Pat Listach just wants a chance.
The 1992 American League Rookie of the Year, whose playing career was cut short by injuries, is hopeful of landing a coveted job as a Major League manager after spending the last three years as a successful skipper of the Acereros del Norte [Northern Steelers] in the Mexican League. His resume also includes long stints as a manager and coach at the minor-league level in addition to being a Major League coach with Washington, Houston and the Chicago Cubs.
Yet, when it comes time for the firing and hiring activities of on-field staff that takes place every fall, Listach continually finds himself on the outside looking in. While he understands that he may not be the right fit for any given job, he isn’t even getting the chance to prove his worth. He simply doesn’t get a great response when he puts out feelers about potential vacancies.
“It’s just hard to get a phone call back now,” said Listach, 54, who spent five of his six Major League seasons with Milwaukee and one with Houston. “It’s disappointing when you call and you tell them you are interested. Sometimes you get a call back. It hurts more when people you know don’t call you back. Plus, people don’t really know who you are. Front offices are getting younger and younger and the younger front office people don’t know who you are or what you have done in the game. I think that’s tragic as well.
“It’s disappointing that people you know don’t even give you that courtesy of calling back. Jim Hendry was the general manager of the Cubs and he said 20 years ago when I started coaching that baseball was about people, not baseball and you should never forget that. People now think it’s about baseball and only baseball.”
“I went to camp with Seattle in ’98 and I was taking grounders with A-Rod and I said I don’t belong on the same field with this guy. If this is the new era of shortstops, I am out.
Listach certainly has the resume to deserver managerial consideration. He’s been in professional baseball for more than 30 years and guided the Acereros to the first Mexican League title in franchise history in 2019. They went 75-45 and posted a 35-31 record this season before his squad was knocked out in the second round of the playoffs.
However, Listach won’t be returning to Mexico next season and, as of early November, has nothing lined up in the way of coaching or managing for 2022 season. He contracted CoVid-19 last year while in Mexico and has no desire to return.
“I’m actively looking and I’m too young to stay home,” he said. “I still have a lot left to give the game. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to give it, whoever that would be for. It would be a better organization because I am there. I’m not being cocky, but I know what I know. They would be a better team if I am a part of it.
“I always felt like I was ahead of other managers and coaches and was able to beat them to the punch. So, we will see what happens. It’s one of those things where you keep sending your resume. Guys that are getting jobs are 31, 32 and 33. I’m in my mid-50s and they don’t know who we are.”
Perhaps if “they” simply checked the history books they’d have a better idea about who Listach is. He was a fifth-round pick by Milwaukee out of Arizona State in 1988, a year after the Mariners selected him in the 23rd round while he was playing for McLennan Community College in Texas. Listach had a steady, albeit unspectacular climb through the Milwaukee system, finally reaching the Major Leagues after stops in places like Beloit, Stockton, Denver and El Paso.
Listach flashed what had become his trademark speed while climbing the system ladder, finishing second in the Class-A California League in steals  while playing for Stockton in 1990. He averaged 43 steals a season in the minors and was headed back to the minor leagues in the spring of 1992. The Brewers were planning to utilize Scott Fletcher and Billy Spiers at shortstop but Spiers got hurt and Listach found himself in Milwaukee at the beginning of the season.
Detroit Tigers carcher Chad Krueter chases down Milwaukee Brewers SS Pat Listach during a game at County Stadium In Milwaukee, WI. (Getty Images)
Listach, however, says that he still considers himself lucky for getting the chance when he did. Gary Sheffield was a shortstop at the time and the club’s first-round pick in 1986 while Spiers was a first-round pick in 1987. Listach was the first shortstop taken by Milwaukee in the 1988 draft.
“I had a chance,” he said. “Sheffield got traded and Spiers got hurt so I’m on the Opening Day roster. It takes a good break sometimes. I didn’t start switch-hitting until my third year of Single-A. I had been told by an executive that the stolen base is the least important stat in baseball. I beg to differ. If they watched the Braves this offseason they would beg to differ as well. That being said, if you’re only going to be projected as a Major Leaguer based on your OPS and how much damage you can do when you swing, I probably would have just stayed hitting from the right side.
“I had no power on the left side. But I was able to put the ball in play. I don’t play the what-if game but I will play the what-if game when thinking I should have [started to] switch hit as a kid. I had the support of the people in the organization, Sal and Chris Bando and [Milwaukee manager] Phil Garner. I was a singles hitter from the left side but how many lefties do you face during the season?”
Listach’s unexpected arrival in Wisconsin proved to be a thundering success. He hit .290 with a .352 on-base percentage and stole 54 bases to become the first player in franchise history [and one of three] to win Rookie of the Year, easily outdistancing Cleveland’s Kenny Lofton for the award.
“In today’s games, 54 steals wouldn’t matter,” Listach said. “When I played, those were the years that shortstops didn’t have to hit. Just play defense. It started changing during the era I played in where shortstops had to hit. ARod [Alex Rodriguez] came through [Cal] Ripken was always a big power hitter. The older and older I got, in the late 90s and early 2000s, shortstop turned into a power position which it never was before. Now we have [Marcus] Semien, [Alex] Correa, [Francisco] Lindor and [Corey] Seager and they can do it all.”
