Over the last five years, several Lebanon County baseball fans have held breakfast meetings in the fall and spring with Cleveland Indians coach and Berks County resident Mike Sarbaugh. This time, due to the Covid-19 virus, the group had to go to a Plan B.
Lyle Krall, Ed Ludwig, Rich Miller, each one a player and coach for many decades, along with Mickey Santora and this reporter submitted questions that Mike answered in a phone call.
Sarbaugh, a graduate of Donegal High School, was not drafted but played six years in the minors, then became a successful minor league coach and manger before advancing to be an Indians coach the last eight seasons. Thirty-one of his 32 years have been in the Cleveland organization.
The initial question had to do with whether he was surprised that major league teams were able to get this year’s 60-game schedule completed, despite the rocky start by a couple of teams and how things changed for him personally.
“I thought it might be a challenge especially when the St. Louis and Miami situations happened and felt there could be other out breaks that might occur,” Sarbaugh said. “It could be because of what happened with them, it really opened the eyes of all the other teams and helped everyone realize they needed to be more careful.
“For me, especially on the road, I could take a walk or get takeout food so I wasn’t really confined to just the hotel but we were encouraged not to venture out too much,” continued Sarabugh. “I felt I’m not just putting myself at potential risk but other people too if I didn’t follow the rules.”
Asked if he thought star shortstop Francisco Lindor might be traded and what he thought about the chances of both leagues using the DH and starting extra innings with a runner on second base, he replied with a laugh, “I don’t know about Lindor other than this is the second off-season his name has been mentioned a lot, but I have no idea other than to say I don’t think the organization feels they have to make a move, but I’m sure they would listen if a team had an interest in him.
“I think the runner on second might have a chance, because it did add excitement to the extra innings, because the clubs did not like having 17-18 inning games that just kills the bullpen and meant teams had to make moves to get through the next 10-12 days,” Sarbaugh continued. “At first, it was challenging because these things were new to the National League. Since I’ve always been with a club that used the DH, I don’t know how those teams feel about it, but the DH has certainly changed the game, so I feel that also has a chance of happening.”
Despite not having any input into the drafting of players, he did give his thoughts on what this virtually lost season meant to high school and college players.
“The draft affects guys at every level this year with only five rounds and also affects this year and next year’s high school players,” Sarbaugh said. “It causes a backup, because some kids won’t get an opportunity that was there before.”
A situation that really affected Sarbaugh’s role with the club this season had to do with the health problems that caused manager Terry Francona to only be available for 14 games, in addition to losing bench and hitting coaches.
“It all started early when our bench coach Brad Mills decided to opt out for personal reasons then Terry started with his health problems and the hitting coach opted out so that meant we had new hitting, first and third base coaches, a new manager in Sandy Alomar and me as the bench coach and despite all of those changes I felt everyone did a good job,” Sarbaugh said. “I felt honored that I was asked to be on the bench with Sandy and do what we felt Terry would have wanted. He was only there for a few games and we had a 28-18 record that got us into the first round.”
“As far as I know, Terry will be back, but that all depends on his health improving during the off season,” added Sarbaugh. “Our lifestyle is not the best for someone who has health issues, so it will be a challenge, but hopefully he can come back for a full season.”
Asked if he watches the playoffs or World Series when his season ends, Sarbaugh chuckled and said, “Some years I watch and some I can’t because I have a little bitter taste, after we got knocked out and felt we should’ve still been playing. This year I’ve watched a little bit of most of the games.”
The final question had to do with considering all the minor league success, winning several personal awards and league championships, does he foresee himself as a possible candidate for a major league manager position.
“If the opportunity would arise and it would be a good fit for me I’d consider it but I can’t control those things and I really enjoy what I’m doing,” Sarbaugh said with a slight hesitation. “The changes that were made this year I liked, but it is really just a year-to-year thing for me.”