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Skipper Rohn steady behind the wheel

Dan Rohn spent his brief major league career as a utility infielder, which basically meant he had two career choices after his playing days.

He could sell cars for his father-in-law. Or he could become a manager.

That’s oversimplifying it and a bit of an exaggeration, because not every utility infielder marries into a Chevy dealership. Some marry into Ford dealerships.

But the facts are these: Rohn hails from Michigan, still lives there, and the assembly lines back in greater Detroit have gone quieter than the city’s former ballpark at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull avenues.

So it’s probably a good thing Dan Rohn decided to become a manager.

When the 51s tap the keg on Dollar Beer Night at Cashman Field tonight — I mean, open another season of exciting Pacific Coast League baseball — it will be the 16th time Rohn has exchanged lineup cards at home plate, gone over the ground rules with the home plate umpire — is the old Buick sticking out of the right-field fence considered in or out of play? — and taken his spot in the third-base coaching box when his team comes to bat on Opening Day.

Managers in the big leagues don’t have to coach third base, and they don’t have to worry about wacky three-dimensional billboards in right field. This is part of the reason Rohn hasn’t given up on becoming a big league manager at age 54.

In baseball, some managers are just getting started at 54. Last season the average age of National League managers was 57. Tigers skipper Jim Leyland is 65. Connie Mack was 87 when he managed his final game for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1950. Casey Stengel was 75 when he called it quits with the Mets in 1965 after breaking a hip (honest).

While it’s true baseball managers are paid significantly less than their NFL or NBA contemporaries, in 2007, the last year their salaries were widely publicized, Joe Torre made $7.5 million for managing the Yankees, while the lowest-paid skippers (such as Joe Maddon of the Devil Rays) were paid $500,000. One would have to sell a lot of Chevys for his father-in-law to make that kind of scratch.

Managing a baseball team is, in many ways, just like selling cars for your father-in-law. A lot of guys can do it. But not every guy has access to the keys of the Corvette on the showroom floor. So a lot of guys get stuck driving Cavaliers or Impalas in places such as Fort Myers, Fort Wayne, Orlando, New Haven, Tacoma and Fresno, the stickers adorning Rohn’s managerial suitcase.

It’s not what Bobby Cox says, it’s who he says it to that gets him thrown out. It’s not what you know about managing a baseball team, it’s who is willing to go to bat for you.

In 15 years as a minor league manager, Dan Rohn has won 1,021 games (and lost 1,014). He has been named PCL manager of the year three times in eight seasons. The man knows how to pull managerial strings, but so far hasn’t had a guy pulling for him, at least not hard enough, at the next level, where chicks and Earl Weaver dig the long ball.

“I’ve interviewed in Detroit once, in Seattle a couple of times, but you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. You’ve also got to have a sponsor,” said Rohn, who had two stints with the Cubs as a player and once was traded to the A’s, along with Dennis Eckersley, in a move that would make Eckersley famous and Rohn property of the Oakland organization for a brief time.

“There’s somebody at the level above that has to be in your corner pushing for you hard. Guys like Brad Mills (Astros manager and a former 51s skipper) and Terry Francona (Red Sox) were roommates and teammates, and Jim Tracy (Rockies) is another guy who comes to mind that have gotten that opportunity. Hopefully, sooner or later, I’ll get one.”

Let’s hope it’ll be sooner. But even if it’s later, waiting for it in the third-base coaching box still beats selling cars for your father-in-law, especially on Opening Day.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352.

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