05/15/2002 11:34 am ET
Pena named new Royals manager
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Royals once again have a manager named Tony. But now the torch has been passed from Tony Muser to Tony Pena, a man the Royals consider the rising star among Major League managerial candidates.
Pena, 44, was named Wednesday as the 13th full-time manager in Royals history. Pena left a job as bench coach with the Houston Astros to take the reins of a 13-23 Royals ballclub which is trying to battle its way back to prominence in the American League Central.
Pena signed a three-year contract through 2004. He and 40-year-old general manager Allard Baird will be the high-energy combo with the mission of turning the Royals around.
"Thank you for believing in me," Pena said, turning toward Baird with a show of emotion at the afternoon news conference. "I will not let you down."
Pena was chosen over three other candidates who were on the short list following Muser's firing. That list included interim manager John Mizerock, former Diamondbacks and Yankees manager and ESPN analyst Buck Showalter and Omaha Triple-A manager Bucky Dent.
So why Pena?
"Tony will bring high energy and passion for the game to our ballclub," Baird said. "I believe all four of the guys we talked to can be highly successful Major League managers. But Tony Pena is the right guy for our organization. He matches up."
The small-market Royals believe their future is tied to the development of young pitching. In recent years, perhaps no team has had better young pitching than the Astros, and Pena was a big part of that as the Triple-A manager at New Orleans the last three years.
"I'm real familiar with the Royals organization from Triple-A on up," Pena said. "When I managed at New Orleans, I saw the Royals players who were in Triple-A at Omaha. There is some real good talent in this organization. That's why I'm here, to help bring out the best in that talent."
During his round of interviews, Baird said he had the candidates ask him questions. Pena asked only two questions, but they made a big impression on Baird.
"He asked, on the off days, will you and I be able to go to the minor leagues," Baird said. "And he asked if we're one player away, will ownership allow us to get that one player. Those are pretty good questions."
Pena was the first candidate interviewed on May 8. As the subsequent interviews with Showalter, Dent and Mizerock unfolded, Pena's name seemed to be on the back burner. But Baird said last Saturday he had a clear-cut choice in mind and that choice was Pena. Following meetings with his baseball staff and with ownership, the Royals brought the search back where it began.
Pena said he went to the ballpark for Tuesday's Houston-Philadelphia game trying to put the Royals' search out of his mind. After the game, he got the call from Baird and was offered the job.
An excited Pena figures he slept about 20 minutes Tuesday night, then boarded a Continental flight to Kansas City where he was greeted by director of team travel Jeff Davenport.
"I haven't shaved," Pena said with a smile.
The Royals were 5-8 during Mizerock's interim term, but had won five of seven entering Wednesday's game against Minnesota. On Tuesday, several players expressed strong sentiments that they felt Mizerock should get the permanent job.
The question now is how quickly the Mizerock backers will warm to Pena. Mizerock, who has been in the Royals organization for 11 years, will return to his role as bullpen coach and the remainder of the coaching staff will remain intact for now.
"I don't think it will be a problem," Pena said. "John did a great job those two weeks. I respect him a lot. We managed against each other in Triple-A last year. Sometimes, you change directions and the players have to follow. Maybe there are going to be some disappointed people around. But that's my job, to make those guys come to my side."
Pena played 18 years in the Major Leagues and was a five-time All-Star catcher. His managing philosophy is a blend from those he worked for -- guys like Chuck Tanner, Jim Leyland and Whitey Herzog.
"Chuck Tanner was like a dad to me," Pena said. "Whitey? He's a great communicative guy. Leyland was the same way."
Pena had a 205-216 record in his three years managing New Orleans. Last year, the Zephyrs were 82-57 and wound up as Pacific Coast League co-champions.
The Boston Red Sox wanted to interview Pena for their managerial opening this spring, but the Astros refused permission. This time, Houston owner Drayton McLane gave the green light.
Royals club president Dan Glass thanked McLane for "putting what's in the best interest of this young man and his development in front of what's best for the Houston organization."
Pena went from the news conference right into a meeting with his new team, from bench coach to the hot seat in 24 hours.
"I've been a warrior all my life," Pena said. "Every day is a challenge. I'm ready to take on the challenge of managing this baseball team. I'm going to do everything I can to help make this ballclub successful."
Robert Falkoff covers the Royals for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.