Ex-MLB Catcher Laird Learning On Job As Connecticut Tigers Manager

During his 13 seasons as a major league catcher, Gerald Laird played for some of the best managers in the game, among them Jim Leyland, Tony La Russa, Ron Washington and Buck Showalter.

He paid close attention to the way his managers ran their teams, so much so he began to envision himself running his own team someday.

"I'd say managing was something I wanted to do for a long time, even early on in my career," Laird said. "I played for some really good managers. Seeing how they went about their business and how they took charge of the team, how they ran it, the leadership qualities they showed; that was something I always idolized as a player. I thought I could be good at it."

So when his major league career ended with Arizona in 2015, and after a short stay in the Mexican League in 2016, Laird began to actively pursue his first managerial job. And it was the Detroit Tigers who offered him his start.

Last week, Laird began his managerial career with the New York-Penn League's Class A Connecticut Tigers.

"I stopped playing in 2015, and I know some guys like me take different routes. They become instructors as opposed to pursuing managerial jobs," Laird said. "I just reached out. I had an interview with the Diamondbacks, but it was right about the time they were making changes in the front office and weren't sure what direction they would be headed.

"Then Detroit called and offered me this position, and I jumped at the opportunity. I couldn't pass it up. It was too good to be true."

Once given the job, Laird took advantage of being in spring training with the Tigers this spring to ask questions and seek advice from Leyland, Lloyd McClendon and Gene Lamont on the Tigers staff. Laird played three seasons with the Tigers (2009-2010, 2012).

Laird said he has always been most impressed by Leyland.

"Jim has more of the kind of personality that I feel relates to myself. He's outgoing, easy to talk to. … Jim was fun to be around," Laird said. "He knew how to keep his players loose. He had great timing. He had all the attributes you need to be a great manager.

"So I talked to Jim a lot and Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon about situations in the game and how they might handle it. I tried to pick their brains for as much as I could. I was around those guys a lot during the time I played for the Tigers, and we became good friends. They were in my corner to help me."

Leyland, who returned to managing this season with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, said the Tigers are already impressed with Laird.

"I know they're very happy with him," Leyland told the Detroit Free Press regarding a conversation he'd had with Dave Littlefield, the Tigers' vice president of player development. "Laird's trying to learn. He doesn't have all the answers. That's part of it. You're still learning. I still learn. He's asking the right questions. He's a good people person, and that's very important when you manage."

As a minor league manager, one of the tasks facing Laird is coaching third base, and he admitted that was making him somewhat nervous.

"I asked where I should stand when players were on base so that the runners can see you. There's a lot more to it than people realize," Laird said. "It's hard to be a good third base coach. It's a tough job. There are so many little things that go with the job. It's nice to have guys you can ask that have done it in the big leagues."

Laird played for a world champion in St. Louis and appeared in another World Series with the Tigers.

"I've been where they are, and I understand they will make mistakes," Laird said. "If you play hard and play the game the right way, they won't hear much from me. I'm not here to yell at anyone. I want to keep it easy on them, not applying more pressure than there already might be. They are young, and I want them to have fun and learn the game.

"I will tell them that [playing in the major leagues is] possible. You will have a chance. The guys who will survive are those who can make adjustments and learn the mental side of the game. I wasn't the best hitter in the league, a career .246 hitter, but I studied the game and my position. I knew how to call games. If you play the game right, the game will reward you."

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