FORT MILL TOWNSHIP --
Charlotte Knights’ manager Joel Skinner isn’t one of those managers who has everything planned out from year-to-year but instead looks at things as they come to him.
In November of last year, Skinner was hired to take over the Knights for the 2012 season and in the process has done what several managers before him couldn’t do – get the Knights back to the playoffs.
For the first time since 2006, the Knights have made it back to the postseason and for the first time since that same year they won their division. Now heading into the playoffs this week, the Knights are looking to do something they haven’t done in 13 years – win the International League title.
“Every year is different and every year brings new challenges,” Skinner said. “We have had a good group of players here who go about their business the right way. Our pitching staff has done a good job all year. We have had a fluid roster situation with a lot of guys going back and forth to Chicago.”
Many minor league managers will say their job is to get their players ready for the next level, but with the Knights now just six wins away from their first International League championship in 13 years, Skinner is in a position to make sure his players succeed now and not just in the future with the White sox or any other Major League Club that acquires their services.
“Once the playoffs start anything can happen,” Skinner said. “The key is to get in and go from there. The first team to win six games wins the International League. That is about all you can do, but these guys come here on a daily basis and get their work done.”
The Knights recently won their 80th game of the regular season. The previous two times they did that in franchise history they finished the season by winning the International League title.
Success isn’t new to Skinner. A former Major League player himself with the White Sox, New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians, Skinner has had success managing in the minors since 1995. That year, he guided the Watertown Indians of the New York-Penn League to a title in his first season with the team and his first season managing. He has also won league titles in the South Atlantic League, the Carolina League and the Eastern League, before moving onto Buffalo to manager in the International League in 2000.
He guided the Buffalo Bisons to the International League’s North Division title that year and for his efforts throughout the Indians organization was named third base coach for Cleveland starting in the 2001 season.
In July 2002, Skinner was named interim manager for the Indians after Charlie Manual, a former Knights manager himself, was let go. Skinner guided Cleveland to a 35-41 record for the remainder of the season. He wasn’t hired for the full-time job for the next season, but remained on the Indians staff through the 2009 season, before spending 2010 and 2011 in Oakland.
Skinner says there is no secret to his success, but it’s more of creating a good environment.
“From a staff members standpoint, all your decisions are made for the players and you try and create an environment for these guys to learn and is conducive for them to work on their craft, whatever that might be,” he said. “You look at the players physically, mentally and fundamentally and try to be there for them in whatever capacity you can and go from there. The players are the ones who have to play.”
The last time Skinner did well managing in the International League he found himself in the Majors the next season. This time around he isn’t looking to next year, not even next week, but joked saying he doesn’t even take things day-to-day, but more hour-to-hour.
“I don’t get caught up in that,” he said. “I have had my time as a player in the Major Leagues and from my standpoint I work for the White Sox and enjoy what I am doing. I have done everything I can do in baseball and at this point in my life I don’t get too far ahead of myself. I enjoy the game and coming to the ballpark on a daily basis. I don’t get caught up in where I maybe next year.”
Skinner said anyone in baseball would like to have a World Series ring one day, but that goal is one that is share by everyone in the sport no matter if you are a manager or a scout.
No matter how the season turns out for Charlotte, Skinner maybe closing in on another title held by just two people in Knights history – manager of the International League champions.
The Knights begin the playoffs on the road Sept. 5. Get updates at fortmilltimes.com.