Prior to the 2022 season, a surprise Dodgers coach found himself elevated to the top of a big-league managerial search, only for things to eventually settle elsewhere.
But this time, the momentum is pulsing in first base coach Clayton McCullough’s direction as the Kansas City Royals attempt to narrow the field and balance experience with exuberance.
McCullough, a 42-year-old ex-professional ballplayer who managed in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system for eight years prior to winding up in the Dodgers’ organization, was nearly the choice of the New York Mets one year ago, an organization famously attempting to emulate LA’s braintrust and create an East Coast version of what Andrew Friedman built.
Ultimately, the Mets opted to drive 100 miles in the other direction, hiring Buck Showalter to provide a calming, veteran presence in the dugout, and enjoying the 101 wins and early playoff exit that followed.
Now, McCullough is reportedly getting a second chance elsewhere, and has emerged among the finalists for the vacant Kansas City Royals job. If there’s a franchise that could use an infusion of new-school attitude in the dugout, it’s the young and talented Royals, led improperly by pitching coach Cal Eldred and manager Mike Matheny.
Dodgers’ first base coach Clayton McCullough among Royals managerial finalists
The only other current MLB opening is the Chicago White Sox (a farther-along club that also requires a new voice); the Miami Marlins hired former Dodger Skip Schumaker this week, following the Texas Rangers’ surprise appointment of the legendary Bruce Bochy to their top position.
Clearly, there is not a universal mandate across the league, even after what feels like a decade of the average managerial age dropping precipitously.
Rob Thomson’s rise in Philadelphia can also serve as a prominent reminder that sometimes, coaches who’ve been brushed to the side can provide the right insight. “First base coach” doesn’t scream “manager-ready,” but Thomson ignited the Phillies immediately after being overlooked for decades.
Managerial acumen can come from anywhere. Clearly, the Royals believe in McCullough, whose momentum began last winter.
Par for the course for the most successful franchise in MLB, right?
Everyone wants to talk to Dodgers, Astros, and Rays, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.