By Bob Wirz
Greg Tagert has a whole den full of memories during nearly a quarter of a century as a baseball manager which have included nearly 1,500 regular-season victories, one string of getting his Gary SouthShore RailCats to the league’s championship series five consecutive years and various Manager of the Year awards.
(Photo Credit: Gary SouthShore RailCats)
Not much can match the 2005 season, however, when the now-55-year-old native Californian produced a title in the very first of his campaigns at the helm of the RailCats, which will enter Year 15 next spring. Gary trailed current American Association rival Fargo-Moorhead two games to none in what then was the Northern League and the RedHawks had only produced the best record in all of Independent Baseball, including a stunning 40-7 second half.
One reason that season remains so memorable all these years later is rewards continue to roll in for some of those who were part of that team.
Since last season ended, ’05 outfielder Anthony Iapoce (eye-uh-POH-see), an aging 31-year-old in his final summer as a player who took home Most Outstanding Player honors in the championship series, and first-year hitting coach Andy Haines have been rewarded with major league hitting coach opportunities with teams that were in the National League playoffs this fall.
Iapoce, who hit .300 only one time in a full season during a playing career that topped out at Triple-A, will be working with the potent Chicago Cubs, whose lineup features proven hitters like Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber. He was hitting coach at Texas the last three years.
Haines, the Cubs’ assistant hitting coach last season after distinguishing himself in various minor league roles, gets to work with Milwaukee and veteran star Ryan Braun and 2018 NL Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich, with whom he had a manager-player relationship in the minors for Miami.
“2005 was the most special of teams”, Tagert confirmed from his Northern California home this week where his family was spared from the devastating fires that have commanded national headlines except for some of the dreadful smoke that lingers.
“The second call I made after I got the Gary job”, Tagert recalled, was to lure Haines, a quiet leader who had coached for him three years earlier at Dubois County in the Frontier League and, not so ironically after gaining more experience coaching at Gary had his own championship team and Manager of the Year honor two seasons later at Windy City.
Iapoce was “the heart and soul of that (’05) club”, Tagert says, still sounding somewhat shocked that he was fortunate enough to have “an elite major league caliber centerfielder who was (also) almost like my bench coach”.
The admiration is mutual.
“Playing for Tags (Tagert) was a huge influence on how I look at things,” Iapoce told The Gary Post-Tribune recently. “Anthony’s wonderful professionally and personally”, Tagert says in return.
Iapoce and Haines are not the only proteges of Tagert with nice major league positions today. The pitching coach from 2005, Brendan Sagara, is the Cubs’ roving minor league pitching coach these days and Kenny Graham, who joined Gary as hitting coach a few years after Haines departed, has a job similar to Sagara only with hitters in the Milwaukee organization.
One postscript to that come-from-behind playoff championship against Fargo-Moorhead way back in 2005: “We weren’t surprised when we beat them”, Tagert says. How is that for confidence?
The Aussies Have It
While current or former American Association players are in abundance almost everywhere in winter baseball leagues for dominance one only needs to look at what is taking place in Australia.
In one recent game Down Under, four of the five pitchers who took part had AA ties. The most well known of the group could well be Brisbane reliever Cameron McVey, who has appeared in nearly 150 games in the American Association the last four seasons, including Winnipeg in both 2016 and 2018, Lincoln one year ago and Sioux Falls back in ’15. Teammates in that game included two hurlers from the ’14 AA season, Justin Erasmus, who was at Fargo, and losing pitcher Ryan Searle, who played for Grand Prairie. Ryan Chaffee, at Winnipeg in ’17, finished up the 5-3 victory for Adelaide.
Previously the chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site, has a blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, and a book about his life, “The Passion of Baseball”, is available at Amazon.com, or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.