Friday, July 15, 2011

Dave Machemer Interview Part 1: Credit to Others

Richmond Flying Squirrels manager Dave Machmer in the Richmond dugout July 10, 2011. Machemer spoke with The Greatest 21 Days before that night's game, touching on his playing career and his long managerial career.

Part 1: Credit to Others | Part 2: He Connected | Part 3: Just In His Blood | Part 4: Player Stories

RICHMOND, VA - It was the bottom of the ninth, career minor leaguer Wes Clements stepped into the batters' box. The game was on the line. Also on the line was Dave Machemer's career managerial debut, for single-A Beloit.

Clements deposited the opposing pitcher's offering over the fence for a walk-off win. As Clements rounded the bases, it was all Machemer could do to keep himself from joining the hitter as he rounded the bases.

"When he hit that home run," Machemer told The Greatest 21 Days in an interview recently, "I go, 'I'm alive again. I'm alive again.'"

Machemer was alive again because he was back in professional baseball. He was back after selling cars and playing semi-pro ball. He was also back after serving as an infielder for 11 professional seasons.

Professional baseball was where he wanted to be and that game in 1985 for Beloit marked his return to the game he'd played and played well for more than a decade.

Most of that play came in the minors, with Machemer putting up the numbers, with few people noticing. But he also did finally play in the majors, getting immediately noticed with a home run in his first major league at bat.

It was that playing career, and all the managers and others who helped him along the way, that Machemer says he still uses today. The names of those managers and others are still fresh on the 60-year-old's mind. There was Norm Sherry, Jimy Williams and Joe Morgan, all managers who managed in the big leagues.

Richmond Flying Squirrels manager Dave Machemer coaches third as Harrisburg pitcher Erik Arnesen delivers to the plate.

There was also Mike Stubbins, Machemer's first manager, who kept his career from ending before it hardly began. There was Deron Johnson, the manager who set Machemer on a direct course to the majors, after six long seasons in the minors.

And there was Cal Ermer, who, after Machemer's major league days were done, took Machemer under his wing, showing Machemer ways that would serve Machemer well in his eventual post-playing career as a manager himself.

Machemer spoke with The Greatest 21 Days before recently at The Diamond, home to the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels. He spoke in the Richmond dugout, before his team went out for warmups.

Machemer is in his first year managing the Giants' AA affiliate, doing what he has done with more than 20 clubs since that first game with Beloit in 1985: helping to guide young players to the major leagues.

Nearly four decades ago, Machemer started on his own quest for the major leagues, as an infielder in the Angels system. Machemer's professional career began in 1972, with the Michigan-native taken by California in the fourth round out of Central Michigan University.

Machemer didn't make the majors until he was in seventh professional season. During his first, though, it looked as though he might not get a second.

Sent to single-A Stockton in the California League, Machemer hit just .163 in 40 games. As Machemer told it, he "couldn't hit the broad side of a barn."

Dave Machemer, right, in the Richmond dugout. Next to Machemer is Ken Joyce, Richmond's hitting coach.

His manager that year was Mike Stubbins. Machemer called Stubbins instrumental in his early learning process. Machemer didn't know why he wasn't hitting the ball.

Stubbins, though, worked with Machemer daily, showing Machemer mechanical changes to make in his swing, so Machemer could use his speed and get on base, Machemer recalled.

The next year at single-A Quad City, Machemer got his average up to .262. He also hit seven home runs and stole 29 bases. Without Stubbins' early help, Machemer recalled, his career could have ended there in Stockton in 1972.

"I've never really been able to call him and give him the credit he deserves for what he did for me," Machemer said of Stubbins, "but if it wasn't for him bringing me out every day that first year, when I was probably going to be released - I didn't know what I was doing.

"I had no idea how to hit a baseball. I had no clue how to get ready to hit up there and the mechanics," Machemer continued. "So, I tip my hat to the people I played for."

Machemer's numbers continued to move up in 1974 at single-A Salinas, hitting .295, stealing 48. At AA El Paso in 1975, he hit .301, swiping 45. In his first look at AAA, after a trade to the Red Sox, Machemer hit .282 in 108 games under Joe Morgan at Rhode Island.

Squirrel Johnny Monell takes a pitch at The Diamond in Richmond. Visiting Harrisburg players Devin Ivany, left, and Adam Fox, right, watch from the visitors dugout.

Another trade sent Machemer back to the Angels for 1977. At AAA Salt Lake City, Machemer hit .260 under Jimy Williams, but stole another 47 bases.

That first year back with the Angels marked Machemer's sixth season in the minors. He put up good numbers, Machemer believed, but didn't seem to get noticed.

He described his style of play as a "max effort" player, who played hard. But he "wasn't pretty doing it." He also seemed to be just the type of player scouts overlooked.

"I was thinking I was good enough to play in the big leagues, and I think my numbers reflected that," Machemer said of that time without the call up. "The only problem was I wasn't your prototypical looking prospect.

"I was an all-out guy that played the game hard every night. I was a max-effort guy. I wasn't fluid. I wasn't pretty. I didn't have a great arm. I had great speed. I did have that."

"I thought, you know, I had a really good career going," Machemer added later, "but it didn't really seem like anybody really noticed."

People did notice in 1978, Machemer's seventh in the pros. They noticed after another mentor, Deron Johnson, took Machemer and taught him the final pieces Machemer needed to make the majors.

The Minnesota Twins also quickly noticed, watching a Machemer-hit ball go over the fence in Machemer's first major league at-bat.

It was a home run and a trip to the majors that very well might not have happened, had Machemer not refused surgery weeks earlier on a banged up knee.

Part 2: He Connected


Part 1: Credit to Others | Part 2: He Connected | Part 3: Just In His Blood | Part 4: Player Stories

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