By Shannon Drayer
In putting together a timeline of Lloyd McClendon’s baseball career, the one thing that jumped out at me was that there were no gaps. Little League to high school to college, then 15 years of professional baseball that ended with a last go in Triple-A Buffalo in 1995. The next year he began his coaching career and has been in the dugout ever since. “Baseball lifer” does not begin to describe him.
“They probably are going to have to kick me out of the game,” he told me Thursday after his introductory press conference at Safeco Field. “My love and passion for the game? I think baseball has the unique ability to bring people from different cultures, different backgrounds together for one common cause. In the end we all speak the same language.”
The love for baseball was realized at an early age while growing up in Gary, Ind. The youngest of nine boys in a family with 13 children, McClendon was 8 years old when he experienced a disappointment that many younger siblings can identify with.
“I was 8 and my brother got to play but I wasn’t old enough,” he remembered. “He got his uniform and I couldn’t get one and I knew I had a love for it then because I cried all the way home. I went back at 9 and got my uniform.”
Just a few years later, McClendon would become a Little League star. In the 1971 Little League World Series, McClendon earned the nickname “Legendary Lloyd” when he homered in the five at-bats opponents didn’t intentionally walk him. He pitched in the championship game against Taiwan but lost in extra innings. A devastating and disappointing loss turned into a moment he will never forget for all the right reasons.
“When I walked off that field and my coach and my dad were there telling me that, ‘It’s okay, you did the best that you could do and we are very proud of you,’ for me, that was the defining moment in my life and I think it certainly helped build the character and helped me become the man I am today, particularly when it comes to baseball.”
Words to live by when you are in a results-oriented business. McClendon is well aware of this and well aware that the fanbase is dwindling and restless after suffering through nine losing seasons in the past 10 years.
“I understand the honeymoon period and all of that but the bottom line is winning games,” he said. “Developing young talent, making sure they continue to move forward and hopefully when it is all said and done we will be popping some champagne and having a good time.”
His first order of business is to get to know his new team. When new managers have been hired in the past, they have talked about studying the team on paper and picking up the phone to call the guys to start the get-to-know-you process. McClendon has other ideas.
“I am ready to … get on the road and start visiting our players,” he said. “I am going to see if I can get a frequent-flyer number – I’ll be flying a lot – but I am anxious to get out and meet my players and converse with them and see if we can come up with some things that will work for us.”
Those first introductions should be interesting. McClendon was not shy about asserting who he was and what he expected from his players.
“My motto is simple,” he said early on in Thursday’s introductory press conference. “I respect my opponents but I fear nobody. And I want my players to take on my personality, how I approach the game and how we go about our business.”
How they go about their business will most likely be similar to how they went about it in Detroit. McClendon was mentored by Jim Leyland and has learned a lot from the former Tigers manager over the years. Don’t expect a completely old-school approach, however. McClendon says he is no stranger to the numbers and embraces the opportunity to work with the baseball operations department.
“I think you would be a fool to not look at the numbers and use it as part of your process to make decisions,” said McClendon, who claimed Leyland used them more than people knew. “But you also have to know your personnel, know what you are capable of doing and you also have to trust your gut a little, too. I think it is a combo of all of those things.”
The willingness to use the numbers generated by the baseball operations department was important to general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has indicated a couple of times he is looking to do some “different things” this year in that area. We are a long way from seeing that put into action but a step closer with the hiring of the manager.
A manager we got to know a little better Thursday.