Twins third-base coach Scott Ullger realizes that his name is not generally included among the likely candidates for major- league managing jobs. Then again, who knows? His whole career has been unlikely.
Ullger happened to be talking about it with his boss, manager Ron Gardenhire, on Thursday, well before Ullger managed the final innings against the Yankees after Gardenhire's ejection. The coach recalled that he never had set out to be a baseball player because he was such a successful high school quarterback for Plainview JFK in the 1970s.
Ullger, 54, recounted reporting to the University of Tampa's football practice field and discovering he was "about the eighth-string guy." So he returned to Long Island, benefited from the phone call his summer league manager made to St. John's baseball coach Joe Russo and became a varsity shortstop in Jamaica.
Then, Ullger said at Yankee Stadium on Friday, repeating the story he told Gardenhire: "I got drafted because Herbie Stein, the Twins scout, came to St. John's to watch Charlie Puleo pitch; he pitched for Seton Hall. That particular day, I hit two triples to the opposite field. I played well. He asked me if I wanted to play pro ball and I said, 'Sure I do.' "
That was 1977, and he has been with the Twins ever since. In seven seasons as a minor-league manager (after 35 games as a big-league player in 1983), he had seven winning seasons. His team won at least a half-season title four times. He led Double-A Orlando to the Southern League title in 1991, the year the Twins won the World Series.
In 1995, the Twins made him a major-league coach. Before the 2002 season, then-general manager Terry Ryan made him a finalist for the manager's job that went to Gardenhire. Ullger decided to stay, managing a few innings here and there whenever Gardenhire gets tossed. He never has taken another job that might have positioned him better to manage.
"You want to win a World Series. That's your goal," he said. "We've been in [contention] quite a few times, but until you achieve your ultimate goal, you want to move on."
He settled in Visalia, Calif., when he managed there, but he often has returned to Long Island to visit. His nephew from Manorville was expected to attend ALDS Game 3 last night, possibly with other relatives from Dix Hills, Massapequa and elsewhere.
Ullger is proud to have been eclipsed as the top sports figure in his family. His niece, Samantha Prahalis, was a two-time Long Island player of the year for Commack and is a star point guard for Ohio State.
Is there still time for Ullger to make a name for himself as a manager? He smiled when this ambitious scenario was related to him: Ryan becomes general manager of the Mets (he is a candidate) and brings in a solid baseball man, a native New Yorker with solid roots in Queens . . .
"That's pretty much how it happens, if it happens," Ullger said. "Once you spend all this time doing this, you have the ultimate goal of being a manager. I know there are a lot of openings this year; maybe I'll get a couple of interviews. Who knows?"