A longtime major league player, coach, and manager, Doc Edwards is entering his seventh season as manager for the San Angelo Colts in the independent North American League. We spoke recently for a story I wrote about one of his star players, Landon Camp, which also included some discussion on the expectations he sets for his players and the difficulty an independent player faces when trying to break into an affiliated organization.
Going back, how did you guys originally acquire Landon?
Ricky Van Asselberg had him in Shreveport and he didn’t have room for him because he had a guy that he got from me that we called Big Papi, about a 6-foot-5 third baseman/first baseman who previously had hit about 21 homeruns and drove in about 107 for me here [in San Angelo]. So I thought it was time to move on for him, and Ricky got him in the American Association. And he says, “I’ve got a tall, slim guy, sort of like Big Papi, and I don’t have a spot for him.” I said, “Well, I do. Bring him over,” and I just brought him over and told him, “I’m gonna put you in the lineup and I’m gonna play you every day. Go have fun.” And he was with me 68 games, drove in 68 runs, and hit 24 homeruns. And he did the same thing last year – he broke his hand, missed about five weeks, he came back and hit 24 homeruns and had somewhere in the 60s RBIs. So he’s had two great years for me.
He actually mentioned the thing about you basically saying, “Look, you’re gonna play every day, just do what you do.” It seemed like he really blossomed after that. As a manager, is there something you see in a guy that you know that’s what he needs to open up and play well?
I really saw the talent. He’s 6-foot-4, weighs about 220, and he’s got a gun for an arm. I mean, he can throw the ball across the infield. And he’s an average major league runner, that big. Cal Ripken played for me in the minor leagues before, and everything that Ripken did for me at Triple-A, [Camp]’s done here. He may run a little better than Ripken, but Ripken is one of the smartest players to ever walk on the field. But Camp, he’s just got all the tools, and I feel that the only way you can develop them is to let him play all the games that he can.
You said he had a couple great years and then this deal with the Marlins happened in the spring. How did that come about?
Well, Bobby Brown, who was my coach last year – he’s gonna manage in Abilene this year – knew a guy who was a hitting coach, one of the hitting instructors, for the Marlins, and we sort of got in touch with him, Bobby did. And then Marty Scott became the new farm director with the Marlins, and I’ve known Marty for years, and so we just made an approach and said, “We think you should bring this guy to camp and look at him.” And I still think he’s got a chance to go to the big leagues, myself.
You think he’s got what it takes to be a guy who plays in the major leagues?
Well, he’s got the tools. If you don’t have the tools to work with, you can’t invent the tools. The good Lord takes care of that part. I just know that the major league average for a big righthander like that is about 4.3 – he probably runs a 4.2 down the line, little bit better, and he’s got a major league arm. He has everything. When you go into spring training with a major league organization, you have to go in and blow somebody out of the water, because their guys are already in the organization, and I still feel that if he gets another chance he can make it.
You’ve said a bunch of stuff that he’s good at. Is there anything in particular that you would point to him to say, “If you improve on THIS, you’ll have a better chance next time?”
Just basic skills. Now they rush them. We used to feel like you get your 1400, 1500 at-bats under your belt at the minor league level and play a hundred games a year, or whatever. If you’ve got the talent, just getting on the field and getting 1500 at-bats and just walking to the plate – you’ve got to develop your tools. I came out of the Cleveland and the Baltimore Orioles organizations, where everything was developed. Your job at the minor league level was to develop their players, and I really believe in that because I was a developing type manager at the minor league level, and loved it. And when you get players who come in and the good Lord gave them tools…like I mentioned Cal Ripken. He was 20 years old when I had him in Triple-A, but he had all the tools. He could field, he could throw, he could hit, he was smart, and the good Lord takes care of that. My job is to get him on the field, put him in the lineup, and if I need to say something to him I thought would help him develop, instinctively you just say it to a player once you realize that your job as a minor league manager is to develop the players that the scouting department signs for the big league club, eventually.
How many players have you sent on from the Colts to affiliated organizations?
I’ve been here six years. It’s over 20, I know that. What makes it easy for me too is our general manager, Mike Babcock. He believes in when the players come here, we want to develop them and try to get them into an organization. He really gets enjoyment out of that the same way I do. When you get your general manager and your field manager on the same page it sure makes it a lot easier to push that guy.
