Detroit — If he had to do it over again, as agonizing and polarizing as it was at the time, Tom Runnells wouldn’t change a thing. And that, as much as anything he’s done in 38 years in professional baseball, speaks to his character and integrity.
In 1995, Runnells, now the Rockies bench coach, was hired to manage the Tigers Triple-A team in Toledo. Major League Baseball was on strike at the time. The 1994 season and postseason were canceled and as the 1995 season approached, the league approved the use of replacement players to fill out rosters.
Runnells was approached by owner Mike Ilitch and general manager Joe Klein and asked to manage the Tigers’ replacement team. Sparky Anderson had steadfastly refused and was ultimately suspended by the team.
“Obviously it’s not a situation anyone can foresee or look forward to,” said Runnells, who has been with the Rockies since 2009. “It was a situation where the general manager and owner asked me to step in and do that for the organization. What am I going to say? My loyalty was to the Tigers at that time.
“That’s what they wanted me to do. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but I did it.”
It meant straining, if not severing a relationship with Anderson whom he had known as a player with the Cincinnati Reds organization. Anderson didn’t speak to Runnells either before or for a long while after the strike.
“I did not do this for my players,” Anderson told reporters at the time. “I did not do this to hurt ownership. I did this for my integrity. I cannot bargain my integrity. My integrity will not change.”
Integrity and loyalty were Runnells’ motivation for accepting the job.
“I truly respected Sparky,” he said. “I knew him from the past and our time with the Reds. It was very difficult. I suppose I could’ve taken a stand, but I might’ve been on the street. I don’t know.”
After putting the replacement players through a couple of weeks of spring training, the strike was settled on April 2, the day before replacement games were to begin. Runnells was spared having to manage an actual game with replacement players.
“Back then, I wasn’t sure how it was going to be perceived,” Runnells said. “That really wasn’t my initial concern. I was just, I was asked to do a job and I did it.”
Runnells managed Toledo in 1995 and 1996 and stayed in the Tigers organization as an advanced scout and hitting coordinator through 2004. Runnells doesn’t think there were any lingering recriminations from coaching the replacements.
“Not from my side,” he said. “I’ve been in the game 38 years. I was treated just like all the other Major League managers who were asked do to the same thing. I remember there were a lot of big league managers that were put in the same position and they continued to work at their jobs. I wasn’t any different than those guys.”
Still, Runnells was hired to manage the Montreal Expos in 1991 when he was 36 years old. He lasted two years there and hasn’t gotten another managerial job since. He has long made peace with that.
“It makes you really appreciate where you are,” he said. “I was a manager at 36 and it was 17 years in the minors before I got another opportunity. But I am a big believer that the Lord puts us here for a reason and I have kind of accepted the fact I was put in the minor leagues to be a teacher. I enjoy baseball so much, I accepted that.
“And when I really became at peace with that, I got a phone call from (the Rockies) and I’ve been here since.”
Runnells still lives in Sylvania, Ohio, and his family has been affected by the water crisis in Toledo. His wife Chrys, who has been with him for this series, has taken measures to help the situation.
“She went to Birmingham and bought tons of cases and jugs of water and loaded it up into the car,” Rennells said. “She’s heading back after the game. She got a lot just in case she needs to give it away.
“It’s really a bad situation and there’s no timetable for relief.”
It may not have seemed like much, but Joakim Soria’s scoreless, one-hit ninth inning was a welcomed sight.
“I will definitely take the three outs without a run,” said Soria of his first scoreless inning in four outings since joining the Tigers. “I am starting to settle down and feel better. Hopefully from now on it will go like that.”
He was asked if he made any mechanical changes or was it just a function of getting acclimated to a new environment.
“Kind of everything,” he said. “Everything has settled down now. I got my place (to live) now. I’ve got everything in order, so there is less things to think about. That helps.”
Manager Brad Ausmus said the difference was in Soria’s fastball.
“His fastball plays up from the fastball you see on the radar gun,” he said. “If it’s at 92 mph, it looks like 94 to the hitter. With his delivery, he must hide the ball behind his body or his head because it really sneaks up on a hitter. That’s what I saw today.”
In the three games since Austin Jackson was traded, Rajai Davis has led off and produced seven hits and three runs. The Rockies started left-handed pitchers in all three games.
Ausmus has made it clear that he won’t put Davis in a strict righty-lefty platoon with Ezequiel Carrera, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to start every game.
“I still have the mindset that Rajai needs his days off here and there,” he said. “It’s more beneficial to him if he gets his days off, generally, against right-handed pitchers. That won’t be a blatant rule, he will play some against righthanders, but he does need his days off.”
On deck: Yankees
Series: Three games, Monday-Thursday, Yankee Stadium, New York
First pitch: 7:05 p.m. all games
TV/radio: FSD, ESPN Monday; FSD Tuesday- Thursday/97.1
Probables: Monday – RHP Max Scherzer (13-3, 3.27) vs. RHP Brandon McCarthy (6-10, 4.56). Tuesday – LHP David Price (11-8, 3.11) vs. RHP Hiroki Kuroda (7-7, 3.98). Wednesday – RHP Justin Verlander (10-9, 4.66) vs. LHP Chris Capuano (1-2, 4.50). Thursday – RHP Shane Greene (2-1, 3.68) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (13-5, 3.18)
Scherzer: Scherzer is on some kind of roll since giving up 10 earned runs against Kansas City on June 17, going 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA over his last seven starts.
McCarthy: Came over to New York from Arizona in a July 6 trade, McCarthy’s been a solid addition to the Yankees rotation. He’s 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA in four starts with the Yankees.