David Laurila Interviews Ex-Orioles Manager Dave Trembley

In a revealing interview about his tenure as Orioles manager, Dave Trembley talks to David Laurila.

The following interview with ex-Orioles manager Dave Trembley was conducted by David Laurila.

When Dave Trembley was fired by the Orioles two months into the 2010 season, it was the end of a dream come true for a baseball lifer and one of the game's best mentors. A minor-league manager for more than 20 years when he took the helm in Baltimore, midway through the 2007 season, Trembley was entrusted to lead a young, not-ready-for-prime-time team in the uber-competitive American League East. After 187 wins and 283 losses, his time in The Show was over.

Trembley, who has since been hired by the Atlanta Braves as their Minor League Field Coordinator, talked about his Baltimore experience, including what it feels like to fired from a big-league managerial job.

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David Laurila: Along with covering games, many baseball writers keep close tabs on rumors and look for stories to break. You got to experience that first hand.

Dave Trembley: Yes, I really found that out the last month that I was managing the Orioles. I had good relationships with the guys from ESPN and Sports Illustrated, the TV people at MASN, the writers. Toward the end, they'd start calling more and I had to wonder if it was because they wanted to know how I was doing, or if they were hoping to be the first to the break the story if I knew anything about whether I was getting fired. It's very competitive that way now.

I remember Bobby Cox telling me, during inter-league the year before last, what he had learned from managing so long. He said, "Dave, let me give you a piece of advice. Stay away from all of that stuff on the internet, because it will drive you crazy. Tell your wife not to read it. Be nice to all of the media people, but it's such a competitive business that people are going to write and say things that probably won't be in your best interests to read."

I remember Tim Kurkjian calling me. We had a day off on the last weekend of May; we had just gotten beat on a Sunday, by Washington, when Cla Meredith gave up a home run in the 10th inning to Josh Willingham. The rumors were floating around that I was going to get fired, and I'm sitting in downtown Baltimore, in the Inner Harbor, at a Whole Foods, drinking a cup of coffee. It was about 10 o'clock in the morning and my phone rang. It was Kurkjian.

He said, ‘Dave, I'm surprised that you picked up when you saw that it was me." I said, "Well, Tim, if I called you, wouldn't you do the same?" He paused for a second, then said, "Yeah, I guess you're right." I asked, "What can I do for you?" He said, "Well, I'm just calling. Do you know anything about your job?" I said, "Hey, I'm just drinking a cup of coffee. It's a day off and I'll be going into the ballpark today to do some work, and I'll be ready when we play tomorrow."

DL: Just over a week later, you did get fired. What does it feel like to get let go from a big-league managerial job?

DT: In my case, it's something you feel coming, because there are so many people around you all the time and you sense that something is up. You feel that something is looming. There are so many media people that don't want to talk to you about the game, they want to talk about your own, personal situation. I always tried to deflect that, but once it got towards the end...you know, looking back at it now, eight or nine months later, I was probably the last one to know that I was getting fired.

Yes, I felt like a change was going to be made eventually, but when people at Yankee Stadium start coming up to you and saying, "Dave, best of luck, it has sure been nice working with you," you walk away wondering, "What was that all about?" Then you put the pieces together and realize that there are major leaks occurring all the time, so maybe they know something.

So it really doesn't come as a surprise when it happens, but it's a shock to your system. It sets you back emotionally, and physically, and it takes a long time to recover from that toll. Along with having an effect on you personally, it also impacts your family.

There is such a void in your life, for a long period of time, because you're not involved in the game. Your lifestyle changes dramatically. Terry Francona was the first guy to call me. I was getting on a plane that Friday morning, because we were going to be playing the Red Sox that weekend.

Then more calls started coming. I heard from every manager, former players, players, media people. Then you come home and it's, "OK, what am I going to do?"

The first three weeks after I got fired, my phone was ringing off the hook. I talked to everybody, but after that, nothing.
I became a recluse for the better part of the next three months. I didn't really want to talk to anybody and I didn't really know what to do. I'd wake up at three o'clock in the morning and start checking scores. It's a big change to your lifestyle, but you get through it and begin to realize just how fortunate you are to have managed in the big leagues.

You start realizing that there really is a lot more that goes into it than just filling out a lineup card and managing the game, and I think that was particularly true in the situation I was in. I was there to kind of mentor -- as I had done for a long time in the minor leagues -- the development of players that perhaps, at the time, weren't ready to be major-league players. It required a lot of patience and it required being very positive. I had to try to put them into situations where they could succeed, knowing that they would take their lumps and eventually become better. But it was a real tough go, emotionally.

DL: Are the relationships between managers fraternal in nature?

