Ex-Posse manager on Rickey being Rickey

January 19, 2009 

Some in the Mid-Columbia remember the Tri-City Posse. Fewer may remember the Western Baseball League team's first manager was Tom Trebelhorn.

Trebelhorn managed the Milwaukee Brewers from 1986-1991 and then Chicago Cubs for one season -- 1994. He was hired by the Posse for its inaugural 1995 campaign.

Herald sports editor Jeff Morrow cherished his time covering Trebelhorn, just as I enjoyed reporting on the Tri-City Americans during the Bob McCammon era. Both Trebelhorn and McCammon had reached the top level of their profession and didn't mind sharing some of their wisdom, insight and hilarious stories with a couple of young sports writers in a small market.

After listening to Trebelhorn being interviewed on Sirius/XM satellite radio last week, I understand why Morrow appreciated "Treb." No doubt, Northwest League beat writers welcome their games with Salem-Keizer because Trebelhorn manages the Volcanoes for the San Francisco Giants.

Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Sims and ex-MLB manager Kevin Kennedy interviewed Trebelhorn for XM, and one of the beauties of satellite radio is the ability to record segments or songs in their entirety.

So here are some of transcripts/excerpts of the interview, which was prompted by Rickey Henderson's election into baseball's Hall of Fame. Henderson's manager for his first two seasons in pro ball was Trebelhorn.

Tri-City baseball fans have their own memories of Henderson. He spent a few days of the 2001 season playing in the Tri-Cities as member of the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League.

"Right now I'm sitting in Seal Rock, Ore., at my beach house," Trebelhorn told Kennedy and Sims. "I'm really fortunate. I've got a job with the Giants. I live in Scottsdale (Ariz.) most of the year and we train there. So I go to spring training, and then I run the extended spring training with the kids that don't make the teams at the end of March.

"Then, I take a few of those players, plus the drafts, up here to Salem-Keizer and in the Northwest League, and we play 76 games up here. When the games get over early, I go over the mountain to the beach house, so I've got it made. I've got a great gig," he said with chuckle.

Kennedy replied, "Tom, you've earned that."

Later, Kennedy noted that Henderson thanked Trebelhorn in 1991 during the infamous speech after breaking Lou Brock's career record for stolen bases. Trebelhorn's relationship with Henderson began in 1976 in Boise after the Oakland A's drafted him in the fourth round, 96th overall, out of Oakland Tech High School.

"Gee whiz, he came in looking like an NFL tailback at 17 years of age and had a tremendous idea of the strike zone, right from Day One -- probably the best I ever had," Trebelhorn said, noting that he managed greats Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Mark Grace.

"(Henderson) had a more exaggerated crouch than he did later on," he said. "He had a strike zone that I think was about 18 inches from top to bottom."

Regarding Henderson's well-documented confidence, Trebelhorn said, "He was 'school to cool' from Day One and could handle it. That's the key thing. I always say I never tried to take style out of a player as long as they could handle that style, and the style isn't counterproductive to what the team is trying to do."

In fact, Trebelhorn noted, "People would always ask, 'Was he weird?' Naw, he was as nice as kid as you could have and he wanted to work. ... He was an absolute delight."

He later said, "(Henderson) would be (a Hall of Famer) without me. What I did was I let him play. He was a good kid, and he was no problem as far as taking care of himself. He had an arrogance, which really ticked off the other side."

The Northwest League was much different then, Trebelhorn said.

"He was 17 years old in a tough league because at that time, the Northwest League was really open," he said. "Portland had Jim Bouton and ex-major leaguers playing there. And Triple-A guys and Double-A guys played there. It was really a pretty tough league."

Henderson hit .336 for Boise. He played in 46 games, stole 29 bases and was never caught stealing.

"Next year, he went to Modesto and did even better," Trebelhorn said, who managed Henderson again in 1977.

Indeed, he batted .345 with a .466 on-base percentage in the California League. What is amazing is that Henderson stole 95 bases and was caught ZERO times. (That's seems illogical, and I'm not sure if the lower minor leagues recorded "caught stealing" as a stat. Perhaps someone can confirm that).

"We let him run," Trebelhorn said. "We said, 'Hey, don't be afraid.' To be a good base runner, you have to be fearless. He was the best base stealer and most in-your-face base runner I ever had."

Trebelhorn noted that he and his staff helped Henderson make up for a mediocre throwing arm. And Trebelhorn shared some coaching insight with the XM audience.

"We told him, 'Listen, get to the ball as quick as you can. Utilize your speed to get to the ball and then field it cleanly and come up looking like you've got the best damn arm in baseball," Trebelhorn said. "You'll have third base coaches that will stop guys because you LOOK like you can throw. Get to the ball quick and force them to make a decision. Don't lay back, because if you lay back, they are going to (have time to) remember, 'Hey, we can run on this guy.' "

Trebelhorn recalled a game in 1977 when his Modesto club went 15-for-15 in stolen base attempts. Henderson stole seven of them to match the minor-league record.

At that point of the interview, Trebelhorn shared a vintage "Rickey" story, which the manager said is a favorite of famed author/politico George Will.

"We're in Boise, and I said, ‘Rickey, you're on your own to run. You're fast. I want you to be aggressive. I want you to be fearless. I want you to be really confident in what you are doing.' "

" 'OK, OK, OK,’ Rickey said to me,” Trebelhorn added.

"So he's not running,” Trebelhorn continued. “Finally I said, 'Rick, why aren't you running? And he said, 'Well, you know I really need the sign to go.' “

At this point, Kennedy begins to chuckle in the background.

"All right, I'll give you the sign,'" Trebelhorn said.

"So he gets on first base and I go through the whole signs," Trebelhorn said. "At the end, I take all the signs off -- and he steals second.

"So I said (to Henderson), 'All right. Watch. Look at me," Trebelhorn said. "I give him the same signs again, and I give him the 'take off' sign. I take EVERYTHING off. Nothing is on. He steals third."

Kennedy chuckles some more.

"I said, 'Rick, god dang it. Back to back pitches this is what I want you to do on your own, but I didn't give you the 'steal' sign," Trebelhorn said. "You don't even know the signs."

"And (Henderson) said, 'Man, man, Treb, man. I know the signs. Rickey knows the signs. Rickey knows the signs."

"So I said, 'Well, what's the sign then?' " Trebelhorn said.

Henderson then tells Trebelhorn, "Man, it's the 'take off' sign. So I 'took off' to second, and I 'took off' to third!"

The punch line brought hearty laughter from Kennedy and applause in the studio from Sims.

"There are more (Henderson stories) than that," Trebelhorn said.

Sadly, Sims and Kennedy were right up against the top of the hour.

Editor's note to XM/Sirius: Why the $@#& did you cancel Charley Steiner's "Baseball Beat" program? I agree that XM seems to be on a swift and sudden decline since its merger with Sirius. Just read the comments on the above link to Tyler Kepner's blog posting on the New York Times.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service