SURPRISE, Ariz. – Yes, all the industry chatter linking him to the Toronto Blue Jays’ managerial vacancy is trickling back to Stubby Clapp, even as he tries to avoid it, even as he locks in on managing a Surprise Saguaros team featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr., in the Arizona Fall League.
"Right now, social media is the devil because my phone is blowing up from different people asking stuff," the rising coaching prospect says with a grin.
"I haven’t heard anything from Toronto. It’s been all rumours. Honestly, I’m taking it day by day, I’m worried about these guys here and if it happens, if there’s an opportunity to get an interview or something like that, great, I’d be excited to do something like that. Right now, I’m a Cardinal, that’s my focus and that’s where my mind is, and on taking care of these guys in Arizona."
Clapp is believed to be among the candidates to have at least been considered internally by the Blue Jays, who are advancing in their search process, and with good reason.
A Canadian baseball folk hero ever since a bases-loaded single in the 11th inning beat the United States at the 1999 Pan American Games and propelled the national team to a surprise bronze, the 45-year-old was recently named Pacific Coast League manager of the year and has led triple-A Memphis in the St. Louis Cardinals system to consecutive titles.
Prior to that Clapp spent four years as a hitting coach in the Blue Jays farm system – 2013 and ’14 at single-A Dunedin and ’15 and ’16 at double-A New Hampshire – after five years of coaching in the Houston Astros system, two of them as manager at single-A Tri-City.
All that followed nine years of minor-league ball in the St. Louis, Atlanta and Toronto systems, two years of independent ball in Edmonton, 23 big-league games with the Cardinals in 2001, and appearances at the Pan Am Games, Olympics and World Baseball Classic with Canada.
Along the way, those varied experiences allowed Clapp to craft his own style at the helm centred around "patience and character management."
"The in-game stuff, that comes with the territory, you’ve done it so much as a player that eventually when you start looking at it the right way it translates into what to do as the manager, or how to direct the players," says Clapp. "I like letting the guys play. I don’t like to micromanage every move they make, I like to see their creativity and let them be themselves on the field.
"That was always the way Ernie Whitt managed us (on the Canadian national team). He let us play and he let us explore ideas and explore different things we could possibly do in the game to create runs, stop runs and stuff like that. In that aspect, I encourage the players to play and show why they’re here and show their talents."
The approach has worked, which is why he’s generating industry buzz as a potential big-league manager, a somewhat unexpected turn for someone who "thought I was going to play forever" and only stopped "when I stopped getting offered contracts."
Although Clapp came out of retirement while serving as hitting coach at single-A Lexington to play for Canada at the 2008 Olympics, his final season was with Edmonton of the independent Northern League in 2006. He hoped a good season would catapult him back into affiliated ball, but that didn’t happen.
"To me that was the writing on the wall that it was time to turn the page," Clapp says. "I honestly I didn’t know I was going to get into coaching. I thought I was going to go home, be a family guy and work a 9-5. I did that for about three months and it didn’t appeal to me, so I talked to my wife and I asked her permission to go explore coaching."
The father of three got the green light from his wife Chastity, starting him on a path that’s carried him to a third stint in the AFL – his participated previously as a player and hitting coach – and into consideration for the Blue Jays.
Does he feel ready to make the jump if given a chance?
"There’s really no numbers to really back you, there’s nothing that says if you coach to X amount of winning percentage, you deserve to be in the big-leagues as a coach. So I don’t look at it like that," he says. "I just know that if I come to work every day and put my best foot forward and think about serving these guys to help make them better and get them to the big-leagues, hopefully something good will happen."