Dave Wallace Kept Akron Steady During Title Run
Winning a championship at any level is never easy. But the accomplishment becomes that much more difficult when a team goes through a prolonged losing streak. The Akron RubberDucks lost 12 consecutive Eastern League games at one point in 2016, one of the longest losing skids in the minors, but rebounded to not only make the playoffs, but also to win the franchise’s third EL championship since 2007 with a sweep of Trenton in the finals.
|Minor League Manager of the Year|
|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 Trosca, 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 (Indians)|
|2005 Ken Oberkfell, Norfolk (Mets)|
|2006 Todd Claus, Portland (Red Sox)|
|2007 Matt Walbeck, Erie (Tigers)|
|2008 Rocket Wheeler, Myrtle Beach (Braves)|
|2009 Charlie Montoyo, Durham (Rays)|
|2010 Mike Sarbaugh, Columbus (Indians)|
|2011 Ryne Sandberg, Lehigh Valley (Phillies)|
|2012 Dave Miley, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Yankees)|
|2013 Gary DiSarcina, Pawtucket (Red Sox)|
|2014 Mark Johnson, Kane County (Cubs)|
|2015 Tony DeFrancesco, Fresno (Astros)|
|2016 Dave Wallace, Akron (Indians)|
Keeping the ship steady during the storm and then piloting it to a championship helped make Dave Wallace Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year. In three seasons with Akron, Wallace has guided the RubberDucks to a 223-202 mark.
"The staff and I just continued to believe in them and the work that they were doing,” Wallace said. "We knew that it would pay off, and they saw that we genuinely believed in them.”
Before Wallace was a manager, he played three years as a catcher at Vanderbilt, then signed as a nondrafted free agent with the Indians in 2001.After a seven-year pro career that peaked at Triple-A, he became an assistant to the major league coaching staff in 2009 and spent two seasons in that role before the Indians hired him as the manager at short-season Mahoning Valley. He moved from low Class A Lake County to high Class A Carolina over the next two seasons, before landing with Akron for the 2014 season.
While a player in the minor leagues, Wallace had a chance to learn from some of baseball’s best minds, including current Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo and Mariners bench coach Tim Bogar.
"Those guys really showed me that it was more about the person than the player. I know both of those guys cared about me as a person more than they did as a player,” Wallace said. "That speaks volumes because I know how much they cared about me as a player and how much they cared about helping me and my teammates. That’s always stuck with me, and it’s something that I’ve tried to make sure that my players know, that I care about them as a man, as a person first and foremost, and as a player secondarily.”
Specifically, Wallace recalls times when he was struggling as a player that Bogar stayed silent instead of taking the more hands-on approach he expected. Eventually, Wallace went to Bogar and asked for help.
"He just knew that I wasn’t in a place where I was willing to be as coachable as I needed to be,” Wallace said. "And I thought that was something hard for him to do, but also the right move and the right way to handle where I was at that moment in my career, and I didn’t know that at the time.”
Learning His Craft
Much like playing, managing isn’t a skill that develops overnight. It has to be learned over years, through trial and error. A new manager might incorporate bits and pieces he has learned from other managers he has played or coached under. There will be bumps along the way, but eventually every manager will develop his own way of handling the grind of a long season.
Over his six seasons as a manager, Wallace has embraced the learning process and has continued to improve his leadership style.
"I’m very proud of the way that I learned to adapt to different situations, adapt to different personalities, to different teams,” Wallace said. "There are times throughout the season that I feel like it’s very important to take a very hard stance and a very strict stance on certain standards and expectations that we have, especially in the Cleveland organization, and then there are times to really back off and I guess let them learn on their own or let them struggle on their own and in turn grow.”
Outfielder Greg Allen, who spent the second half with Akron, saw it firsthand during his few months with the RubberDucks.
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"He was fun to play for. You can tell he wanted the most for his players,” Allen said. "Whether it was defensively, pitching, hitting, he wanted his players to succeed and the energy that he brought was always fun to play under.”