To replace baseball’s longest-tenured manager, the Cleveland Guardians are turning to a 39-year-old novice a year removed from his playing career. The team announced on Monday afternoon that they had hired journeyman catcher Stephen Vogt as their next skipper, taking over for the recently retired Terry Francona.
It’s hard to imagine a starker change of direction. The 64-year-old Francona retired last month as the Guardians’ all-time wins leader, an elder statesman in the game with two World Series rings, three pennants and a wealth of experience with both in-game strategy and the nuances of leading a clubhouse through a long season. Vogt, by contrast, homered in his final MLB at-bat less than 400 days ago, with his only coaching experience coming this past season as the bullpen and quality control coach for the Seattle Mariners.
What Vogt lacks in seasoning, however, he more than makes up for in presence. He was a beloved teammate and clubhouse leader just about everywhere he went in his 10-year MLB career, but especially in Oakland, where he made two All-Star teams with the A’s — while turning “I believe in Stephen Vogt” into a rallying cry around the Coliseum. He was a former 12th-round pick out of Azusa Pacific University, a consummate journeyman who toiled through every level of the game before carving out a career for himself. He knows what the grind is like, in other words, and Cleveland appears to be counting his ability to connect with its relatively young team while embracing new-school analytics.
“Stephen earned a reputation as one of the best teammates in the game across his 16-year career as a player, and we’ve greatly enjoyed the opportunity to get to know him over the past several weeks,” Chris Antonetti, the Guardians’ president of baseball operations, said in a statement. “Stephen has thought critically about the type of leader and manager he wants to be. His deep care for others, his ability to build meaningful relationships with those around him, and his open-mindedness and curiosity make him an ideal fit to lead our club moving forward. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Stephen.”
Former Brewers skipper Craig Counsell was thought to be the other main candidate for Cleveland’s managerial vacancy. The hiring of Vogt, however, takes the Guardians off the board, leaving five current openings — most notably the Mets, who’ve been linked with Counsell every since the hiring of new president of baseball operations David Stearns.