Easy Money

Monday, July 6, 2009 at 12:00am

As a baseball player, Don Money enjoyed a long Major League career that stretched between 1968 and 1983. But as a manager, the current Nashville Sounds skipper took an unconventional route to get where he is today.

Money, a four-time American League All-Star as an infielder with the Milwaukee Brewers for 11 of his 15 major league seasons, finished his big league career with a .261 batting average, 176 home runs and 729 RBIs.

But once he retired, Money didn’t jump right into coaching. He took some time off away from the game — 15 years away to be exact.

What did he do during his time away from baseball?

“Nothing,” he said. “I went home. My kids would have been like 12 and 13, so I went home and just got out of the game.”

Well, he didn’t exactly do “nothing.” Money still dabbled in the game, coaching baseball at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Vineland, N.J., and doubling up as a coach in a men’s league on weekends, all the while tending to family matters.

“Of course, they graduated from school, got married and had their own families, and I coached high school for five years,” Money said. “Then I said, ‘You know, this is a seven-day-a-week job. High school five days during the week and the men’s league on the weekends. My kids got out of the house, and I started to get the itch to get back in.”

Fortune smiled down on Money, now 62, because at that time there was an opening in the Brewers organization for him. A connection with former teammate Cecil Cooper, who was working in the Brewers front office, helped hook Money up with his first managing job.

“Cecil Cooper ended up getting the minor league director’s job in Milwaukee, so I called him up in probably March (1997) and I just happened to ask him if he had any openings coming up,” Money recalled. “I said I’d be interested.

“He said, ‘I have some openings, but I can’t tell you when and where.’ He said, ‘I’ll call you back later in the summer.’ So he called me back sometime around August and he offered me the manager’s job in Helena, Mont., which is in Rookie League. I said, ‘OK, fine.’ ”

Money was all set to spend time in the mountains of the Northwest in the summer of ’98. However, that Montana managing stop never materialized. Cooper called Money back a few weeks later with a different sort of assignment for his old Brewers teammate.

“About three weeks after all this came about, they were still looking for a manager in Beloit, [Wisc.]. Cooper said, ‘Nah, I’ve changed my mind. I want you to go to Beloit, which is a full season,’” Money said.

Money was pleased with the change, because it meant he would be managing a full-season team rather than the short-season team in rookie ball. It worked out well enough that Money stayed in Beloit for seven seasons before being promoted to the Double-A Huntsville, Ala., Stars.

Money managed in Huntsville for four seasons before taking over the Sounds’ top job this year.

For a guy who spent a decade-and-a-half in the majors, Money doesn’t mind the slow climb up the ladder as a manager.

“It’s like anything else, you’ve got to pay your dues,” he said. “A lot of players I played against think it’s easy. But it’s not an easy job. You’ve got to learn the ropes.

“As players, you know the playing side of it, but we don’t know the other side of it,” he added. “You know baseball — [like] when to bunt and when not to bunt. But it’s all the other behind-the-scenes stuff that you really don’t know as a player. Like dealing with personalities.”

According to his Sounds players, many of whom he has managed in Beloit and/or Huntsville, dealing with them is Money’s strong suit.

“He’s up front. He’ll tell you what he expects, and the team understands what to expect from him,” said outfielder Cole Gillespie. “If you’re not getting the job done, he’s not afraid to make some moves.”

The fact that Money spent so much time in the majors also counts plenty for prospects who have yet to realize their own big-league dreams. Plus, as a former player himself, Money understands the ups and downs of baseball life.

“If you see a guy that’s been in the ‘Bigs’ for a long time, you’ve got to respect that,” said catcher Angel Salome. “He’s one of the best managers I’ve had. He knows what it is to be a baseball player, he knows how it is when you’re tired, or when you’re struggling.”

According to Money, players on the Triple-A level are also more appreciative of his past than the youngsters he dealt with at the lower levels.

“When I got back into it, I was back in low A-ball. You’re dealing with kids who are 18 to 21 or 22 for the most part and they know everything about the world already,” he said. “When I first started, the players I coached didn’t even know I’d played in the big leagues. I’d talk to the opposing third baseman, and he’d say, ‘Coach, did you ever play in the big leagues?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, I got a little time,’ and just leave it there.

“These players here are a little older and they might know your stats. I’m not one to go out and say I did this or I did that. Go look it up. It’s in there someplace.”

Money knows there are difficulties that come for a manager. Having to teach younger kids the same fundamentals over and over can become frustrating, and he said it’s never easy to have to tell a player he’s been released.

“I think the biggest thing as far as a manager’s standpoint is not sending a guy down, it’s releasing a guy,” Money said. “Sometimes when you release a guy, he might show up on other teams, maybe that year or next year. Some guys you release, they go back to independent ball, or they go get a real job. That’s the hardest part.”

As for what the future holds for him as a manager or big league coach, Money has a low-key approach to all of that.

“My goal is to win today’s game first. It’s one game at a time. We don’t look at next week or win tomorrow,” he said.

Surely, being so close to being back in the majors, Money has some aspirations for such a promotion.

“It’s irrelevant. If it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen,” he said. “Some guys, their goals are to try to get back to the big leagues. My goal is to just try to win today’s game, and we’ll see what happens down the road.”

Another unique perspective to Money’s approach is his loyalty to the Brewers organization, where his two stints have now totaled 23 years. He said he can’t see himself working for any other franchise at the current time.

“It’d have to be in Milwaukee. I don’t think I’d go anywhere else. I played for them for 11 years, and managed for 12. I couldn’t foresee myself moving,” Money said. “Of course, you could get laid off or fired, but I don’t think I would get on the phone and say, ‘Hey, what do you have?’ I’d probably just go home.

“This is the team I grew up with. I got traded over here when I was 24, and I played for them for 11 years. I got out of it and got back into it for 12 years. When you’ve been with them for 11 of your 15 [playing] years and 12 years coaching, I really couldn’t foresee myself moving. Could it happen? Yes, but I really don’t foresee it.”