Early in his tenure overseeing Cleveland’s baseball farm system, Ross Atkins was intrigued by the workings of an opposing manager.
In 2007, Charlie Montoyo was in his first of eight seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays’ triple-A affiliate in Durham, N.C., and the Bulls went on to win two International League championships and seven division titles under his guidance.
“Year in and year out, the Durham Bulls were more than competitive,” Atkins, now general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, recalled at Monday’s news conference introducing Montoyo as the team’s 13th manager. “They played the game hard, played the game the right way and they won.”
Watch: Who is new Jays manager Charlie Montoyo?
Montoyo’s success managing 2,400 games over 18 seasons at every level in the Rays’ system, including a 633-515 win-loss record with Durham, was important to Atkins as he, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro and a group of others narrowed the list of potential candidates to replace the fired John Gibbons, who guided the team to a 73-89 mark this past season.
They would always talk about character … and how good of a person he was.— Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins on his discussions with baseball people about his team’s new manager, Charlie Montoyo
The GM spoke with former minor league managers Torey Lovullo, Mike Sarbaugh and Chris Tremie about Montoyo, the person.
“They would always talk about character … and how good of a person he was,” Atkins said of the 53-year-old Montoyo, a native of Florida, Puerto Rico, who was named International League manager of the year in 2010 and 2013. “It’s not typical that peers [speak] of others [they are] clearly competing [against] to get to the major leagues.”
Of the upwards of 10 phone calls Atkins made to front-office executives, coaches and other trusted baseball minds during this managerial search, one stood out. It was a conversation with a player recently impacted by Montoyo, the Rays’ bench coach in 2018.
Charlie Montoyo: Blend of old-school and analytics:
“He said first and foremost that [Montoyo] is a remarkable human being,” said Atkins, who joined the Blue Jays in December 2015. “[The player added] he’s a great father, he’s a great husband and he gives me a great deal of confidence that the guidance he is providing me is very good guidance. He does that consistently and I want to get to the field every day to see him.
“That is leadership in baseball,” Atkins went on, “and we could not be more proud and more honoured to have added that leadership to our culture and our environment.”
Since Toronto announced on Oct. 25 that Montoyo had signed a three-year deal with a team option for the 2022 season, the hiring was met with universal love.
The former Montreal Expos second baseman has been called a leader, teacher, winner, professional, personable and a well-rounded baseball mind. Even Jean Zimmer, the wife of late baseball icon Don Zimmer, called Montoyo to tell him the former player and manager “would be so proud of you now because you did it the right way. You coached in the minor leagues.”
Montoyo, who played with the triple-A Ottawa Lynx in 1993, noted there were numerous other phone calls and text messages that he replied to “because I don’t want anybody saying I’ve changed already.”
Finding right coaches ‘No. 1 goal’
He said he would begin calling Blue Jays players on Tuesday and is looking forward to meeting some of them on Jan. 20 for the inaugural Blue Jays Winter Fest at Rogers Centre.
The first Hispanic manager in the organization is also currently working with Atkins on who will be part of his coaching staff. Toronto bench coach Demarlo Hale, pitching coach Pete Walker, hitting coach Brook Jacoby, third-base coach Luis Rivera and first-base coach Tim Leiper have one year remaining on their contracts.
“I’m looking forward to teaching and helping younger players get better,” said the bilingual Montoyo, a married father of two sons, Alex, 15, and Tyson, 11. “That’s why finding the right coaching staff will be important. That’s the No. 1 goal.”
The rebuilding Blue Jays have nine players under 26: Top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (19), Bo Bichette (20), Rowdy Tellez (23), Danny Jansen (23), Sean Reid-Foley (23), Billy McKinney (24), Ryan Borucki (24), Anthony Alford (24) and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (25).
Montoyo said his players will always know where they stand with him.
‘We’re going to adjust to what we have’
“Somebody who communicates a lot,” he said. “I respect the player because I know it’s not an easy game to play.”
And while he has an appreciation for analytics, Montoyo said Jays games won’t necessarily be filled with frequent defensive shifts or an “opener” on the mound with a goal of pitching to only a few batters, or a bookend to a closer.
“Just because I’m coming from Tampa Bay doesn’t mean we’re going to do everything they do,” cautioned the manager, who runs eight kilometres a day while listening to salsa music. “We’re a different team and we’re going to adjust to what we have.
“Analytics are just giving you what you already know by managing. I’m going to have seven coaches and going to use [their] information, the analytics side and my gut feeling [before making] a decision.”
And is Montoyo bracing for what some people believe will be a lot of losing in the next two seasons?
“I don’t think like that,” he said. “We’re going to play to win from the beginning, from the first game of spring training. It’s going to be a fun team to manage.”
Blue Jays’ managerial history
- Roy Hartsfield
- Bobby Mattick
- Bobby Cox
- Jimy Williams
- Cito Gaston
- Mel Queen
- Tim Johnson
- Jim Fregosi
- Buck Martinez
- Carlos Tosca
- John Gibbons
- Gaston (2nd stint)
- John Farrell
- Gibbons (2nd stint)
- Charlie Montoyo