DT: I think they are. You realize that when you go to the Winter Meetings and they have the managers' luncheon. At the end of the luncheon, you have the group photo with all of the managers in the American League, then one with all of the managers in the National League, and then one with everybody. I think that is where it really hits you, that it is a very select fraternity. You're all in the same situation and you go through it every day.

What it's really like to manage a major-league baseball team is hard to explain to people who haven't sat in that chair. When you sit in your office, and in the dugout, and manage a major-team team, day in and day out ... There is no one who can truly relate to that unless they've done it.

It's a tight-knit fraternity and guys talk to each other all the time. I leaned on [Joe] Torre, [Tony] LaRussa, [Jim] Leyland; all of those guys were great with me. I got advice from all of them on a regular basis. Lou Piniella was good with me. Joe Maddon and I go way back; we managed against each other in instructional league when I was with the Cubs and he was with the Angels. Fredi Gonzalez. Gardy [Ron Gardenhire].

There are calls during the season, especially when you're struggling; more guys will call you. [Bruce] Bochy would call. Guys ask about players that their team is interested in getting, guys you were managing or had managed. When you get those calls, they ask not so much about what kind of player he is, but rather how does he fit into the clubhouse? What kind of team guy is he? How does he handle the pressure? You get an awful lot of that during the winter, when guys are being traded or are free agents, and you get it during the season around the trading deadline. I think you need to be honest, and you take it as a compliment when another manager calls and asks you that, because he knows that you're going to give it to him straight.

I got an awful lot of calls from people who had gone through similar situations as I was going through. Trey Hillman called. Leyland. LaRussa. Those guys know what it's like when you lose. They'd call and say, "Hang in there, you're doing the right thing. How are you holding up?"

DL: Baseball is important -- winning is important -- but in the larger scheme of things, it‘s just a game. How hard is that to reconcile as a big-league manager?

DT: Well, I think that we could probably all do a better job of that. You take it so personally, and when you care it's hard to measure because you know that you're ultimately responsible for the success or failure of that ball club. But I agree with you.

And it depends on your situation. It's different with different organizations, because in certain places it is paramount that you win all the time. In Baltimore, it was pretty well laid out there we were there to develop; we weren't quite ready to compete with the powerhouses in the American League East. We were giving guys an opportunity to play.

If you know that coming in, it helps to buffer it somewhat, for awhile. And I underline "for awhile." But you realize...and I talked to [Jim] Riggleman. Rig is a real good friend of mine and he said that eventually we're all held accountable when it comes to wins and losses. You know that going in, and ultimately it's the bottom line. It's wins and losses. Yes, it's a game, but there are a lot of things riding on that.

I think that the sooner you know that, the better equipped you are to handle it. That said, I don't think that a manager's worth should be directly correlated to how many games they win and lose. It's about talent; it's about the level of players that you have. It comes down to the players and performing; it doesn't come down to the managers. Sparky Anderson was a Hall-of-Fame guy when he managed the Reds. When he got to Detroit, he apparently forgot everything he knew, maybe with the exception of 1984. Joe Torre wasn't a very good manager with the Braves. Francona with the Phillies. You can go on and on. Jim Leyland wasn't very good when he went to Colorado, and he's one of the best baseball men out there. It comes down to players, and talent, and the manager is the guy that takes the hit when it doesn't happen.

DL: Had you been in the general manager's chair, would you have fired Dave Trembley?

DT: To be honest with you, I'm not so sure that I resented being fired. I was hurt and disappointed more than anything. But I understand very clearly that a general manager will have to make a change for the sake of the team, and for the betterment of the organization and the players. In that regard, I think that Andy McPhail did what he thought was in the best interests of the players. The players, in the grand scheme of things, are the ones who benefited by it. The players came to realize, "Hey, we're going to give a contract to Buck Showalter; we're going to get somebody who is going to be there long-term." It wasn't going to be the same question every day: Is Dave Trembley going to be here tomorrow? The onus was no longer on that. It was now on the players, and from that perspective, Andy McPhail did what he had to do. I have no problem with that.

But I was hurt and disappointed in the way that it evolved. We were flying home from New York and it came across the bottom of the screen, on SportsCenter. That's how I found out, and I think that everyone would agree that it probably could have been handled a little cleaner than that. We're flying on the plane, watching TV, and I see it on SportsCenter. You can only imagine how that feels.

When we landed in Baltimore, I went down to the clubhouse and called Andy, and left him a message. I said that I'd stay down there, because I was sure that we needed to speak. About 30 minutes later he called me back and said, "Hey, I'm going to send somebody down to get you and bring you up to the office." I said, "No, no, no; you don't have to send anybody down. I know how to get up there. I'll walk up on my own."

When I went in, I said, "Hey, don't worry about it, I'm fine and everything will be all right." He said, "I'm sorry that I had to put you through that, that it happened that way. There was a leak." I said, "Gosh darn, I wish that somebody would have called me."

