SIOUX CITY -- I was re-telling a favorite story for the umpteenth time the other day, a bad habit my family has complained about more and more the last few years or possibly decades.
Anyway, it suddenly seemed worthy of this space I’m allotted once a week by my friends who buy ink by the barrel. And, even though at least a few of you know it all quite well, I’m sure others will find it quite enlightening.
This story (and many others I tell) is about Ed Nottle, the original field manager of the Sioux City Explorers, guiding the X’s through their first eight summers (1993-2000) and then another two seasons in 2006-07.
Nottle, as many of you are aware, spent around 50 years in professional baseball, insisting none of them was more miserable than 1983, when he was employed as the bullpen coach for the Oakland Athletics. Ed, now a restless 77-year-old living in Evansville, Ind., just couldn’t be happy as a lieutenant on any major league manager’s staff.
The stint in ’83, after all, followed two seasons as the pilot for Oakland’s Triple-A (top) farm team in Tacoma, which earned him Baseball America’s “minor league manager of the year” award. He’d been led to believe the big-league job would be his after a 68-94 record in ’82 got Billy Martin fired.
Instead, though, Oakland opted for Montreal Expos first-base coach Steve Boros, one of the first people to apply computer science to professional baseball, I might add. This pretty much made Boros a polar opposite to Nottle, an “old-school” disciple who had grown accustomed to calling the shots. Which is why Ed asked to return in ’84 to the managing job in Tacoma.
Four years after that, Nottle was winning more awards as the manager of the Boston Red Sox’ Triple-A team in Pawtucket, R.I., less than an hour down the road from Fenway Park. When the 1988 Bosox reached the All-Star break with a 43-42 record, all of nine games behind Sparky Anderson’s Detroit Tigers in the AL East, Manager John McNamara was canned and third-base coach Joe Morgan, not to be confused with the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Famer, became the “interim manager.’’
Boston reporters descended on Pawtucket, projecting Nottle as the likely successor when the offseason arrived and the Yawkey family, longtime owners of the team, decided on a more permanent pilot. One scribe asked Ed if he felt ready to tackle the big job. Confidently, no disrespect toward anyone intended, Ed allowed that he did.
A day or so later, unfortunately, that reporter’s newspaper topped his headline with a reader-luring headline that read, “Nottle: I’m Ready,’’ as if Ed was promoting himself in a rather brash manner. It was a headline he will always cite when he reflects on not getting another major league command he was poised to accept.
Additionally, though, there was the way things happened to unfold. On July 15, Morgan won his debut as Roger Clemens and the Red Sox prevailed 3-1 over Bret Saberhagen and the Royals. This was the opener to an 11-game homestand with the Royals, Twins and White Sox.
As Nottle watched restlessly in suburban Providence, the Red Sox won them all, adding a road win over the Rangers to make it 12 in a row. After a loss and then seven more wins in a row, Morgan’s team had claimed 19 out of 20. Just that quickly, Boston was tied for first place with Detroit, eventually building a six-game cushion before six losses in their last seven regular season games were just enough to edge the Tigers by a single game.
Morgan’s team, back in a two-division era, was swept 4-0 by Oakland in the ALCS. Still, the Red Sox’ front office was pleased enough to drop the term “interim” from Morgan’s title. Thus, our friend, Ed, had his bubble burst again.
Mind you, this was on top of a playing career in which Nottle, a hard-throwing pitcher, labored 18 seasons, mostly in the days when the big leagues consisted of either 18 or 20 teams, not the 30 we’ve known now for many years. In his first three seasons, he struck out 442 batters in 375 innings, earning a spot on the White Sox’ 40-man roster.
The spring training that followed saw him register an inning any pitcher would savor, striking out Lee Maye, Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews in order in an exhibition game with the Milwaukee Braves. Not a bad inning at all, fanning a lesser-known guy who wound up playing 13 years in the bigs and then two future Hall of Famers who’d become the sixth (Mathews) and eighth (Aaron) players to reach 500 home runs.
Regrets? As Ed, the crooner, would freely admit, he’s had a few. Many more than a few. Still, he’s always definitely done things “his way,’’ making so many memories and so many friends.
He adopted you, Siouxland, and he’s continued coming back to visit with more loyal regularity than a large share of your homegrown sons and daughters. Pretty lucky for us, to be sure.