As the weather begins to warm and the cherry blossoms prepare to explode into vivid shades of pink, it is a stark reminder that baseball is right around the corner. For Macon baseball fans, year two of the Macon Bacon is right around the corner at Luther Williams Field.
Most Macon fans know of Pete Rose, Vince Coleman, Chipper and Andruw Jones spending time here as young ball players on their way to stardom, but two current managers who spent time in the cramped first base dugout at Luther Williams are still honing their craft in vastly differently environments today. Current Braves Manager Brian Snitker had two stints here in the 90s. It was during the height of the Braves dynasty and the farm system was rich with talent. Snitker’s career would eventually lead him to the spacious manager’s office at Sun Trust Park for his third season.
Before Snitker first arrived as manager in 1992, there was Mike Quade, who was a hired as a first-time manager of the 1985 Macon Pirates. Quade, who had graduated in 1979 from the University of New Orleans (where ironically, he was a teammate of Snitker in 1977), had just retired from a minor league playing career in the Pirates organization and arrived in Macon as a 28-year-old rookie manager in the Sally League. Thirty-two years later, Quade still has a presence in the game as a roving outfield instructor for the Minnesota Twins. Along the way, Quade has made many stops, including Rockford, Illinois, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Edmonton, Ottawa and Huntsville, Alabama just to name a few.
Quade’s big break came in August 2010 when he was named interim manager of the Chicago Cubs after Lou Piniella’s abrupt departure. After guiding the Cubs to a strong finish that year, he was given the job full time for the 2011 season (sounds like another coincidence he shares with Snitker). Quade would guide the Cubs for a full season but became the first casualty of the Theo Epstein regime, he was let go soon after the new team president was hired.
I was able to catch up with Quade in his new role and asked him about his time in Macon. Quade, now 63 but looking just as fit as his first year, smiled and seemed to call on memories from deep within the well of his baseball experiences.
“Well, we weren’t very good back then, (his career record in two seasons at Macon was a modest 110-166) but it made me a better manager. I developed a better perspective than someone who had a lot of early success, it helped me deal with adversity, in this job there will always be adversity. I started at the bottom and I still remember what that feels like.”
He recalls what it was like when he got here,
“The season before I arrived, one of the Macon players had been arrested during a game in Savannah for murder, there was some concern in the community about our players, it was less than ideal. But there were good people here, Len and Ann Monheimer were the owners, they worked in a little cramped brick office in the front of that stadium. It was just a different time, back then, their idea of marketing and promotion was to drop off schedules at the Waffle Houses in town. Today its much different, the minor-league stadiums have all be updated, these kids today have no idea what something like Luther Williams was like. We all stayed in an apartment complex together, after the games we would cook out together, our players, the umpires, the community, everyone. One of the umpires back then in the Sally League was Wally Bell, who went on to a big-league career before he passed away. It was like we were all in together trying to move up.”
While the record was not stellar, the work he instilled within the organization was evident. The Pirates, which had seen some lean years, had put an increased emphasis on their farm system and some of Quade’s Macon players went on to form the foundation of the Pirates playoff teams in the early 90s (whom which the Braves would beat in the NLCS in both 91 and 92). John Smiley was on the 1985 team and won 20 games in 1991, while catcher Tom Prince would go on to be a solid backup catcher. Orlando Merced from the 1986 team would see extensive time at first base with the Pirates. Quade quipped,
“we had some talented players, but not enough of them.”
As batting practice for a group of Twins minor leaguers, Quade had to return to the clubhouse, but he kept pulling stories from his repertoire.
“You know, one night, Ted Giannoulas came to Macon (Giannoulas was more famous when he dressed up as the famous San Diego Chicken) for a promotional event, he just fell in love with the town. He told me he wanted to purchase the team. Just shows you what Macon was like. And, I can still hear the sound of those train cars hitting against each other down the right field line – it is a sound I will never forget.”
It will be great to see those railroad tracks in the right field corner once again with baseball back in town!