, Claus played for three years as a middle infielder and never made it beyond Double-A.
"I always wanted to play in the big leagues, but I knew at a young age that I would eventually be a coach because my talent was minimal," said Claus, 37. "As a switch-hitting middle infielder, I never really got a knack from the left side."
Still, that didn't stop him from leaving it out on the field until Super Bowl Sunday in early 1994, when he got a call from the Angels asking him to take the hitting coach job at short-season Boise.
Claus served as hitting coach for two seasons at Boise (where Kotchman was the manager), and progressed up the ladder to being the Double-A hitting coach by 1998. From 1999-2001, he went back to coaching short-season ball to accommodate spring scouting duties in South Florida the organization had added.
Claus moved on to the managing ranks in 2002 at low Class A Cedar Rapids, and after two seasons with the Kernels, Claus was suddenly fired by the Angels and immediately hired by the Red Sox.
He stayed one season at high Class A Sarasota before moving to Double-A Portland--leading the Sea Dogs to the Eastern League playoffs the past two years. Portland won it all in 2006 with a club that didn't have the elite talent of its opponent, Akron, which boasted Indians prospects Adam Miller, Trevor Crowe and Brian Barton.
His scouting background, success as a manager and ability to deal with the adversity of leaving the Angels prompted Baseball America to name Claus our Minor League Manager of the Year.
"This is a team that went through a 10-game losing streak in August, and he and the staff deserve a lot of credit for turning that around," Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen said. "He's the guy that drives that team for 142 games every season. You know he expects the energy, the intensity and the effort every night.
"We can't replicate the environment in Boston, but Todd's done an outstanding job of developing our players and putting them in the postseason where they can perform in pressure-type situations."Unexpected Adversity
Claus has dealt with pressure himself, some of it self-created.
In 2003, the Angels revamped their player-development system, firing scouting director Donny Rowland, a move Claus caught wind of shortly before it was official. He says general manager Bill Stoneman told him they were going in a different direction about a week before Rowland was let go.
Claus called to leave a message on the Angels' internal voicemail system for Rowland, his friend and mentor. Just like every other manager across the minor leagues, he was accustomed to dialing in a code he would normally enter when calling in game reports. He left an emotional message for Rowland that he mistakenly distributed to everyone in the Angels front office.
The change in direction by the organization combined with his voicemail faux pas meant that despite his strong track record with the Angels over 12 seasons as a player, coach and manager, Claus was fired.
"I've never held a grudge against the Angels whatsoever," Claus said. "I totally understood it because it was a credibility issue. I was disappointed that Donny wasn't going to be renewed. It actually took me five times to say what I wanted to say. And when I finally got it right, I sent it to everyone on my distribution list out of the habit you go through every night all year.
"One thing I did say--I told Donny that I loved him and that he'd land on his feet and be OK. But when I said I'd love to work for him again one day, that brought into question my dedication to the organization."Bad Mr. Shucks
Claus is never afraid to say what's on his mind, his opinion on a certain player, game situation or even a mascot.
In his first year as manager at Cedar Rapids in 2002, Claus' Kernels had just swept South Bend to win the Midwest League title. As the celebration began, Claus noticed the Kernels' mascot, Mr. Shucks--complete with a large baseball for a head and what can only be described as enormous shoulder pads representing the top of a corn stalk--running the bases carrying a broom.
Claus made a beeline for the mascot, catching up with him as he rounded second base, flipped him over, pried the broom from his hands and snapped it in half.
His team had just reached the pinnacle so many pro players never sniff. And Mr. Shucks was rubbing it in to their opponent, whose manager was longtime Angels infielder Dick Schofield.
"To me, that just crossed the line," Claus said. "I've always been surrounded by such good people that taught me early on to respect the game, respect your opponent. When I saw that, I went ballistic--it was the ultimate sign of disrespect. So I went running with him and he was trying to play keep-away from me. All I know is we had some words, the mascot went flying and I broke the broom in half."Track Record
Claus has always been a fiery guy. That comes across in his demeanor on the field as well as his preparation by breaking down his own scouting reports and those from advance scouts for each and every game.
And he's always been a winner.
As an amateur, he played at Cardinal Gibbons High in Fort Lauderdale, which took home its first state championship in 10 years in 1987. He then played a year at Indian River (Fla.) Junior College before heading to North Florida to play for Dusty Rhodes.
"I owe a tremendous amount to him and to this day still feel lucky being able to be a part of his program for two years," Claus said. "He taught me a ton about what it takes to be mentally tough."
Then there is the scouting background. Claus signed Angels catcher Mike Napoli in the 17th round and outfielder Tommy Murphy in the third round in 2000.
"It's tough enough to get one guy who makes it to the big leagues," Kotchman said. "But this guy had two guys debut up there on the same day.
"He's made the most of every opportunity and dealt well with everything that's been thrown his way. On top of that, he throws a great BP."
But Claus is the antithesis of laid back, and he isn't going to start anytime soon, no matter how much time he hangs loose in paradise. He spent the winter managing the West Oahu CaneFires in Hawaii Winter Baseball, an experience that brought new challenges to the up-and-coming manager.
"I'm just wondering what happens when I'm out here in this developmental league and we have two outs, down a run and runners on first and third," Claus said. "I'm going to be so wanting to put that bunt down."