HERSOM: New skipper figures to tap Twins contacts

2011-01-14T00:00:00Z 2013-08-20T19:02:51Z HERSOM: New skipper figures to tap Twins contacts Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY -- Burning bridges is almost never a prudent exit strategy, no matter how certain you are that wherever you're leaving couldn't possibly make a difference in your future.

The thing is, you just never know. And, besides, a little grace under fire says far more for a person than any vindictive temper tantrum ever could.

Perhaps that's why Stan Cliburn insists there was no ill will when the Minnesota Twins cut him loose after 10 years as a minor league manager, the last four with the Twins' top farm club in Rochester, N.Y.

Or, perhaps Cliburn, the Sioux City Explorers' new field manager, simply took a grown-up perspective to a professional disappointment and, well, decided to make lemonade.

"There really was no bad blood between Minnesota and I,'' said Cliburn, reflecting on 10 years of grooming players in what has been one of baseball's best farm systems for decades. "To this day, the No. 1 and 2 guys on my resume are Jim Rantz, the Twins' farm director, and Terry Ryan, who's now the senior advisor to the Twins' general manager (Bill Smith).''

Cliburn's 10 seasons as a manager in the Twins' organization included one year in Iowa with Davenport's Quad-City River Bandits of the Class A Midwest League and five seasons with the New Britain (Conn.) Rock Cats of the Class AA Eastern League.

And, he knew his four years after moving up to Class AAA could only go one of two ways: He'd either take that last step to the major leagues or he'd have to look elsewhere for a job.

"I wasn't going anywhere because of the tremendous success Ron Gardenhire (Twins manager) and his staff were having,'' said Cliburn. "You're A-ball managers and your guy down in Double-A get a little stale. They need to move up. So, Jeff Smith moved up to Double-A and Jake Mauer, Joe's brother, is now our high Class A manager. They move up and somebody moves out. It wasn't a bad break-up at all. I'll forever be indebted to (the Twins).''

Cliburn got the word Sept. 21, 2009, that he wouldn't be returning in 2010. It gave him time to look around, even if another managing job didn't materialize. So, he spent last summer as a coach with the Tucson Toros of the independent Golden League, working under Tim Johnson, the former Lincoln Saltdogs skipper known better in the baseball world as a former Toronto Blue Jays manager.

Much as he enjoyed his time with Johnson, who is definitely fun to be around, it wasn't easy being something other than the manager after calling his own shots for the previous 21 seasons in succession.

That's why the Jackson, Miss., native is happy to be in Sioux City, even if he claims to have never experienced sub-zero temperatures until he arrived Tuesday night for his Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Les Lancaster, Cliburn's predecessor, worked hard to build talented teams the last three seasons. He got the X's one playoff appearance and came close to a second last summer.

Lancaster, though, was frequently at odds with team owner John Roost and general manager Shane Tritz over his restlessness with the roster, making more changes in personnel than all but one or two other American Association franchises in any of those years.

For a small-market team that has been struggling at the box office, that added up to significant expenses the Explorers really couldn't afford.

Hopefully, Cliburn wasn't simply patronizing his new boss when he said he'd be more patient with the team he puts on the field at season's outset. As much as Lancaster's revolving door seemed to keep the X's in contention, I'd like to think the more patient style can work, as well.

Cliburn said he learned the value of continuity from his years as a catcher in the California Angels' organization, playing alongside many of the same teammates on teams that won championships in the rookie ball Pioneer League (1974), the advanced Class A California League (1977), the Class AA Texas League (1978) and the Class AAA Pacific Coast League (1979).

"They kept us together and it worked,'' he said.

He also said his only previous experience with independent ball, a five-year stint with the Alexandria (La.) Aces that produced two titles and two runner-up finishes in the old Texas-Louisiana League, was built around maintaining the same nucleus of top players for the entire time.

"If we go down the line and things aren't working out, then changes are going to be made,'' he allowed. "We all know about that. But it will not be a merry-go-round here. It'll be faith in who we sign and who we believe in and hopefully they can get the job done.''

One of nine sets of twins who've both reached the major leagues, Cliburn, a catcher who made it up to the Angels in 1980, worked eight seasons with his twin brother, Stu, a former Angels' reliever, as his pitching coach. Still employed as the pitching coach in New Britain (Tom Brunansky is the hitting coach), Stu will probably have some player recommendations for his brother.

The new X's skipper figures he'll tap into several more of his contacts in the Twins' organization, but he'll also call upon what he termed the "fraternity of baseball,'' which would include an extensive network for someone of his experience.

"I have a lot of respect for a lot of people in this game,'' he said. "The game is all about the players, there's no doubt.''

"I've got 13 championships in 35 years of professional ball,'' said Cliburn, lumping together his years as a player, coach and manager.

"That's one every three years,'' he grinned. "So... give me three years. If it doesn't happen, then we'll look elsewhere.''

One of Cliburn's championships was an off-season title in 2008 with the Phoenix Desert Dogs, an Arizona Fall League team of 22 top prospects from five different organizations. The Dogs won the crown over the Mesa Solar Sox of Manager Ryne Sandberg, the hall of famer and 2010 Iowa Cubs manager who many believed would be named the parent Cubs' new pilot last fall.

Sandberg, of course, didn't get the job. And, in case you missed it, he has been gone back to the organization that originally traded him to Chicago, becoming the new manager of the Philadelphia Phillies' Class AAA farm team, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs of Allentown, Pa.

Like Cliburn, Sandberg was gracious about leaving the Cubs' organization, suggesting it wouldn't be fair to Mike Quade, the new skipper, to have him hovering in Des Moines, just a phone call away.

So, good luck to Ryno. And, obviously, the same goes for Cliburn, as well.

Copyright 2015 Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Latest Offers

View More

Featured Businesses

View More

Connect with us

Poll

Loading…

Sports poll: Which metro boys basketball team will have the most impressive season?

View Results

Poll

Loading…

Poll: What is your least favorite Easter candy?

View Results