In his first year as a Triple-A manager, Stubby Clapp has led the Memphis Redbirds to the longest winning streak in franchise history (11 games), the most single-season wins in franchise history (83 through Sunday), and a division title clinched with more than 20 games to play in the regular season. (The Redbirds will likely host Colorado Springs in the opening round of the Pacific Coast League playoffs, with Game 1 of their series scheduled for September 6th at AutoZone Park.)
Have you taken any time to celebrate (or at least contemplate) what this team has already accomplished?
We celebrated the night we clinched the division, then back to work. The work’s not done. Everybody knows the kind of season it’s been, but we don’t talk about it. You can feel it in the atmosphere. But we don’t talk about numbers; we just go out the next day and play. That’s the easiest way and humblest way to do it.
Your club is 10-0 in extra-inning games and either won or split 27 consecutive series. These are major violations of the law of averages. How do you explain such numbers?
They don’t quit. Don’t have “quit” in their vocabulary. We don’t have one superhero. We have a team full of very capable, highly talented athletes who try to play 27 outs every night . . . and some (in extra innings). I’m not a big numbers guy. I’ve never looked at how it all stacks up until the season’s over.
Has there been a game or moment that, in your eyes, represents what this team has become?
Every extra-inning game. Every game they’ve won by one run, or come back late in the game. It’s not just once. First game of the season: 13 innings. We won. That was the first time I’d ever managed a National League-style game, learning how to double-switch. We got through it and the players pulled it off.
A few significant members of your team — Paul DeJong, Luke Voit, and Carson Kelly to name three — are now playing with the St. Louis Cardinals. If anything, your club’s record has improved. Again, how do you explain?
We’ve kept all 25 guys involved. Every day. Somehow, some way, all 25 guys are involved. I don’t like to let position players sit more than two days. All of our players have big-league value, so it wouldn’t be fair to let them sit three or four days, then ask them to be ready when someone gets called up. I’ve tried to keep everyone hot and involved. So they’ve been ready to play. I can’t take credit, because I read it in one of my books: include everybody. There have been several things that have happened to me in life that have made me think about including everybody. When you make the extra effort to do that, it’s usually a positive response. You get a good clubhouse atmosphere and the by-product is [winning] results.
Are there unsung heroes in the clubhouse, players fans might not realize have played a critical role in the team’s success?
Nick Martini, Wilfredo Tovar, and Alberto Rosario. Rosey was our backup catcher. He accepted his role, and he was great at what he did. When Carson [Kelly] was gone, he stepped right in and helped us get quality starts [from our pitchers]. Same with Tovar. When DeJong got called up, I didn’t think twice about what I was going to do [at shortstop]. Martini came up from Double-A and was ready to play.
How would you compare the gratification of an 83-45 record with telling players like DeJong and Voit they’re going to the big leagues for the first time?
I can’t take one from the other, because they’re two different things. When you tell a DeJong or Voit they’re going up for the first time, that’s an individual thing. But when I look at our record, that’s the clubhouse. Our team.
It’s rewarding to send someone to the big leagues, both for [the player] and for me. I get to see that the work they’ve put in is rewarded. Looking at the record, I get to see the rewards of the team paying attention, getting it put together, and doing it from 7:00 to 10:00 every night.
Do you see any similarities between the 2017 Redbirds and the 2000 club you helped win a PCL championship?
The chemistry. When guys are pulling for each other. All in for the right reasons, everyone involved. Players are doing the right thing for each other, and not just themselves.