If the Toronto Blue Jays wish to pursue Tim Wallach as their next manager, one of his players could provide a unique reference.
"He's just a different kind of manager than anybody I've ever had," said outfielder Jay Gibbons, a veteran of seven major-league seasons who played for Wallach on the Los Angeles Dodgers' top farm club, the Albuquerque Isotopes.
"I never saw anybody have any animosity [toward him]or have anybody not like him - and that's rare in a manager," Gibbons said. "He knows the daily grind that a player goes through. I feel like he just gets it as a former player."
Wallach, a five-time all-star as a third baseman for the Montreal Expos, could be guiding a major-league club next year. With Cito Gaston's second stint as Jays manager expiring at season's end, the club is looking for a replacement. As many as 200 candidates are reportedly under consideration by general manager Alex Anthopolous, including Jays third base coach Brian Butterfield and New York Yankees first base coach Rob Thomson, an Ontario native.
The Globe and Mail has learned that Wallach is also on the radar, too, because of his style, experience, growing reputation and previous connection to Canada. He played for the Expos between 1980 and 1992.
Baseball America ranked Wallach as the Pacific Coast League's leading managerial prospect this season, and he joined manager Joe Torre's staff on the Dodgers for the season's final month.
Within days of arriving in Los Angeles, Wallach's future became entangled in the managerial rumour mills on two coasts - in Los Angeles and New York.
On Sept. 17, the Dodgers announced that hitting coach Don Mattingly would replace the retiring Torre next year, and reporters asked Wallach for his reaction at not getting the gig.
"That is not real comfortable having to answer how I feel about not getting the Dodger job," Wallach said. "But it's something that you have to deal with at this level. Every little thing is out there more than it was when I played."
Then last Tuesday, Torre said he would consider the New York Mets' position if it became available. The next day, Torre publicly recanted and apologized for breaching protocol, as Jerry Manuel is still employed by the Mets.
For the Blue Jays then, Wallach is still in play. Asked if he would like to manage in Toronto, Wallach responded with a laugh, "Uh, I can't say that. I'm under contract to somebody else. I can't say that."
Regardless of his future, Wallach's past success as a leader is undeniable. Last year, his first in Albuquerque, Wallach led the Isotopes to a team-record 80 wins and a playoff spot. As a result, Wallach was named the PCL's manager of the year.
But for Wallach, personal honours mean less than personal connections.
"I want players to feel like they can talk to me about anything," he said. "The most important thing is making sure each guy, whether the first or the 25th guy on the roster, feels as if he's an important part of the club."
Gibbons, who played independent baseball for two years after being listed in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use cites himself as an example.
"I know he fought for me to get up here all year," said Gibbons, whom the Dodgers promoted Aug. 8. "He really is a huge reason why I made it up here and I can't thank him enough for that."
Wallach's nature complements an analytical approach.
"The biggest thing he did for me when I first played for him was sit me down and go over the three biggest pitches that I called the day before," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "It was all about keeping game management in mind."
Wallach decided to focus on managing after being the Dodgers' hitting coach in 2004 and 2005.
"Once the game was going, I didn't feel like a big part of it," he said. "You don't want to bother guys during the game. I never liked it when a hitting coach would come to me during the game and try to give me suggestions.
"Managing, you're in every pitch. When I played, I always felt like I was in every pitch and I like that."
Being in every pitch and devising strategy satisfy Wallach's desire for mental challenge.
"You can't be surprised by anything that happens when it's happening," he said. "You've got to be ahead of it. If you're not prepared, it's going to step up and bite you at some point.
"It's like a puzzle, which is nice. I like puzzles."
As the Jays and other major-league teams map out their 2011 strategies, Wallach could be the missing piece.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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