I've thought about coaching; I've been in youth coaching for a lot of years and really, really enjoyed it. So being able to step up and take a managerial job at this level, where you're looking at the game from all the different angles, is just a great opportunity for me. —Jack McDowell
OGDEN — There's a new guy filling out the Ogden Raptors' lineup card this year.
And when he speaks, the Raptors' players — especially their pitchers — should certainly listen to what he's got to say.
Jack McDowell, who won the American League Cy Young Award in 1993 during a solid major league career that spanned a dozen seasons and earned him 127 victories, takes over as manager of Ogden's Pioneer League team this season.
"One thing I do know is that he's 48 years old now," Raptors team president Dave Baggott said of the fiercely competitive pitcher who was known as "Black Jack" in his heyday, "and he will still have the best curveball of anybody on this team."
McDowell replaces Damon Berryhill, another former major leaguer who spent five seasons as the Raptors' skipper. The Raptors reached the Pioneer League playoffs in four of Berryhill's five years at the helm, and he was the longest-tenured and most successful manager the Raptors' franchise has ever had.
This year, Berryhill has taken over as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers' Triple-A team, the Albuquerque Isotopes, who play in the Pacific Coast League along with another Utah franchise, the Salt Lake Bees.
Baggott says having a guy like McDowell in the Raptors' dugout should be a huge benefit to young, up-and-coming ballplayers who have their own sights set on reaching the big leagues someday.
“It’s a tremendous help,” Baggott told former Standard-Examiner sportswriter Roy Burton, who's now with the Deseret News. “You’re dealing with the kids of Generation X these days; everybody feels destined, but then when they see a former major leaguer that actually experienced what their goal is, I think it opens their eyes a little bit more on what it takes to get there. That major league-experienced coach has the experience to tell them how to get there.
"It's all about work ethic. Sometimes things off the field are equally important as well — being on time, taking care of yourself, not burning the candle from both ends — 97.5 percent of the kids get it.
"If you're a pitcher and you want to learn, we've got an excellent pitching coach," Baggott told Burton. "But it doesn't hurt to have a skipper who's got a Cy Young Award on his shelf. I imagine that his skills as a manager and a teacher — we have to remember that, at this level, they are teachers — that what they have to offer will be taken accordingly by the players."
McDowell, who was a two-time 20-game winner and three-time American League All-Star, won the 1993 AL Cy Young honor with a 22-10 record and 3.37 ERA with the Chicago White Sox, for whom he pitched seven seasons.
He also spent time with the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Anaheim Angels before retiring following the 1999 season. He compiled a career record of 127-87 with an ERA of 3.85, and his ERA was under 4.00 in each of his first eight years in the majors.
For McDowell, this is his first chance to coach professionally, having coached his own children from T-ball all the way up through high school, and he says he's "fired up" about the opportunity.
"I've been through the entire ranks of amateur baseball," he said, "and they pulled me out of amateur baseball and put me here. I was married and had three kids, took my oldest kid all the way through high school, got divorced, got remarried and had three more kids, and I was looking into getting back into working in the game somewhere.
"So this is my first professional coaching job. And when this opportunity came up, I jumped at it. I've thought about coaching; I've been in youth coaching for a lot of years and really, really enjoyed it. So being able to step up and take a managerial job at this level, where you're looking at the game from all the different angles, is just a great opportunity for me."
McDowell was impressed with Ogden's picturesque Lindquist Field setting and with the friendly way he's been treated by those folks associated with the Raptors' franchise.
And though he's not a hunter or avid outdoorsman, he says he could probably be "talked into going fishing" and would be interested in going on some good game-day morning hikes in the foothills east of Ogden.
Now he must adjust to being back in professional baseball again, but he won't be the only one who's adjusting to this lifestyle since many of the players on the Raptors' roster are getting their first taste of pro ball.
"The biggest difference you're gonna see with a lot of these kids is that they've all been stars in high school, college or wherever they've been in the past," he said. "Now they're jumping into pro ball, and they may start to struggle at times.
"Having a tough week in high school or college might mean going 0 for 5, but in pro ball, having a tough week can be 0 for 25. And that's difficult for a lot of these young players to handle.
"They've got to learn about being responsible and being a professional ballplayer," McDowell said. "I've seen it all; I've seen the ups and downs that players go through."
And he figures his players won't be all that dazzled by McDowell's major league experience, resume or awards. He just hopes they listen to what he has to say.
"A month into spring training, I heard a couple of kids arguing about whether I was a pitcher or a manager. They couldn't believe I was a pitcher once upon a time," he said with a laugh. "So if they listen to me, they're listening because they'll all hungry to get there (to the big leagues) themselves."
McDowell, who has spent the last seven years coaching high school baseball in San Diego, won't have much time to acclimate himself to Ogden.
After spending extended spring training in Arizona, he arrived in town on Friday and was holding workout sessions with the Raptors Saturday and Sunday before they open their season Monday evening against Grand Junction at 7 p.m. at Lindquist Field.
Ironically, McDowell will begin his first season as Ogden's manager just a week after the untimely death of another former member of the Raptors' family and a fellow AL Cy Young Award winner, Bob Welch.
Welch, who served as the Raptors' pitching coach in 2005, died last Monday at age 57 of a heart attack. Welch went 27-6 with the Oakland Athletics in 1990 to win the coveted Cy Young Award, and no major league pitcher has won more than 24 games in a season since.
It won't take McDowell long to learn that Ogden has a diehard group of baseball fans who loyally support their team at Lindquist Field, where the Raptors have led the Pioneer League in attendance each year since the ballpark opened in 1997.
"I'm excited about the upcoming season," Baggott said. "We've been doing this for the last 20 years, so to us it makes us feel like we've been doing something right. We've continued to ask the community to support our team, and the community definitely has done that.
"This is our 21st season of Raptors' baseball, and I would've never thought when we started this thing 20 years ago that I would've become the elder statesman in the league.
"Now the other front-office people from around the league all call me 'sir,'" said the youthful-looking Baggott, who just turned 54 years old on Thursday.Comment on this story
Among the special promotions planned for this season are "Raptors Superhero Night" in late-August, when the team's players will be wearing Superman uniforms. Also, the Raptors will offer a "Seinfeld" tribute each night on their radio broadcast to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the iconic television series' nine-year run, which started in 1989.
Now, if McDowell can just get his team to play ball like Superman — or at least play the game the way "Black Jack" did in his prime — the Raptors will have a great chance to win the first Pioneer League championship in franchise history.