Haines City, Fla.-Don McCormack realizes it will be a
while before he can make a name for himself. For now, he is just The Guy Who
Followed Bud Harrelson as Manager of the Long Island Ducks. That's fine with
McCormack, who has long been the answer to an even better trivia question.
Who was the rookie catcher on deck when Mike Schmidt homered to clinch the
1980 National League East title for the Philadelphia Phillies?
It was McCormack, who was in the game because the other two catchers, Bob
Boone and Keith Moreland, had been removed for pinch hitters before the 11th
inning. McCormack subsequently got a hit in his first big-league at-bat
(against Stan Bahnsen of Montreal) and was on the field when the world
championship-bound team recorded the final out.
That definitely was a highlight in his baseball life. So was yesterday,
when he was throwing batting practice and hitting fungoes to the Ducks during
training camp at the Baseball City complex. So was just about every other day
since he left the tiny town of Omak, Wash., at 18 for a pro career.
He made it to the bigs for five at-bats (two hits). He has been a
successful minor-league manager, who worked with major-leaguers such as Mike
Lieberthal, Scott Rolen, Bobby Estalella and Ricky Bottalico when they were in
Class A and Double-A. He is glad to be running the Ducks, even though the
public will think of him - at least temporarily - as whatshisname.
"There's something about professional baseball that gets under your skin
and gets in your blood," the 45-year-old said yesterday. "Gosh, you really
can't put an actual figure or fact to the question, 'Well, why do you?' It's
because there's just something about it. It just grabs a hold of you and it's
hard to get away, it's hard to stay away. A lot of guys say, 'OK, I've had
enough of that stuff' and go try another life. Boy, it's hard to do."
He has managed at Batavia, N.Y.; Reading, Pa., and Clearwater, Fla., in the
Phillies chain. He took a few years off to work with his son's nationally
ranked high school team in Dunedin, Fla. Then he accepted an offer - from Ducks
principal owner Frank Boulton, Harrelson and their partner Tony Rosenthal, a
friend of McCormack's - to succeed fired Ducks pitching coach Mike Cuellar last
"It worked out pretty well. Of course, I'd never been a pitching coach
before, but I knew how to run pitching staffs," McCormack said. It worked out
so well that when Harrelson announced he was stepping down as manager,
McCormack was the only choice.
He's known for getting the most out of players. Todd Pratt of the Mets, who
played for McCormack at Double-A Reading, recently spoke about how the manager
restored his confidence. "I had just got done having a great year in Triple-A
with the Red Sox, then I went to the Phillies and they sent me down to Double-A
to back up Mike Lieberthal," Pratt said. "But [McCormack] was very good with
me. He's someone you can talk to. He's a player's manager, a great guy."
Managing in the independent Atlantic League is different. You're not
grooming players for a parent club. Then again, you're not dealing with
blue-chip prospects either. Still, it's the same game. He has the same
He won't be the franchise's marquee figure, as Harrelson was. "Buddy was
very influential in everything that went on because everybody recognizes Buddy.
And I think that's great," McCormack said. "But Buddy doesn't want to do it
anymore. Hopefully, we can put another exciting product on the field. People
just want to see good baseball."