Four months ago, Michael Ryan was stunned when informed the Pittsburgh Pirates weren’t bringing him back as manager of the Altoona Curve.
The former AAABA League standout from Indiana had just become the most successful manager in Curve history at the time but still was considered expendable.
It didn’t take very long for Ryan to find a managerial job with another major league franchise.
The Chicago Cubs officially named him manager of the Tennessee Smokies in the Class AA Southern League on Tuesday.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this organization and I’m excited to get started,” Ryan said during a Tuesday telephone interview.
Ryan spent seven seasons as a manager in the Pirates organization, including the past three with the Curve in the Class AA Eastern League. Ryan’s Altoona team won the Eastern League championship in 2017 and took the Western Division crown in 2017 and 2018.
Ryan collected more wins than any other Curve manager.
He still was among the first let go in the Pirates’ massive purge that included cutting ties with major legaue manager Clint Hurdle, GM Neal Huntington and President Frank Coonelly after the dismal 2019 season.
“From Day 1 whenever I got off the phone with the Pirates and they said they were not going to bring me back, it was nerve-wracking. You’re shocked, you’re disappointed,” said Ryan, who played 149 major league games with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels.
“There are all kinds of different emotions.
“You get in touch with other organizations, or they get in touch with you and you have to sell yourself. It becomes very humbling. There is a point where it goes through your mind, ‘Am I going to coach again?’ There are not that many jobs to be had.”
Ryan’s credentials helped him find a new home in the Cubs’ system.
He won more than 500 games and two league titles as a manager in the Pirates organization. In addition to the Eastern League championship, Ryan led the Bradenton Marauders to the Florida State League title in 2016.
His Curve teams had a club-record 221 wins in three seasons, including a 69-71 mark in 2019.
“I probably had nine or 10 different interviews. I went to five different places,” said Ryan, who played for Moxham Bank and Principle Development in the Johnstown AAABA League until the Twins selected him in the fifth round of the 1996 Major League Baseball Draft.
“The other five or six were over the phone,” he said. “To be honest with you, that’s when I started getting more comfortable that I was going to be able to find a job based on conversations with organizations.
“Once you realize you have an opportunity, you just hope it’s the perfect fit and you don’t have to start over. That’s what happened with the Cubs. I’m blessed and fortunate to be at the same level as I was with the Pirates. There are a lot of great baseball people who lost their jobs and still don’t have a job.”
Ryan said he appreciates the Cubs’ philosophy.
“They’re all on the same page,” he said of the organization. “Getting the players better is the No. 1 interest. Developing these players to have success at major league level is top priority.”
Ryan said he will report to spring training in Mesa, Arizona, on Feb. 10.
“I’ve been invited to major league camp to help out with the major league team for the first two weeks until minor league camp starts,” he said.
The Smokies are located in Knoxville, Tennessee. Charlie Haeger is the pitching coach, Chad Allen is the hitting coach, and Dallas Lopez is the strength coach. Smokies Stadium, in the Knoxville suburb of Kodak, can seat 8,000 fans.
“I’ve only heard great things about the facilities in Tennessee and the front office,” Ryan said.
“I’ve never been in the Southern League (as a player or manager). I’m going to prepare and learn on the fly at times. That’s what makes it both nerve-wracking and fun at the same time.
“New opportunity. New job.
“Not knowing what to expect.
“I’ll have the mindset I’m going to try to learn as much as I can each day.”