Durham Bulls’ tradition of success extends to the dugout

Five former Bulls will manage MLB teams in 2019

New Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo coached the Durham Bulls for eight seasons, winning two Governors’ Cups. (Frank Gunn and Nate Billings / AP Photos)

The Durham Bulls have been one of the most successful minor league franchises in history, winning 14 division titles and six Governors’ Cups in their 21 years in the International League.

When Charlie Montoyo was the manager, however, he didn’t want to hear talk of wins and losses. Visitors to his office who brought up his record — he won seven of those division titles and two cups in his eight years in Durham, departing as the winningest manager in Bulls history — were quickly shut down.

“At this level,” Montoyo would say, “it’s all about player development.”

The Bulls have done an equally impressive job on that front. When utility player Andrew Velazquez was called up to Tampa Bay and made his MLB debut late in the 2018 season, he became the 800th player to go from the Bulls to the major leagues.

This year’s American League Cy Young winner (Blake Snell, 2015-17) and the Most Improved Player in both leagues (David Price, 2008-09, and Jonny Venters, 2017-18) were all former Bulls.

Now, however, the team appears to be adding another area of expertise. In addition to twin histories of winning and producing big-league talent, the Bulls are also becoming the cradle of major league managers.

In 2019, no fewer than five of the 30 MLB managers will be former Bulls. This list includes the 2018 National League Manager of the Year, a finalist for the same award in the American League, and Montoyo, who got his long-awaited shot at running the show in the bigs.

Here’s a look at the Bulls-to-bigs skippers:

Charlie Montoyo, Toronto Blue Jays
Bulls Manager, 2007-14

The even-keeled Montoyo was a favorite of players during his time in Durham and has spent the last four seasons as a coach in Tampa Bay.

Montoyo didn’t forget where he came from. At his introductory press conference, he gave a message to minor league managers.

Pointing out that he spent 18 years in the minors, “but who’s counting,” Montoyo said, “I remember in 2003, Jim Leyland had just won the World Series. I was in the instructional leagues at the time, and he looked into the camera and said, ‘To all those guys in instructional league that are watching me right now, just keep doing your job. You never know. Dreams come true.’ So I want to tell the same thing to all those minor league guys that are grinding it out right now. Just keep doing your job and teaching those players.”

Watching from afar, the Bulls organization was full of pride for its former manager.

“I have been telling Charlie for years this day would come,” Bulls GM Mike Birling said, “and to see it a reality is special. He has meant so much to the Bulls organization and our amazing fans. Obviously, the success we had on the field was important, but Charlie’s impact transcended wins and losses. He is a part of our Bulls family and we are so proud today.”

Montoyo added former Bulls players Matt Buschmann and Shelley Duncan to his coaching staff in Toronto.

Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota Twins
Bulls player, 2002, 2006-07, 2010

The talented outfielder turned down a scholarship from Wake Forest to sign with the Rays and became a member of Durham’s first Governors’ Cup championship team. He’s spent the last eight years working for the Rays minor and major league teams in a variety of roles.

One of Baldelli’s first hires to his coaching staff was former Bulls manager Bill Evers, who (along with Montoyo) has his number retired at the DBAP. Evers was the first Triple-A skipper in Bulls history and won five divisions and two Governors’ Cups in his eight years on the job.

Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays
Bulls player, 2005-06

The former catcher is in his fourth year at the helm of the Bulls’ parent club. This season was his most successful, as he led a young Rays team to a 90-72 record. The third-place finish, behind the powerhouse Red Sox and Yankees, earned Cash a third-place finish in the American League Manager of the Year voting as well.

Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves
Bulls manager, 1983-84, 1987

A Bulls manager in the team’s Single-A days as a Braves affiliate, Snitker took over the Braves in mid-2016 as an interim before earning the full-time job. At the time, he’d spent 20 years as a minor league manager, all with the Braves organization. “Shoot,” he said. “I had five extra players the first game I managed here. I had a full bullpen. I’m used to having two relievers and maybe one guy extra on the bench.”

This year, the Braves shocked baseball by winning the NL East and earning Snitker the NL Manager of the Year Award.

Mickey Callaway, New York Mets
Bulls player, 1998-2001

The former pitcher had an up-and-down year as a rookie manager in 2018. The Mets opened the season by winning 11 of their first 12 games, then won just five games the entire month of June. Callaway’s status was in jeopardy as the losing year wound down, but he received a vote of confidence from the organization and will be back next season.

“I’ve said this from the beginning, I know I am going to get fired someday,” he told the New York papers after the season. “Until then, I am doing to do the best job I can. …Whatever you can experience in one year, I’ve experienced it. 11-1 and 5-21 the same year? Really?”

The quintet will give Bulls fans plenty of teams to track in the upcoming season and provide plenty of inspiration for the guys in uniform in Durham.

“You never know,” Montoyo said. “If a guy like me got here, it could be you, too. Don’t think ahead. Don’t think about moving up. Just think about your job at hand. Who knows, you might be a big-league manager one day.”