As MLB teams begin filling available managerial openings, former SF Giants hitting and bench coach Hensley Meulens continues to be unfairly passed over.
In the opening days of the offseason, teams around Major League Baseball have begun filling out their coaching staffs. With job openings quickly disappearing and former Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora a leading candidate for those remaining, it’s looking more and more likely that former SF Giants coach Hensley Meulens will be passed over once again.
Meulens, nicknamed “Bam Bam,” began his coaching career in 2003 and has worked at nearly every professional baseball level as a hitting coach, bench coach, or manager. It remains one of the most obvious indictments of MLB’s hiring practices that Meulens has still not received a managerial opportunity at the game’s highest level. As the league continues hiring disproportionately white managers and executives, implicit bias and racism clearly have played a role in impeding the Afro-Latino native of Curacao from receiving an opportunity he has earned.
The two most recent managerial hires, A.J. Hinch and Tony La Russa are worthy of criticism. Hinch was fired by the Astros and suspended for the 2020 season due to his association with the team’s sign-stealing scandal. La Russa, who hasn’t managed since 2012, has a history of criticizing Black players for pointing out any problems in baseball culture and seems clearly like the wrong person for the job.
Both have previously managed World Series champion teams. While I could sit here and argue for days about why Meulens would be a better manager for either the Tigers or White Sox than Hinch and La Russa, the fact is they have strong records as big-league managers, and he doesn’t. That’s the problem though, Meulens has never gotten the opportunity.
Rather than looking at Hinch and La Russa’s hirings this year, let’s go back to when their coaching careers began. Hinch, who’s playing days lasted until 2004, was hired as the Diamondbacks manager of minor-league operations in 2005. By August of the following year, he was Arizona’s director of player development, one of the most prestigious jobs in an MLB front office.
Less than four years later, Hinch was hired as the D’backs manager. He was 34-years old. He had never coached or managed at any professional level and his lack of experience showed. He was fired before the end of his second season.
Obviously, he would receive another opportunity with the Astros. While the team clearly found success on the field, it’s hard to consider Hinch’s tenure a success given how it ended. Now, at the age of 46, Hinch is receiving his third chance to manage a big-league club before Meulens, 53, receives his first.
La Russa’s managerial beginnings are almost identical to Hinch’s. After ending his playing career following the 1977 season, La Russa received his first managerial opportunity with the Chicago White Sox Double-A affiliate in 1978. By the end of that season, he had been promoted to the MLB staff. By the end of 1979, he had become the White Sox full-time manager. At the time of his hiring, he was the youngest manager in MLB. He was 34-years old.
In Chicago, La Russa found much quicker success than Hinch, but wouldn’t ultimately win a championship until he received his second manager job with the Oakland Athletics. He would eventually be a part of three World Series champions between his tenure in Oakland and later with the St. Louis Cardinals. That success hasn’t come without scandal though, he would become known as one of the biggest steroid enablers of the era.
Meulens was the hitting coach for the SF Giants during their three World Series championship runs under manager Bruce Bochy. He was promoted to bench coach over Bochy’s final two seasons in the organization. In 2020, after Bochy retired, he served as the bench coach for the Mets under Luis Rojas.
As a player, Meulens experienced the pressure of being a top prospect with the New York Yankees in the late eighties, while also dealing with the journeyman realities for most fringe major leaguers, having bounced between the minors, majors, Korea, and Japan throughout the nineties. Fluent in five languages, perhaps no one is better equipped to communicate with a clubhouse full of people from around the globe.
Yet, the last time Meulens was reportedly a finalist to be an MLB manager was in 2017. The New York Yankees were looking to hire someone to help them get over the top and return to the World Series. Instead of Meulens, they hired Aaron Boone. Boone was 44 years old, had never coached at any level of professional baseball, and white. At the time of the hiring, many questioned why Bam Bam was not considered the best person for the job.
Three years later, Meulens has now been on an MLB staff for a decade, with years more experience as a minor-league coach. Yet, he’s barely been mentioned during this offseason coaching cycle. Instead, the Tigers and White Sox have hired retreads with longer managerial track records because they received opportunities Meulens was never afforded.
If an organization ever hires Hensley Meulens as their manager, they will be bringing in one of the most overqualified first-timers in recent league history. Yet, even if he receives an opportunity, that does not change how many he lost. The reality is most, predominantly white, managers have received their second and third chances before Meulens got his first.