Former major league catcher Michael Barrett, who started his career with the Expos, is now back in the organization. He’s beginning his new venture as manager for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast Nationals.
The Atlanta native said he had thought about managing during his playing career and has kept close to the game. Recently, he has coached amateur baseball, ran a baseball school and was a volunteer assistant baseball coach at the University of North Georgia.
“I always played around with the idea,” Barrett said. “What it would be like to manage after I was done playing? I don’t think it really hit me until the last couple of years, watching some of the guys I competed against, like (Cardinals manager) Mike Matheny. It made that dream, that idea, a little more tangible.”
While playing in the majors, he would bounce the idea off of coaches and managers he trusted and he got some interesting responses.
“Every manager I talked to during my playing career, that conversation always came up,” Barrett said. “I had one manager tell me I needed to concentrate on playing, that you have to focus on the task at hand. I had other managers call me into the office and just talk about the game and knowing that that would be something in my future. I would pick their brains and I would learn as much as I could over the years. I had some great managers, several Hall of Fame managers. So I was blessed with that opportunity.”
The 37-year-old Barrett played for the Expos, Padres, Cubs and Blue Jays over 12 seasons. When his career ended, he opted to go back to school and pursue his degree, a stipulation written into his first contract.
“I decided to activate my scholarship plan with the Montreal Expos,” Barrett said. “I have been on that plan now for two years with the Washington Nationals, getting my college education. It only seems natural that I lean in the Nationals’ direction. I reached out to the Nationals first. I wasn’t expecting anything right away. Within 24 hours, I was on the phone with (assistant general manager and vice president for player development) Doug Harris. Then Doug and I were hammering out the details of the job.”
The Nationals organization felt right, not only in those conversations with Harris and assistant director of minor league operations Ryan Thomas, but also because he knew a lot of the coaches who he played alongside during his pro career.
Barrett also had good communications with director of player development Mark Scialabba and co-field coordinator Tony Beasley to help him in acclimating back into the organization.
Dominican Summer League manager Sandy Martinez was his back-up catcher. Barrett was third base coach Bobby Henley’s backup catcher. Bench coach Randy Knorr was his backup catcher.
“It sounded like a really good fit and really good situation,” Barrett noted. “Both Doug and Bobby had really good things to say about the organization. They said everything I wanted to hear. To know that Bobby is there and a lot of the same core beliefs still exist even though it is another name was pretty exciting to me.
“We have all caught together on the same team at some point. That consistency is there and I love that. That is what I want right now. What I want right now is what the Nationals provide. They provide consistency in terms of leadership. They provide a lot of the things that I am looking for as a first-year guy getting into the management role.
“I am very grateful that I gave the opportunity to manage in professional baseball. There is no question. To have the opportunity to be in an organization with those guys again is a lot of fun for me. That is kind of the icing on the cake is being around those kind of guys.”
Barrett remembers coming up with the Expos and having the organization named minor league operation of the year by Baseball America. He feels the organization has returned to that level again and is excited to be able to take over the Gulf Coast Nationals, who won their league title last season with a 52-9 record.
Barrett was a catcher for most of his career, and says that could help him as he begins his managerial career.
“I would say, in my case, I might have the upper hand,” he said. “I played third base and I have played first base. I even played a couple games at shortstop in the big leagues. It kind of depends on the individual and how their approach is to the game.
“But at the same time, there is a preparation a catcher must do on a daily basis that is pretty unmatched: Going over scouting reports, going over how you are going to pitch to hitters. There is a lot that goes on in preparing for a baseball game as a catcher and a pitcher that is hard to top anywhere else on the field. As a catcher, it is your job to help execute the plan.
“So I think as a manager, on a bigger scale, it is the same role and the same responsibility in executing the plan. But by the same token, I still feel like I have a lot to learn. Catching may give me a leg up on many aspects of the game. I feel like I am a student of the game and I have a lot to learn.”
As a player, Barrett hit .263 with 98 homers and 424 RBIs.
Inevitably, Barrett is asked about his on field run-ins with Carlos Zambrano, A.J. Pierzynski and Roy Oswalt. He has an honest answer and doesn’t shy away from that part of his career.
“In 1980, when players got into a fight, then they would go back out to there positions,” Barrett said. “Now some of those rules have changed to protect baseball and I get that. We play the game a certain way and I hope to find balance in the way I manage. I know that as a player playing with the edge is one thing, but as a manager you have got to be able to maintain control of your players and more importantly, control of yourself.
“I prided myself in always playing the game hard. That is how I played even before I got into pro ball. A lot of kids today don’t understand that, they don’t understand the value of hustling. I am not talking about pro ball, I am talking about amateur baseball. I try to teach the kids to take it to the next level, being an athlete when you pitch, being an athlete when you catch.”
Barrett said he is also trying to work on the mental side of the game and admits he can learn something about that process that might have helped him as a player. Now, at least, he can teach others how to avoid those situations or how to handle them if they do occur.
“I am always from the school of (mental skills coach) Harvey Dorfman. I have a couple things that I tell the kids that I coach. No. 1, your behavior is reward. You got to have good behavior out there. Like I said, I have fallen short. But I continue to work as hard as I can to improve that.
“No. 2, there is understandable and there is unacceptable. We do things that we all have reasons for doing them. We all have excuses and everybody understands. But there is still stuff that is unacceptable. You have to work to get better as a player.
“I think depending on certain situations, ... understandable but unacceptable. There are certain things you just can’t do. As a manager, I think you have to be a little forgiving. I think that playing on the edge I will know how to manage those players who play on the edge.”
Having that edge will help Barrett in his new challenge. Being close in age to the Nationals’ rookies will also help him relate to today’s kids. His energy, knowledge and passion for the game will serve him well as he takes over the Gulf Coast Nationals.
“It kind of helps me to get back to my roots a little bit,” he said. “I don’t know any other minor league organization except for this organization.”