By Sweeny Murti
» More Columns
It takes a Yankee fan of a different generation to remember the name Hensley Meulens, or his nickname “Bam-Bam.”
He came from a time when the Yankees were in a real rebuilding mode, when a return to glory was nowhere in sight. He played in parts of five seasons with the Yanks from 1989 to 1993, the lowest of lows during the drought between the “Bronx Zoo” Yankees of the 1970s and the dynasty of the late 1990s. In 159 games spread over those five years, Meulens batted .221 with 12 home runs.
So it might sound strange to think that a guy who hasn’t put on a Yankee uniform going on 25 years now — and never played a playoff game, let alone won a World Series ring in pinstripes — thinks he was made for this job and this opportunity to be the manager that could lead the Yankees into their next era of greatness.
“Everything that was instilled in me, especially winning and becoming a true baseball player, I’ve learned here in the Yankee family,” Meulens said after interviewing to be Joe Girardi’s replacement.
“Growing up here was essential for me and the person I became,” Meulens continued. “Winning and playing the game the right way, I learned right here in the Yankees family.”
Meulens, whose managerial experience is limited to the WBC and Winter Ball, fashions himself a winner, and despite playing in the Bronx during lean years, he has the hardware to prove it. Meulens earned three World Series rings as hitting coach with the San Francisco Giants from 2010 until this past season. He was moved to bench coach at the end of the season and interviewed last month for the Tigers’ managerial opening that went to Ron Gardenhire.
Add four minor league championships as a player in the Yankee organization and one more while playing in Japan, and you begin to notice that winning really does follow Meulens around.
“I was groomed to be a winner,” Meulens said. “Every day I come to the park to win a ballgame. I have a drive for that.”
As an executive of a rival AL team said to me, “It can’t hurt to spend all those years with (Giants manager) Bruce Bochy. That tends to rub off in some regards.”
I’ve never crossed paths with Meulens, except ever so briefly at a charity event a few years back. But those that know him describe him as a charismatic man with good people skills, someone who clearly has had managing in his sights for a long time.
“I have a lot of respect for Hensley,” Don Mattingly, his former Yankees teammate, told me. “He has always handled himself with class. He loves the game and knows what it means to develop a player. Good people skills and communicator.”
There is that one trait — good communicator — that everyone wants to highlight in light of some of the criticisms of Girardi at the end of his 10-year run.
“I’m regarded as somebody that communicates really well, that has had experience all over the world,” said Meulens, who speaks five languages, including Spanish and Japanese. “(I’m) somebody that’s ready to take the challenge and bring new, positive energy on a daily basis and connect with everybody on the roster. Having an understanding with the player and maybe easing his problems a little bit goes a long ways when it comes to getting the player ready to play.”
In the past, the Yankees have hired managers with ties to their championship years — Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Lou Piniella, Girardi. In Meulens, the Yankees are considering a candidate who doesn’t give fans those immediate good feelings from days gone by. But he seems to have learned all the same lessons, even if the big prizes came in a different uniform than the one he started in.
“Now that the spot is open and I’m ready to manage, of course this is a place I want to come back,” Meulens said.
Please follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN