He has been a minor league coach and manager for the Orioles organization and his tenure spans 20 years. It’s a labor of love for Baltimore native Gary Kendall, whose first O’s managing assignment was at Rookie-level Bluefield in 2004.
Kendall, now manager of the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, had a big hand in sending many players on to Baltimore. The list includes Trey Mancini, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, John Means, Mychal Givens, Hunter Harvey, Chance Sisco, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander and DJ Stewart. And this is just a small list of mostly current Orioles.
In 2013, he managed Surprise to the Arizona Fall League championship and he said, “The Orioles made a statement that day.” Two years later he managed Double-A Bowie to its only Eastern League championship.
Yesterday I recorded a video interview with Kendall that you can watch at the end of this blog entry.
“I’ve been very fortunate for the last 20 years,” he said. “The organization has been very good to me. There is a lot of passion for the ballclub and remembering growing up as a kid watching the Orioles. Remembering the great years from the late ’60s to the ’70s and ’80s and the dominance that the club had and the way they developed players.
“I was very fortunate to wind up coaching with a lot of the former greats when I was a kid. The (Scott) McGregors, even Tippy Martinez back when I was at Towson as an assistant. Moe Drabowsky, Andy Etchebarren and the list goes on. Just to be around those guys and the stories and how they looked over their careers as Orioles. They never wanted to leave. It wasn’t all about money. It was about camaraderie and being a team.”
I asked Kendall to recall how the Orioles promoted Machado from his Double-A Bowie club straight to the majors in August 2012. They also moved him from shortstop to third base, through a clandestine crash course that would take place hours before batting practice.
“I remember the call from Buck (Showalter, then O’s manager), and Bobby Dickerson was on that call, our infield guy, with Brian Graham, our farm director,” Kendall recalled. “There was a lot of involvement from those two and a lot of work from Bobby Dickerson. The call was made and they wanted to keep it hush-hush.
“To keep it on the down low, we might bring Manny to the ballpark at 12 in the afternoon, and some other players had to come too. Buck Britton, now one of our managers, was a player then and came over along with Jonathan (Schoop) and we did some drills.
“I never had any doubt (Machado) could play third at the big league level. One thing that did surprise me was that arm that he never showed at short, that he showed at third. I knew he had an above-average arm, but at shortstop he throttled back at times and just did enough to get people out.”
Kendall remembered a big key to the Orioles making the move of sending such a young kid to the majors - at a new position - was having the vet J.J. Hardy right next to him at short.
Kendall has worked for a few general managers with the Orioles, and now he is under the guidance of Mike Elias and his front office staff.
“As far as how things have changed, he’s continued to hire and has put together a real good team,” Kendall said. “Not just with baseball (on-field) people but with analysts and research people. There are a lot of things that have been put into players’ development. And I haven’t been outside of this organization and I know analytics is a big part of what we do now. But I really believe we are second to none in providing information to help players get better.
“They just want our hard work and cooperation and us to be very open-minded to a lot of things. And it’s exciting. I have been here a long time but I feel like a rookie because I haven’t been with this group for a long time. So as they put their stamp on the ballclub, those of us new to it want to get on board and learn. It’s a growth mindset with a great energy and a great vibe. So let’s get back and play baseball.”