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Managing the Fisher Cats is the perfect spot for 'Mugsy'
Fisher Cats Manager Gary Allenson grabs a bat as he takes the field for his first practice in Manchester on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
Gary Allenson - still "Mugsy" to many and especially to those who recall his days catching with the Boston Red Sox in the early 1980s - brings a simple and straight forward approach to the game.
He thinks that's one of the reasons he fit in well when he got to New England.
It won't hurt him as the new manager of the New Fisher Cats, either.
"It couldn't have been a more perfect place for me," Allenson said. "I always had a love and a passion for the game. I think the people out here appreciate the guys who play hard and I did play hard. I didn't hit a lot in the big leagues, but I played hard. I think people appreciate that. That's how they would approach it if they got a chance to play in the big leagues."
Allenson grew up in Los Angeles wanting to be a big leaguer and the quest took him to Arizona State University and it wasn't long before he had a nickname, one that stuck.
A pitcher and shortstop in high school, Allenson quickly got moved to second base for the games in the dog days of August that put the freshmen up against the upperclassmen.
"We'd get killed by them," Allenson said. "And I had never learned how to get out of the way on a double play. I'd just catch it and heave it to first and get slid into."
One particularly hot day - "in late August it was still like 110 degrees" - Allenson turned a double play to end an inning, got knocked down as usual, got up and sprinted off the field and into the dugout.
"I had dirt all over my face and it had turned to mud I was sweating so much and the guy sitting next to me said, 'Look at that mug. Look ... at ... that ... mug,'?" Allenson said.
So he was Mugs. Then Mugsy.
All because he played hard and took a hit to make a play.
He was still Mugsy when he made it to Boston for the last three weeks of the 1978 season.
"I was there but I didn't play," he said. "Probably for an obvious reason: the starting catcher was a guy named Carlton Fisk."
He did catch more than 100 games the next year for the Red Sox when Fisk was hampered by a rib injury. Fisk left after the 1980 season for the Chicago White Sox and Allenson split time the next few years with Rich Gedman and then finished up his playing career with a short stint in Toronto in 1985.
While still in Boston, it was either Joe Giuliotti of the Boston Herald or Peter Gammons of the Globe, he's not sure which, who came up to him after one of their afternoon sessions with manager Ralph Houk. The writer said he had asked who on the team might make a good manager and he had answered, "Mugsy."
Allenson said he hadn't thought about it, but realized then that as he sat in the bullpen on nights he wasn't pitching, he was analyzing move after move a manager made as he got this guy or that guy up to warm up or put this guy or that guy in the game.
"I'd been managing, just not thinking I was managing," he said.
He loves the decision-making involved in directing a game and has been managing and coaching since 1987.
He opens his 19th season as a minor-league manager tonight.
"Sure I'd like to manage in the big leagues, why not?" he said. "I've had a couple of interviews, but I guess the timing wasn't right. I've coached up there. It's about time. I'm running out of inhales and exhales."
Allenson turned 58 in February.
"I'm a young 58," he said."
He ended up in Manchester, where he takes over for Sal Fasano, after interviewing with Blue Jays' director of minor league operations Charlie Wilson at the winter meetings in December.
Last year, he managed in the Baltimore Orioles system with Aberdeen in the Single-A New York-Penn League. The five years prior he was managed the Orioles Triple-A team in Norfolk, Va., in the International League.
"I decided to part ways with the Orioles," Allenson said. "I was going in the wrong direction there."
So he's back not too far from where he spent the bulk of his major league playing time, working for the organization with which he finished his playing career.
Tom Signore, a veteran of the Fisher Cats, is the pitching coach and longtime big league player and baseball lifer Rich Hebner, who lives in Walpole, Mass., is the hitting coach.
"All three of us are from the old school," said Hebner, who worked with Allenson in Norfolk in 2010. "That's the only way to do it, really. Don't cheat yourself, your wife, your girlfriend, your family. He's no different than a lot of other managers. Show up, play hard, give it all and see what happens."
Signore, who didn't know Allenson, said they hit it off right away at Toronto's minor league meetings.
"He's about the players," Signore said. "It's not about him. It doesn't hurt that he loves Seinfeld and Fox News. All three of us love Fox News. ... He's got a great sense of humor but you have to get him, or you might think he comes off as gruff."
Hebner - who also calls Allenson 'Slick,' another of his nicknames along with Mugsy - agreed.
"He's quick," he said. "I don't think he's as tough as people think he is. He'll be easy to play for. You show up, you play. That's all. No slacking off."
Just play. Hard.