A lot has changed since Buddy Bailey started managing the game of baseball.
Now, as he approaches 2,000 wins on his career as a skipper, he’s able to look back and appreciate every step along the way.
Just 11 wins away from the milestone as of Tuesday, Bailey would become the 11th manager to ever reach that mark in Minor League victories.
The 60-year-old began his career as a manager in 1983, shortly after playing three years with the Braves organization as a catcher. He joined the Cubs system in 2006 and hasn’t looked back, leading six of his last seven teams to winning records and collecting a pair of league championships along the way.
Last weekend, as he looked out at his 2017 Myrtle Beach Pelicans team stretching out in right field, casually leaning against his fungo bat, Bailey talked about the memories he has accumulated over several decades in minor-league dugouts.
“A lot have things have changed,” he said. “Now, everyone has a pitching coach, hitting coach, assistant coach, you’ve got a manager and the biggest thing is that you have a nutritionist and [other staff members] that take care of everything. The clubhouses are obviously a lot better. You have air conditioning where you used to not, you have a bus that has air conditioning, a lot of things are changing.”
The modern-era clubhouse life has its benefits, Bailey says, but there’s plenty of things about the old game that he relished and wishes were still existent in Minor League Baseball today. A “baseball guy” through and through, the skipper enjoyed what the old life of minor league players used to consist of.
The aspects of lower-level pro ball life he remembers most aren’t about the game on the field, rather the situations that players were put into that forced them to face adversity. Those challenges, he says, weren’t entirely negative in the big picture for prospects looking to climb the ladder.
“It’s a lot nicer for the players,” he said of the current climate, “but I think in some ways they get more content with everything being so good, where as before you hated where you were at. You wanted to get to that next level because you knew things were going to be better.”
Now, Bailey manages in a Minor League Baseball world that features resources at players’ fingertips on a daily basis.
Not only is there advanced video and scouting reports on the physical side of the game, but there’s everything necessary for young players to thrive in all areas of their life as a minor-leaguer.
Bailey appreciates and embraces the new culture as much as anyone in the game today, but understands that as time has gone on, he’s seen his players face different hurdles with the emergence of technology.
When it comes to the age of iPhones and social media, Bailey balks at their presence inside of baseball locker rooms, once a place of pure baseball and not much else.
“It’s kind of what it is now. Do I agree with it totally? No, to be honest, I wish there was some way that you could take phones at a certain time of the day and you don’t get it back until the game is over. Because the problem you have, too, is that some guys say they have to use the restroom, but they don’t use the restroom, they go in and check their phones…
“It’d be like a surgeon in the middle of surgery saying, “Hey, I’m going to go take a phone break and I’ll be back when I can,’” Bailey said with a chuckle.
The manager knows he won’t be able to confiscate cell phones any time soon, but that’s not stopping him from developing cohesive teams that feature draft picks develop into prospects.
The smartphone culture is what it is.
At the end of the day, Bailey will be able to coach players fully dedicated to their craft to bigger and better things. And for a man who has spent his adult life helping others along the way to their big-league dreams, that’s all that matters.
“I think it’s one of the things as an evaluator for me – whose heart and drive and desire really is baseball? Because the guys that I’ve noticed who are less obsessed with those things and more on baseball usually end up being the better players and the ones who move up the ladder,” he noted.
There are clubhouse issues that have crept up as the years have passed, but Bailey seems to be enjoying managing now as much as when he started.
And as the 2,000 win mark creeps up, moving up the managerial leaderboard is the last thing on his mind.
For now, it continues to be about, as he says, helping each player shine in his own way.
Every day he walks into the park, the goals don’t change regardless of the all-time win total.
“I think it’s something once you get done, once you aren’t doing it any more, you sit back and recollect,” he said. “I feel fortunate for a country boy who grew up in central Virginia slopping hogs and breaking horses and having a garden, bailing hay and all. I actually went to college with the idea that I’d probably be a high-school baseball or football coach.
“To get the opportunity to stay in pro baseball, I’ve been in the right place at the right time with the right players and organizations that have had the good players to be successful and produce some players for the big-leagues. That’s the bottom reward.”
Recently, current Baltimore Orioles infielder Ryan Flaherty connected with Bailey during a rehab assignment with the team’s high-A affiliate in Frederick.
He chatted with his former manager for a short time, going out of his way to tell Bailey that he was the best manager he had ever had in 491 games played at the Minor League level.
Moments like that underscore the reason Bailey continues to do what he does. In fact, he calls them the most rewarding moments.
While he’s coaching every night in front of a few thousand fans in a small ballpark, his former players are living out their Major League dreams, in part due to Bailey’s instruction.
Through it all, that’s the type of manager he is and always will be – selfless and full of joy toward the game he loves.
As he nears 2,000 wins, it’s clear to see why Buddy Bailey will go down as one of the best to ever step onto the diamond.