Pat Listach #16 of the Milwaukee Brewers poses during the 1993 baseball season. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)
Knee problems, however, derailed Listach’s career in 1993 and he had surgery to repair his knee, which limited him to 16 games in 1994. It would prove to be the beginning of the end of Listach’s playing career.
“I told them in ’93 that every time I hit the first base bag that my knee hurts,” Listach said. “They did -rays and MRIs and nothing showed up but I wasn’t making it up. After the season they did exploratory surgery and found a bone spur behind the kneecap that was rubbing against the cartilage. So, I had surgery after the ’93 season and tried to come back to quick.
“In 1994 I wasn’t healthy from my patella tendon healing and I just broke down. It got to a point where I couldn’t do anything. My contract was incentive-based so I would have anything to be on the field. The day of the strike was Aug. 12 and the next day I had surgery. I tried to play through whatever I could and the ’94 strike sent me into the operating room. So [from that standpoint] I had more time to heal.”
He was robbed of his trademark speed and never played a full season again. Milwaukee traded him to the Yankees during the 1996 season but he was returned to the Brewers when it was discovered that he had a broken foot.
Listach signed as a free agent with Houston that offseason but after hitting .182 in 52 games, he was released in July. He signed with and was released by the Mariners before the 1998 season. He then signed with Cleveland but was released in May of ’98. He signed with the Phillies that June but there was none of that old magic left. He hit .219 in 88 games combined at Triple-A that season for the two organizations before calling it a career.
“I only played for one organization my first nine years in baseball and I still have the friendships I made there,” Listach said. “I saw Robin [Yount] and Paul [Molitor] on Ryder Cup weekend in Milwaukee. We took a picture together and it was the same picture we had taken 20 years earlier. We laughed at how old we got.
“I probably could have continued playing. I went to camp with Seattle in ’98 and I was taking grounders with A-Rod and I said I don’t belong on the same field with this guy. If this is the new era of shortstops, I am out. Man, when you’re standing next to a guy who is a lot younger and you see how much better he is. I’m only 32 but I can’t compete with this guy. I was always a fighter and a battler. But I wasn’t as talented as this guy for sure. He was 21 and I’m 31, 32. Holy cow, is this how they are making shortstops now. That’s how I knew [it was over].”
USA - CIRCA 1990s: Pat Listach of the Milwaukee Brewers fields a ball circa 1990s. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)
It wasn’t long before Listach turned to coaching. He was with the Lansing Lugnuts for a season and then was with the Iowa Cubs of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League for five years before getting his first managerial opportunity in 2006 with the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League. He eventually returned to the Major Leagues as Washington’s third-base coach [2008-9] before taking the job as the Cubs bench coach in 2010. The Dodgers, Astros and Mariners – he was their Triple-A manager for four seasons – were each part of his future before he landed in Mexico in 2019.
“Mexico had its ups and downs,” Listach said. “There was good and bad there. It was good because the people are good people. And they play to win at all costs and that’s the way the game should be played. They play to win and when all you can do is coach or manage, it’s good to be as competitive as you can to win as many games as possible.
“The negative is that you’re not in the country that you thought you would be working. The language barrier takes its toll even though I had become fairly fluent in Spanish. I had a good coaching staff, too, and most of my players understood English. Maybe four spoke no English at all. Look at my team, I had Christ Carter and Addison Russell. We had a lot of American players and we won the championship in 2019. To be the first to do something is special.”
He believes he can have a similar impact as a Major League manager. Listach understand analytics and their place in the game but also realizes that you need to have a feel for the action and rely on gut feelings as much as you rely on what the spreadsheet says. He points to managers like Dusty Baker, with whom he worked in Chicago, Bob Melvin and Tony LaRussa as examples of managers who have found the right blend of old-school and new-school baseball.
Listach says he is that type of manager. Look no further than his time in Mexico as proof. His use of the bullpen mirrored that of many successful managers currently working in the Major Leagues – seventh-inning guy, eighth-inning guy, closer. He rode that system to a title and is certain that he can manage a pen and a team to a championship in the U.S.
Pat Listach #16 of the Milwaukee Brewers forces out Matt Nokes #38 of the New York Yankees during an MLB game on May 23, 1992 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by J Giamundo/Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)
Why? Well, Listach labels himself as a battler and says that when he was a player, every pitcher he faced knew that they were in for a fight with him because of his approach to every at-bat. Consider what was one of his most famous at-bats – a 1992 battle with Oakland’s Ron Darling [Sept. 26, 1992] in the heat of a pennant race. Darling threw 17 pitches before Listach finally walked.
“Darling and I have talked about that a number of times,” Listach said. “We were down to the last three games of the season and they were up two with three to play and we were down a game chasing Toronto. I had a 17-pitch at-bat against him to lead off the game. I fouled off pitch after pitch and drew a walk. That’s 17 pitches and a man on first with no one out.
“We ran into each other in the tunnel after the game and he said ‘Dude, you wasted my pitch count in that first at-bat, I appreciate that kind of battle’. If I could have hit one in play sooner I would have. He talked about that [this year] during a playoff game [broadcast]. Someone taped it and sent it to me.”
Listach continues to wait for the day that people will be recording the Major League games in which he is making the decisions for one of the teams. Perhaps it will even be a World Series game.
“I want to be on the big stage and have a chance to show the world,” Listach said. “I think they will get it right.”