Bobby Meacham knows what it means to be a former Yankee on his way to manage in Manchester, just north of Boston. As a shortstop, he remembers all the battles he had with the Red Sox in the 1980s under manager Billy Martin.
“As a 23-year-old kid who grew up in California, when I was called up to play for the first time for the Yankees, I didn’t know much about anything. I was initially shocked how much Boston didn’t like me,” he said. “I mean they didn’t even know me and they were already booing me. But after a few games it finally sunk in. I was now part of the best rivalry in the game. Every game in both cities was just intense.”
On Monday, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats made the announcement, in conjunction with their major-league affiliate, the Toronto Blue Jays, that Meacham will manage the Double-A Eastern League team. He replaces Gary Allenson, a former Red Sox catcher, who’s moving up to the Jays’ Triple-A team in Buffalo.
Meacham will become the eighth manager in the 11-year history of the Fisher Cats. Meacham is looking forward to coming to the Queen City and has a plan in mind to join forces with the local Red Sox fans.
“I know there’s a lot of knowledgeable Red Sox fans in New Hampshire and maybe if we win a lot of games and even the Eastern League (title), we’ll make them happy,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the plan.”
A first-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1981, Meacham spent six seasons in the major leagues with the Yankees (1983-88). After his playing career, he made his coaching debut with Kansas City in 1991, and has since held minor-league positions with the Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, and Blue Jays.
Meacham moves up to Double-A after leading Dunedin to a first-half divisional title and Florida State League playoff berth in his first season in the Blue Jays’ organization. Before returning to the minor leagues as a manager, he spent six of the previous seven seasons as a base coach in the major leagues with the Marlins (2006), Padres (2007), Yankees (2008) and Astros (2010-12).
Like Meacham in Dunedin, Allenson, a former Red Sox catcher, spent just one season in New Hampshire, going 68-72 for third place in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division.
Meacham knows the Queen City has great baseball tradition and has produced major league players Mike Flanagan, Mike LaValliere and Steve Balboni. “I know Steve well, having played with him in 1983 with (Triple A) Columbus. Just a great teammate who was often quiet, but he carried a big bat and played solid at first base. As a shortstop, I know Steve saved me from chalking up a few more errors with his glove.”
Meacham’s career in New York with Martin had some unique moments.
One of them occurred in 1985 against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium when both he and teammate Dale Berra were both tagged out at home plate by catcher Carlton Fisk, who grew up in Charlestown.
“I was on second and Dale was on first when Rickey Henderson hit a ball to left-center,” said Meacham. “At first I thought the ball was going to get caught and I slipped while I was moving towards third, I was still close enough to second to tag up. As it turns out, the ball fell and rolled to the fence and, I just got a late break. As I approach third base, I see the relay coming towards the infield and Gene Michael (third base coach) still was waving me home.
“At that point I’m thinking I’m a dead duck because the relay throw to Fisk was definitely going to beat me. I just thought the next best thing to do was to jar the ball out of Fisk’s glove when I got home. Sure enough, I get tagged out. No more than a second later, I hear the crowd roar and when I looked back, I’m shocked to see Dale tagged out at the plate as well. To this day, I tell people who write or tell this story to remember I was the first guy tagged out. I didn’t follow the other guy home.”
Meacham said playing for Martin prepared him for his next career as manager.
“He (Martin) taught me mostly everything I know about the game,” said Meacham. “Because he was our manager, I always felt we had an advantage because opposing managers and teams were always wondering what Billy would do in certain situations. Whether it was squeezing in a player, trying a double steal or trying a trick play, Martin had a way of making teams worry about us more than themselves. Even if you didn’t like playing for him, you couldn’t deny Billy made you play harder for him. And you became a better player for it.” Meacham will begin this season 74 wins shy of 500 managerial wins.
“I’ve enjoyed coaching and I actually got started in it because I needed a job after I finished my playing career,” he said. “There’s a lot of school teachers in my immediate family and coaching is nothing more than teaching. To me it’s fun to work with young men and see them mature into good baseball players and, more importantly, good family men who become productive in their own community.”
Meacham’s coaching staff will include one-time Fisher Cats hitting coach Jon Nunnally and new pitching coach Jim Czajkowski. Veterans Bob Tarpey and Brian Pike will also return to Manchester as the sports medicine performance team for their fifth consecutive season together in New Hampshire.
“Have heard nothing but great things from other coaches about Jon and Jim and look forward to working with them in spring training in Florida,” said Meacham. “I don’t know much right now about the majority of players coming back to Manchester, other than a few we sent up last year from Dunedin. But myself, my coaching staff, we’re planning not only to teach our players, but instill a competitive environment which will help us win games.”
Only three of the previous seven former Fisher Cats’ managers — Mike Basso, Gary Cathcart and Sal Fasano — have managed longer than one season. Those three managed for two seasons apiece.
A former major-league coach, Nunnally returns to New Hampshire for a second season. After tutoring New Hampshire hitters in 2012, Nunnally progressed to Triple-A Buffalo last year. In his lone season with the Bisons, he watched several players advance to the major leagues, including former Fisher Cats Ryan Goins and Kevin Pillar.
A former major-league outfielder, Nunnally began his coaching career in 2006 with the Cleveland Indians, and he served as the club’s major league hitting coach in 2010-11. The North Carolina native was drafted by Cleveland in the third round in 1992, launching a 15-year career that included parts of six seasons in the major leagues as well as time in Japan.
Czajkowski will mark his fourth season in the Blue Jays system, but his first with a United States-based affiliate. Czajkowski debuted with Toronto in 2011 during the organization’s first year of partnership with the Vancouver Canadians (Northeast League). In three seasons, Czajkowski saw nothing but success as the Canadians captured their third straight Northwest League title last September. The most recent title team benefitted from Czajkowski’s tutelage as Canadians pitchers posted the best ERA in the league at 3.23.
Prior to coaching Blue Jays pitchers, Czajkowski spent 15 years as a coach in the Atlanta Braves organization, including 11 seasons as a pitching coach. As a player he was a three-time All-Star over 12 minor league seasons, and he earned his only major league experience during the Colorado Rockies’ inaugural 1994 season.
Tarpey returns to the Fisher Cats clubhouse for his fifth consecutive season as the team’s athletic trainer. The Blue Jays are the only major league organization that the York, Maine, native has known, having joined the organization full-time in 2006. He graduated from the University of Maine at Presque Isle before earning a master’s degree at California University of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the Fisher Cats, Tarpey tended to players with the Pulaski Blue Jays (2006-07) and the Lansing Lugnuts (2008-09), earning Midwest League Trainer of the Year honors in 2008.
Pike is back for his sixth season spread over two stints as the Fisher Cats strength and conditioning coach. The Gorham native began his baseball career in 2006 before making his New Hampshire debut a year later. After a year away from baseball, Pike returned to the Blue Jays in 2009 and has been with the Fisher Cats, paired with Tarpey, each season since 2010. Pike is a graduate of Plymouth State University.
Opening Day at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium is April 10, 2014, against the Binghamton Mets, Double-A affiliates of their New York namesakes.