Brewing winners, Mike Guerrero following his father’s lead

Class AA Biloxi Shockers manager Mike Guerrero, who was named the 2018 Southern League Manager of the Year, has been in baseball as a coach or manager for more than three decades.

Before leading the Milwaukee Brewers’ Class AA affiliate to a tremendously successful season, he matriculated up from the Dominican Summer League. He maintains that his job is about teaching youngsters how to play the game so they can someday reach their goal of being in the big leagues.

Knowing what it takes is part of his heritage as the son of renowned trailblazing Latin America scout Epifanio Obdulio “Epy” Guerrero. Getting players there is his occupation. Baseball is his life.

“I was born in baseball,” Guerrero told La Vida Baseball. “My whole family has been in baseball and baseball is our way of living.”

Like the father

“Epy” Guerrero had an eye for talent. He had some talent himself, considering he signed with the Braves in 1960 and played a couple seasons in the minors before calling it a playing career.

Soon after Epy returned home, Tony Pacheco of the Houston Astros hired him as a part-time scout in the Dominican Republic.

He turned the part-time role into a full-time job when he helped the Astros sign Cesar Cedeno in 1967. Over the 40 years that followed, Epy Guerrero worked for the Astros, Yankees, Blue Jays and Brewers. During that span he opened doors for more than 50 Dominican players to sign a professional contract, a resume full of all-stars.

In addition to Cedeno, Guerrero identified a significant number of Toronto’s great Latino players in the 1980s and 90s. He is credited with bringing Tony Fernandez, Carlos Delgado, Geronimo Berroa, Francisco Cabrera, Kelvim Escobar and Jose Mesa into the Blue Jays’ ranks.

He also urged the Jays acquire players such as Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, George Bell, Fred McGriff, Candy Maldonado, Alfredo Griffin and Juan Guzmán.

Epy Guerrero was profiled by People Magazine, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times during his career as one of the most highly regarded scouts in the Caribbean. He was also inducted into the Dominican Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

Epy had two sons, both of whom played minor league ball.

Starting out

Mike Guerrero was in the Brewers’ farm system from 1987 to 1994. Then Frank Stanley encouraged him to change career paths by offering him a manager’s position in the Dominican Summer League in 1994.

“I was released by the Brewers but had that offer in mind,” Mike Guerrero said. “I was hired for that summer only – basically for two and a half months. A couple days after the season Frank came back with an offer to coach for the Brewers in the Dominican Summer League the next year.”

Epy told his son early on that “it’s not about you. This game is not about you.”

Mike Guerrero has kept that in mind from his start in 1994. He has seen his fair share of talent along the way. He coached David Ortiz in the winter leagues, was Prince Fielder’s hitting coach in the Midwest League and coached current Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain for more than four years as he developed into a star.

All along the way, Guerrero has been mindful of the lessons he learned starting out only a few years older than the prospects he was coaching.

“Always, communication is a big factor wherever you go as a manager or a player,” he said. “A kid that comes into baseball [in the Dominican] is 16 or 17 years old. They’re really young kids with a lot of talent. … The biggest part of the job is communicating and trying to reach the guy to help him out.”

What Pressure?

Following his father into the baseball business could have been daunting for Guerrero, who coached for the Blue Jays, Astros and Brewers, which were some of the organizations for which his father scouted for decades. Nevermind the pressure of developing players with critical front offices watching the progress and development on the field, Guerrero’s name carried the weight of expectations as well.

“The game of baseball is always going to be pressure depending on how you look at it,” he said. “The game of baseball is a battle to try and win. Especially in the Dominican Republic, the way the game is played, you’re competing all the time. I don’t think because of [my last name] there was more pressure. I think you just try to do the right thing at all times and keep your goals the main thing.”

Over his 30-plus years as a coach and manager, the game itself hasn’t changed. How it is managed has evolved with the increased use of advanced analytics to inform decision making and defensive alignment.

For Guerrero, the heart of the game hasn’t changed, though.

“The numbers and computers are involved and you have to evolve with the times,” Guerrero said. “You have to keep changing with baseball. But in reality, the game of baseball is played by human beings. There are going to be mistakes. Instincts are a big part of the game. You cannot measure instincts of a player. The human factor is always going to be in the game.”

Connecting with his players and understanding the human elements of the game has made Guerrero successful. He’s been a big part of the current success enjoyed by the Brewers’ in the majors.

The Brewers are in the midst of a pennant race with a handful of players who were coached at some point in their careers by Guerrero.

Although he enjoys the personal accolades he’s received this year, Guerrero continues to come back to the advice his father gave him as a youngster.

“It’s great to be named Manager of the Year,” he said. “That’s a tribute to a bunch of guys who came together as players and a great coaching staff. That’s how a manager becomes successful.

“I’ve been doing it for a while and my passion is still growing. It’s joyful when you see guys go out there and do what you teach them and they become successful and get to the big leagues. … It’s not about you. It’s about helping kids develop. I’m the last thing to think about.”

The Southern League had plenty to think about as Guerrero taught and led the Shockers in 2018 in a way that would make his father proud.

Featured Image: Michael Krebs / Biloxi Shuckers

Inset Image: Danny Parker / Biloxi Shuckers