The majority of his players shuffled out of town last season to spend spells with the New York Yankees.
So why shouldn’t Dave Miley?
The RailRiders manager was nowhere to be found for most of Triple-A spring training, spending most of the spring instead just up the road helping the parent Yankees in big league camp.
“Me and the whole (RailRiders coaching) staff were over there,” said Miley, who joined the Triple-A team early last week when the bulk of his RailRiders lineup began coming down from major league camp. “We do that every year. We just stayed a little longer this year.”
It seems longevity has been a major key to Miley’s success, not to mention his uncanny adaptability.
Now entering his eighth season as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s manager and ninth at the helm of the Yankees top minor league affiliate, Miley has navigated his teams through some rough waters.
He’s guided Scranton/Wilkes-Barre through an entire season on the road, kept patching up holes during years when his whole opening-day lineup comes and goes, persevered through personal tragedy and has marvelously meshed high-profile prospects with major league veterans maneuvering to get another crack at the big leagues.
That is how you get to be the best.
With nine more victories, Miley will pass Marc Bombard on Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s all-time list for managerial victories. And on June 7, before his RailRiders host Toledo at PNC Field, Miley will be enshrined in the International League Hall of Fame.
“It’s a great honor,” said Miley, who is awed by an achievement he never targeted or expected. “It’s great to go in, not only as a Yankee, but as a RailRider.”
It didn’t come by accident.
Miley has accumulated 1,311 career victories while managing Triple-A teams in Indianapolis, Louisville, Columbus and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre during the past 14 seasons. His career record through seven seasons with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is 565-436, and he’s closing in on his close friend Bombard, who guided old Red Barons to a 574-502 mark over eight seasons.
Miley led Louisville to that franchise’s only Governors’ Cup crown in 2001 and guided Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to it’s only Governors’ Cup championship in 2008, and last season was selected to manage in the Triple-A All-Star game for a record-tying third time.
“He wouldn’t be there without the wins,” said Mark Newman, the Yankees vice-president of baseball operations who runs their minor league system. “But there’s a reason he has ’em. He’s really good at a very difficult job.”
Indeed, Miley has managed just three losing seasons during his 14 years in Triple-A.
But it’s much more than winning and losing that’s made him a Hall of Fame manager at that level.
“Managing a team at Triple-A, with players coming and going, is not easy,” Newman said. “He responds to major league injuries and his own team’s injuries. When someone gets hurt in the big leagues, it affects his team because he loses a player. He has players passing through all the time. The traffic in and out of the clubhouse is constant. He’s dealing with players from a variety of organizations.
“It’s a really challenging job and he’s done it extremely well. He’s very good at getting players on the same page. And he’s very good at managing the game. I have huge respect, huge admiration for Dave.”
Make no mistake, the biggest motivation for Miley is developing minor league players into major-league hopefuls.
“That’s our first goal,” Miley said.
That’s not always as easy as it may appear.
Sometimes, his guys get disgruntled while being passed over for a promotion to New York. Others become impatient during their quest for a first crack at the big leagues.
Miley, who managed the Cincinnati Reds to a 125-164 record from 2003 into 2005, seems to have a knack for focusing them all on improving their skills.
Even during times of tremendous distraction.
During the 2008 season, Miley’s 17-year-old son Cody was killed in a car crash. After missing a week to mourn one of life’s greatest losses, Miley returned to lead Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to the Governors’ Cup title that year.
The manager also needed to show resolve to lead his team through the 2012 season. His Scranton/Wilkes-Barre team spent that whole year on the road while its home of PNC Field was being remodeled. Miley guided the club to the International League North Division title in its last year of being known as the Triple-A Yankees that summer, while earning his second IL Manager of the Year award.
But his most difficult season may have come last year.
The debut season of the RailRiders shuffled a record 74 players through their clubhouse — 37 position players and 37 pitchers — including rehab stints by New York Yankees Derek Jeter (twice), Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and reliever Joba Chamberlin.
With all that movement, the RailRiders couldn’t seem to find much stability and finished 66-76, fifth in the IL North for Miley’s third career losing season at the Triple-A level.
“It was one of those years,” Miley sighed. “That’s the way it went down. The way I’m pretty sure most Triple-A teams work, we have some turnover compared to some big-league teams. You manage to the strength of your club. Is it speed? Power?”
This season, he’s hoping to have a little of both with the RailRiders.
Hometown hero Russ Canzler from Hazleton and former big league starting infielder Scott Sizemore, returning from a twice-torn ACL that cost him most of the last two seasons, should provide some pop. They’ll be in a lineup rejuvenated by prospects Jose Pirela, Zoilo Almonte, Corban Joseph, Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy.
And Miley is as anxious as ever to help them all put together a promising season in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre that could shape the rest of their careers.
“Oh, no question,” Miley said. “I love the city, love the stadium, love the place. I’m looking forward to it again. You look at some of the names we should have, they’ve got track records to be good offensive players, guys we have seen in this league. We expect to compete. That’s what we always expect. Hopefully everybody in the organization stays healthy.
“And you don’t go through another year like last year.”