KC Royals: Just two stops for baseball man Bob Schaefer

(Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images)
(Photo by G. N. Lowrance/Getty Images) /

A true baseball man coached for the KC Royals and managed them twice.

Bob Schaefer turns 76 years old this Friday. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you may not remember his times with the KC Royals or you might be too new to Royals Nation. In a nutshell, he coached and managed the Royals twice, the only two-time field boss the club has had.

But Schaefer is more than that. He is, pure and simple and through and through, the quintessential baseball man.

Schaefer debuted with the Royals organization in 1987 as manager of the club’s Memphis Double A affiliate, then joined John Wathan‘s coaching staff for Wathan’s first full season managing the big club. He came to Kansas City with deep baseball roots.

His college game drew the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals, who drafted him in the 13th round of the 1966 amateur draft. Schaefer toiled unsuccessfully in the low minors for a few years, then became a schoolteacher. But he kept a hand, and his head, in the game by managing in the summertime Cape Cod League, a circuit made up of elite college players. It was a homecoming of sorts for Schaefer, who played in the league and is in its Hall of Fame.

The Yankees lured the future KC Royal away from the classroom in 1980 and Schaefer immediately made his mark as a manager–despite his lack of any pro managing experience, he revived his professional baseball life by leading the Yanks’ Greensboro farm club to two straight South Atlantic League titles and a 180-100 record. He then managed three years in the Mets’ system and one in Detroit’s before guiding Memphis to a 72-71 record. Then it was on to Kansas City.

Finally a big leaguer as a member of Wathan’s staff, Schaefer coached the Royals for four seasons. Things didn’t work out for Wathan, the first former KC player to manage the team; the club fired him in May 1991 and bench coach Schaefer managed the club for a game before Hal McRae took over. Tom Gordon pitched a four-hit complete game for Schaefer as the Royals beat Seattle 3-1 to give him his first major league managerial win.

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Schaefer became a KC Royals scout after the season, then took over Boston’s minor league operations in 1994. But he and BoSox general manager Dan Duquette grew apart–reportedly, Duquette believed Schaefer took excessive credit for the system’s success and Schaefer considered Duquette too controlling–and Duquette fired him in 1998. Schaefer landed in Baltimore’s front office as a special assistant to the general manager.

Kansas City came calling again and Schaefer returned to the Royals’ dugout in 2002 as a coach for Tony Muser, then survived Muser’s April firing when new manager Tony Pena retained him. He enjoyed the Royals’ first winning season since 1993 when he helped Pena lead the club to an 83-79 record. Hard Royal times returned the next season, however–the Royals lost 104 games to finish deep in the AL Central cellar.

Schaefer found himself at the KC helm once again when Pena resigned early in the following campaign; this time, he managed more than a game when the club took almost three weeks to replace Pena with Buddy Bell. Schaefer had no more to work with than Pena–the team lost 12 of the 17 games he managed. His five victories included three in a four-game series with Tampa Bay, one over AL East leader Baltimore and another over the NL Central-leading Cardinals. (The switch to Bell didn’t help–the Royals lost a club record 106 games).

KC replaced Schaefer after the season and he didn’t return to the field until taking the Oakland bench coach job in 2007. He moved down the West Coast to become Joe Torre‘s bench coach with the Dodgers in 2008; with his help, LA won two straight NL West titles before finishing fourth in 2010. Torre resigned and Schaefer elected to join the Nationals as a special assistant to the general manager, a job he holds to this day.

Schaefer said some years ago he hasn’t had a baseball job he didn’t like. Although he never managed a big league team full time, he might have made a good long-term major league manager. He skippered his minor league clubs to a cumulative .547 (534-442) record and the KC Royals thought enough of him to entrust the team to him twice, albeit for short stretches.

He’s certainly paid his dues.

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Former KC Royals coach and two-time interim manager Bob Schaefer has been in professional baseball for over 50 years. He’s played, coached, managed, scouted, operated a minor league system, and helped general managers. Simply put, Schaefer is a baseball man.