KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Trey Hillman is one of the few big
league managers who has never coached or played in the majors.
Will that matter?
"It all depends on what you believe is major league baseball,"
the new skipper of the Kansas City Royals said Monday, somewhat
"In my humble opinion, I've been a major league manager for the
last five years. We get after it in Japan."
After being introduced on Monday as the Royals' 15th full-time
manager, Hillman got ready to return to Japan to manage the Nippon
Ham Fighters in defense of their Japan Series championship.
A veteran of 13 years managing in the New York Yankees minor
league system, the 44-year-old Hillman built the Fighters into one
of the model franchises in the Japanese major leagues. He has
managed in Japan for the past five years.
And it's not as though he is a stranger to American baseball.
After playing college ball for Texas-Arlington, Hillman spent
several years as a second baseman in the Cleveland Indians system,
getting as high as Triple-A.
Nevertheless, for a big league manager never to have been a
player or coach in the majors is highly unusual.
"On many levels and on any given day, the quality of play [in
Japan], I believe, is as good as it is here in the United States at
the major league level," Hillman said.
His inexperience in the major leagues, he said, is not something
he views as an issue.
"I have no anxiety about that because the game of baseball is
the same all over the world. There's different styles and different
ways of playing it," he said. "Really, what matters is the
foundational relationships that you can build with your players and
putting them in the best possible position to be successful."
With his wife, Marie, sitting on his left and his father and two
sisters in the front row before him, Hillman declared this one of
the best days of his life. He will replace Buddy Bell, who finished
out the season after announcing in August that he would step down.
The Royals, despite signs of improving, finished last in the AL
Central for the fourth year in a row and have not been in the
postseason since winning the 1985 World Series.
"I really couldn't be any happier today," Hillman said. "I'm
a hungry guy. I do not like to lose. I like to start from the
ground up and build in such a way where it's going to be maintained
for many years to come. I'm a long-haul guy, too. I'm a loyal guy.
I'm bleeding Royal blue already. I'm thrilled to be here. It's a
wonderful day in my life."
The Royals' announcement that Hillman had been hired came one
day after Joe Torre declined a one-year offer to continue managing
the Yankees, and Hillman said he already had accepted
Kansas City's offer by then.
Might the Royals' new manager have been a candidate in New York?
He was, after all, manager of the year at three levels during his
time in the Yankees organization?
"Well, if you read the press, you would think so," said
Hillman, who has maintained a close relationship with Yankees
general manager Brian Cashman.
"I think that there was a good chance of that simply because of
my relationship with Brian Cashman. I understand I don't have a
very good bubble gum card. And I understand the needs in that
market of having a good bubble gum card. But if anybody has the
gumption and the guts to make Trey Hillman a candidate in that
market, it would be Brian Cashman. Brian and I have been friends
for 17 years.
"I'll have to default to Brian. He's really the only one who
would know whether I would have been a serious candidate."