Is it disappointing when a guy like Landon gets a chance to go to spring training and it ends up not working out and he comes back? I know it’s nice to get a middle of the order bat back…
I would much rather him stay.
Right. So it’s a little disappointing when he comes back.
Well, it is. But if you realize that in an organization – all organizations, you put them together – if you sign a thousand guys, only 50 of them make it. So when we send a guy in it’s probably the same percentage, who makes it and who doesn’t. I had two guys when I was with Sioux Falls: George Sherrill, who’s still in the big leagues with Seattle, and I had another kid that came out of the Pittsburgh organization by the name of Matt Duff. I got him one year in a trade and he just heated up and by the next year he was in the big leagues with the Cardinals. But he had a problem then, his elbow sort of barks on him, and never did get his elbow back and he had a bunch of cysts in his back, but when he first made it you knew he was going to the big leagues. Just like George Sherrill was gonna go to the big leagues. George is still there. He probably has seven or eight years in the big leagues now. But we’ve sent a lot of guys. A lot more guys, probably between here and fourteen years of being in independent ball, there’s been a lot of people we’ve sent in. It’s about the same success rate. If you send a hundred in, you’re lucky if maybe ten of them stay. It’s just the way it is. And when you think of it that way, the people who see the players make the big leagues, they don’t realize that about a thousand of them have to be signed for 50 of them to make it.
It seemed like, from talking to him, that was something that Landon went into the spring with that mindset, that it was a numbers game and he should really do the best he could and just enjoy himself.
Yeah, exactly, and I’m honest with them to let them know when they come outside of an organization, they’re the step-child, going into an organization. They can’t just go in and be as good in spring training, as the people who have been signed by that organization and already are in there. You have to play a little bit better, a lot better, than they did during that spring, because you have scouts that are working for you. Their players should come first, because they’re working year-round, and when you come from outside the organization and someone gives you an invite, you’re really very lucky somebody thinks enough of you to go to bat for you and get you into spring training. But it’s still a tough road to hoe for the simple fact that the people in the organization realize that the players they signed within that organization are going to get the first chance. And it should be that way. That’s what they sign them for.
I had asked Landon what the process was with him coming back to San Angelo after the spring, and he said that you guys had agreed beforehand to draw up a contract and if he had to come back it was there. Is that something you do with a lot of guys?
Yes. I want to give them the feeling that there’s somebody there that cares what happens to them if they don’t make it. And I told him, “You’ve played two years here for me. You’ve got great friends on this ball club.” And it’s a big disappointment when you don’t make it, and I said rather than going home and sitting down and sulking about it, I wanna let you know that your team is gonna be there – if you don’t make it – to welcome you back and you’re gonna be with people who care about you. Instead of sitting around and moping about it you go back with your friends and see if you can’t have the year – well, in his case, two or three years in a row now – and no doubt about it, cause he’s got a great personality for that, to spring back.
Right, to get right back into it and start moving back forward.
I told him, you don’t want to go to another team right away. If it gets to where you come back and you feel like, “Okay, I need to go to a different league,” I’ll make it happen. When the season’s over this year I’ll go ahead and get you to a different league. You’ll still feel you have progress.
It sounds like there’s a lot of loyalty between you guys, and also a lot of open communication.
There is. First thing I tell these young guys – obviously they’ve never been in the big leagues and I’ve got a lot of years in the big leagues, managing and playing and coaching – and the first thing I say, I have a meeting, I go, “Men, I’m going to treat you like big leaguers. And I expect you to learn how to act like a big leaguer. And I’ll help you, but that’s one thing I want to achieve here, is teach you how to act like a big leaguer. And if you can do that you’ll not only enjoy your club here, they’ll enjoy you and it’ll be as good a feeling playing baseball here as it will anywhere.” And we have a tremendous clubhouse atmosphere here. We have for the six years I’ve been here, because I let them know what’s expected, and sometimes I’ll say, “Why should your teammate have to put up with you bickering and moaning sitting next to you when he’s trying to play ball?”
So they get a sense of the major leagues.
I want to treat them like it, I want them to act like it. I really care for them and I care what happens to them. Some of them will get to the point where they don’t think they’re gonna make it, and they’ll hang it up. Some of them maybe too quick. Once they make their decision, what they want to get in life, that’s their decision. It’s their life. I get pretty close to my players. When they need advice, I have no problem sitting down, and I don’t mean just – other than professional advice.