Larry Rothschild has no regrets about time as first manager with Tampa Bay Rays

CLEARWATER

Years ago, they made quite the pair. A fledgling franchise and a rookie manager, each searching for hope in a thoroughly hopeless setting.

For 499 games, they stuck it out together. Through the losses, through the financial mismanagement, through the Juan Guzmans and through the Greg Vaughns.

It was 10 years ago next month that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Larry Roths­child finally parted ways. If you were a Tampa Bay fan back then, you might have said it was regrettable. If you were a Larry Rothschild fan, you surely believed it was merciful.

The point today is not to rehash those losses or to harp once again on the mistakes. Instead, it is to consider the windfall of all that heartache and frustration.

The Rays would wander through baseball's badlands for another half-dozen seasons, which finally led to their rescue by Stuart Sternberg, and that led to his new management group quickly turning this forsaken franchise into a player in the American League East.

As for Rothschild?

Over the next decade, he solidified his reputation as one of the finest pitching coaches of this generation and in the offseason returned to the AL East with a three-year contract as the man entrusted with the Neiman Marcus of pitching staffs in New York.

He left the employ of the Rays, but Rothschild has never really left Tampa Bay. He moved here with his wife and three children in the late 1990s and decided to make it their home even though he went to work for his hometown Chicago Cubs.

And that makes it difficult for him to recall his days at Tropicana Field as anything but necessary for all that followed.

"I wouldn't change any of it. Things have worked out because I ended up having nine years in Chicago after that, which was great," Rothschild said before Thursday's game against the Phillies. "Plus, we moved here. We've met a lot of great people here. Our kids love it here. They love the high school they're in. They've made a lot of great friends.

"I learned a lot with that job. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything, although going through it wasn't the easiest thing. You saw me on a daily basis, so you know.

"But I don't regret it at all."

He turns 57 on Saturday and jokes that he isn't moving quite the way he used to during bullpen or batting practice sessions. Other than that, little seems to have changed.

The demeanor is still low-key, and the smile still has a boyish quality. The intensity simmers more than it burns, and the work days still begin early and end late.

That is one of the qualities that always set Rothschild apart. He was an overachiever as a pitcher, and he brought the same obsessive work habits to his coaching career. He watches more video, pores over more stats and studies more theories than most.

It has served him well in a hands-on position as a coach, where he can do much of the preparatory work then distill the lessons into manageable portions for his pitchers.

As a manager, it didn't translate quite so easily. Everyone was looking to Rothschild to set the tone, and a lot of people struggled to match his devotion.

"Looking back, I think I pushed the envelope too hard. At times, I should have backed off and let guys do their jobs," Rothschild said. "But I worked my (butt) off there. I put in a lot of hours, and I don't regret that. If that's the criticism, I'll take it."

The truth is no amount of tweaking or adjusting would have mattered. Those Devil Ray teams were horribly flawed, and a dysfunctional ownership situation only made matters worse. As it turns out, Rothschild presided over three of the best seasons in the franchise's first 10 years.

Not that it matters today. His work with pitching staffs will be his enduring legacy. Roths­child is entering his 17th season as a big-league coach, has won World Series rings with two teams (Cincinnati and Florida) and has just substantially increased his odds for another by putting on a Yankees uniform.

While Rothschild had remained in Chicago through several managerial changes, he had an oral agreement with general manager Jim Hendry that he could consider any job that might keep him closer to home for spring training.

He had just exercised a contract option for 2011 in Chicago when the opportunity in New York presented itself.

The move might put him under more scrutiny than any pitching coach in the majors, but the chance to be home for his daughters' soccer and lacrosse games and his son's Little League season was too good to pass up.

"There's pressure to win, but you have the tools to do it here. You're given the opportunity to win, so there should be pressure that goes with it," he said. "So far, it's been great; the people, the history, everything about the organization.

"And being able to go home every night has been huge."

The years have been kind to Rothschild and the Rays, both. Together they might not have met their goals, but a decade later, they have managed to rise to the top.

Larry Rothschild has no regrets about time as first manager with Tampa Bay Rays 03/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 9:00pm]

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