In retrospect, that's where you feel hurt. You put all of the pieces together and you realize that's what Ken Singleton is saying to you, and Danny Knobler, and Verducci and [Jerry] Crasnick and Kurkjian -- all of these guys at Yankee Stadium that day. They're saying, "Hey Dave, best of luck; it's been nice working with you." You're looking at them like, "What are you talking about?," and then you realize that it was pretty common knowledge in the press box that I was going to get fired after that game.

As a manager, you live on both sides. You're on the front end, where you give a player the news that he's going to the big leagues, and there are times where you have to tell someone that their time with the club has come to an end. When you manage, whether it's in the minor leagues or in the major leagues, you have that sense that someday it's going to happen to you. Somebody is going to give you that information; you're going to have that conversation. So you know how to handle it. You understand it. You understand that you're not alone, that there are many who have come before you, and there will a long line of them after you. They'll all go through the same process. That makes it a little easier to accept, because you know not to take it personally. It hurts to go through it, but it's not personal.

DL: You received your fair share of criticism from Orioles fans. How much of it do you feel was warranted?

DT: I think that it is always reasonable when fans are passionate about their team and care about the success and failure of their club. I think that goes along with the territory. I think that whomever is the head of that club -- the manager, the general manager, and the owner -- is in a position where they're going to have to face the music sooner or later if the club isn‘t going well. But I also think there are underlying circumstances that fans aren't privy to. You have to go with the hand you're dealt. When injuries occur, or when you go out and sign guys -- somebody is going to be your closer and somebody is given X number of dollars and they're going to be your number-four hitter, or this guy has been told that he is going to be your set-up guy -- that's what you have and that's what you do.

The other thing is, when you have a young club you're basically in a position where you have to put those guys out there. You have to play them through what might be some unpleasant times for them. They have to fail as well as succeed and when that happens it's not the player that's going to hear it, it's going to be the manager. I understand that and I have no problem with that I know that we did what was expected of us. What Andy McPhail wanted me to do, I did.

DL: Were all playing-time decisions made by you, or were some dictated from upstairs?

DT: They weren't dictated, but when we got guys in the off-season it was pretty well told to me, "This is going to be your guy." When Mike Gonzalez was signed, he was going to be our closer. Boom, you're our closer. When we got Garrett Atkins, boom, he's going to play first base and be a middle-of-the-order guy. When we brought up [Matt] Wieters, when we got [Adam] Jones...we had young players. We had young pitchers. They were going to get opportunities.

At no time did anyone dictate a lineup to me, but it was pretty obvious that there were certain guys who were going to play, and we were going to play them through some rough times.

DL: Given his lofty expectations, was it a challenge to manage Matt Wieters in his rookie season?

DT: No. Matt Wieters was a real pleasure. I got to know Matt pretty well the year before, when he came to his first major-league spring training. He stayed in the team hotel, as I did, so I saw him quite a bit. We ate at a few of the same restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. And then, the next year, when he came to spring training, I think that everybody in baseball knew that it was his job. He was going to be the guy. Greg Zaunn, when he first got there, did a great job with him, mentoring him and helping him. Donny Werner, our roving catching guy, did a tremendous job with him in the minor leagues.

Wieters was easy to manage, very easy to manage. He's a sponge for absorbing knowledge. He wants to listen, he wants to learn. He's very mature and knows how to handle himself. He didn't get caught up in all the hype. He's a solid, solid human being. He has time for people and he knew his place in the clubhouse. He knew he was a young guy and he understood the pecking order.

He reminds me a lot of Nicky, of [Nick] Markakis. I had Markakis in instructional league, and then in the big leagues, and Nicky is very much the same kind of guy. He's very solid.

Nick is reserved, but there is a fire that burns in him that a lot of people probably don't know about. He is very, very competitive and works very hard. Nick is very perceptive. He sees things; he feels things. He reminds me of Fred Lynn; he's that type of player. He makes it look easy. He's real smooth, he has a sweet swing. He's a very underrated defensive player, a good base runner, he hits left-handed pitching very well. But he doesn't have a whole lot to say and he doesn't want a lot of attention. He just wants his name in the lineup every day. Let him alone and let him play. I'd just check in with him every once in awhile to see how he was doing. He was easy to get along with. His teammates love him, because he goes to the post every day.

DL: Were there any clubhouse issues during your time in Baltimore?

DT: No. When I first took over, you had guys like [Kevin] Millar, who were very strong. You had [Miguel] Tejada, who was a very big influence. [Aubrey] Huff kept it loose; he was a quality teammate. I had Jamie Walker and Chad Bradford, who were veterans and really took care of the pitchers and the bullpen guys. Zahn was really good. I don't think there were any issues in the clubhouse. I treated the guys with respect and they treated me with respect.

DL: In the opinion of some Orioles fans, the team wasn't playing hard for you in the end. Is that a fair criticism?

DT: People told me that, and I think that what was happening toward the end, with the players, is what I alluded to earlier. The players were waiting for something to happen. It was either fish or cut bait. Either Dave Trembley is going to be the manager here, so we can put that behind us and move on, or let's make a change and give us a new manager. I think that's what happened at the end.

I don't think that I lost the team. I think the team gave me everything they possibly could, but I also think they got beat down just as much as I got beat down. At the beginning of the season, those first two months...if you look at our schedule, right out of the chute we played Tampa, Toronto, New York and Boston in our first 30 games. We played them a lot, and we lost some heartbreakers. I think that we lost 10 of our first 12 when we were ahead in the eighth or ninth inning. We weren't scoring a lot of runs.

I think that towards the end, the players were waiting for the front office to do something. That's honest. And I think that's why Andy McPhail did it, because he sensed it as well.

DL: In retrospect, what would you have done differently?

DT: Not have been in the American League East. That would have been nice, to have competed in another division. But personally, what I would have done differently, especially toward the end, is not be so hard on myself. I got to where I was taking it very personal, because you want to do well for the team, the city, the fans. It begins to wear on you when that's not happening.

Other than that, I would go with what Gardy -- Ron Garden hire -- told me. I've known him for a long time, and he said, "When you do it, make sure that you do it the way you want to do it." And I did. I did things the way I wanted to, the way I felt was right. I feel that I treated people professionally. I respected the fans. I wish that we'd have won more games, but it didn't happen.

DL: You have a Master's Degree, and subscribe to sites like Baseball Prospectus, yet the perception of most fans is that you're much more of an old-school baseball guy. What are your thoughts on how you‘re perceived?

DT: Well, I don't think there were too many managers in the major leagues who appreciated the opportunity I had more than I did. And I always tried to treat the fans well. Every home game, I went down the right-field line and signed autographs. I took pictures with kids and talked to the fans. I answered every email and letter. People called me. I answered every correspondence I got. Anything anybody ever asked me to do, I tried to do it.

I had people tell me -- and I talked to a lot of the old Orioles' guys, like Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Mike Flanagan and Rick Dempsey -- that you have to have a pretty good feel and understanding for the history and the passion, and the tradition of Baltimore, and you have to try to relate to those people. I tried to do that.

An old-school baseball guy? To me, an old-school baseball guy is someone who just wants to do something to better the game, not himself. He respects and appreciates the opportunity and he wants the quality of his team, and his organization, to get better. That includes down the road, even after he's not there. That's really what everybody in the game tries to do, or at least should try to do.

The easy thing to do is not always the right thing to do. I wasn't going to be Earl Weaver. Gosh darn, you can get tossed in the big leagues every night if you want, but I don't know what purpose that serves. There is no one who put more time in it, or cared more.

As far as Baseball Prospectus, I've been subscribing for about five years. As a manager, I looked at all of the numbers and all of the match-ups. I get the book every year and it's been kind of a Bible to read during the off-season, and then in spring training, with all of the stats. I also really like the stories and articles, like John Perrotto's. They really keep me up to date.

I used numbers a lot, but I also think that Jim Leyland said it best. He said, "Go ahead and manage the game and don't worry about what you're going to say afterwards." Tony LaRussa would tell me, "Hey, you have to look at all of the numbers and you have to be prepared, but when you have to make a decision, go with your gut. But do it with that information and framework of reference in the back of your mind."

I used all of the services: BATS, Inside Edge, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs. I looked at all of them. Match-ups, left-versus-right, home-and-away, night-day...but in the end, this is who you have and sometimes you just go with the best guy you have that day. If it works, fine. If it doesn't, that's baseball.

DL: Given your background, you may never get another opportunity to manage in the big leagues. Is it fair to say that?

DT: Only time will tell, but I think it is easy to come to that conclusion. But you never know when an opportunity is going to be there. I never expected to get the [Orioles] job. I didn't politick for it. I don't think that you ever expect somebody to call and say, "Hey, we have a job for you to manage in the big leagues." You hope for it in the back of your mind, but it doesn't become an all-encompassing thing that obsesses you.

I think that it is a fair statement to say that my opportunity to manage the Orioles will be my only opportunity. But who is to say? There might be a team...my strengths have been player development, being patient and positive, being persistent, being able to teach, being the front guy and knowing how to handle things -- I didn't throw anybody under the bus -- and knowing how to represent your city and your team. I carried myself with dignity and tried to handle it with as much class as I could. I think you should admit when you're wrong. Don't be the focus of the attention and try to take all of the credit for everything.

That's the kind of person I feel I am. Whether or not that leads to another opportunity to manage for somebody in the big leagues, I don't know. But I do know that I did have the opportunity, and I appreciated it greatly. No one can take that away from me.

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