10/19/07 5:49 PM ET
Hillman is Royals' choice for manager
Former Minor League skipper joins KC after five years in Japan
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
Hillman was named the Royals manager early Friday afternoon after he agreed to a multi-year contract. Because Hillman is in Japan, preparing his Nippon Ham Fighters for the finals of the Japan Series, he will not be introduced to Kansas City until Monday afternoon.
Although Hillman's name is not well known among U.S. fans, he's famous in Japan for his success there and is respected in this country for his success as a Minor League manager for the New York Yankees.
"In baseball circles and on national level, this couldn't be perceived as a better hire. There's not a more qualified person out there to lead our team in the direction where we want to go and what we're trying to do," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.
"This guy is about relationships and success. He's been a winner his whole life and that's what fans want. Fans want a winner. There are a lot of guys with great bubble-gum cards that aren't great managers."
Hillman will fly from Japan to Kansas City for a news conference at 2 p.m. CT on Monday. But, in a statement released by the Royals, he said: "This is a wonderful blessing and a great opportunity to build a winner in Kansas City. I'll be joining an organization with tradition and pride while working with individuals that share my vision for success."
Moore also announced that pitching coach Bob McClure would be retained from the staff of former manager Buddy Bell. The status of the other coaches was not announced.
"There's a demand for pitching coaches and our guy is in demand and we needed to move forward to get him in the mix," Moore said.
Hillman's name first surfaced as a Royals managerial possibility late Thursday night after Joe Torre's rejection of the Yankees' offer to return as manager. Hillman, who managed for 12 years in the Yankees' organization, was rumored to be a candidate to succeed Torre and the Royals weren't about to let that interfere with their choice.
Hillman, 44, became the Fighters' manager in 2003 and they won the Japan Series title in 2006. On Thursday, his club defeated Bobby Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines to win the Pacific League title and again advance to the finals.
"This year, they're back in the Japan Series with a team that's virtually last in every offensive category," Moore said.
After five years in Japan and leading the Fighters to a 351-324 (.520) record, Hillman had already decided not to return to the Sapporo-based team in 2008.
A product of the University of Texas-Arlington, Hillman was signed by the Cleveland Indians as a shortstop and played three seasons in the Minors before becoming a scout. Then he joined the Yankees' organization as a coach in 1989 and became a manager the next year.
In 1999, he managed Triple-A Columbus to an 85-88 mark and was the International League's manager of the year in 2000. After managing Columbus in 2001, he was the Texas Rangers' director of player development in 2002.
Then, he went to Japan, where his popularity grew with the Fighters' increasing win totals. He even opened a restaurant called "Hillman's Hangout," featuring Texas foods.
Hillman and his wife Marie have two children, T.J. and Brianna, and make their permanent home in Arlington, Texas.
Initial speculation was that Moore, who came to the Royals from Atlanta, might hire a manager with Braves ties such as hitting coach Terry Pendleton. There also were hunches that he might be interested in an experienced manager such as Ken Macha or Jim Fregosi, or an in-house candidate like Frank White.
In the end, Moore outflanked everyone by making a hush-hush trip to Japan last week to talk to Hillman, whom he'd never met. Moore was well acquainted with Hillman's reputation, however, and got input from two of his special assistants, Louie Medina and Rene Francisco, who knew Hillman.
Hillman has never played, coached or managed in the Majors Leagues. Does that concern Moore?
"Not at all -- just because of all his experience," Moore said. "A lot of people view the Japanese major leagues [as being like the] Major Leagues. In a lot of aspects, it's more challenging to go a culture that is night-and-day different from how you were raised and what you grew up in as a baseball setting as well."
Of the last seven Royals managers, Hillman is the sixth who had no previous Major League managing experience. Bell did, but those who came before him -- Tony Pena, Tony Muser, Bob Boone, Hal McRae and John Wathan -- did not.
In addition to his Japan experience, Moore believes that Hillman's years of managing in the Yankees system are a plus.
"It's very demanding and full of expectation and pressure to do well," Moore said. "He won at every level -- he was manager of the year at three different levels."
This is not the first time that Hillman was a Major League managing candidate. Last year he was interviewed by three clubs -- San Diego, Texas and Oakland -- before they hired others.
He told USA Today at the time: "I've been dreaming about managing in the Major Leagues ever since I knew I couldn't make it as a player."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.