The Cam-Am League is an independent baseball circuit with teams in Canada and the northern United States. One of the teams in the league is based in Ottawa with the presumptuous name the Champions.
They were eliminated from Cam-Am playoff contention earlier in September and their manager got ready for the next season. Some players from the league have gone on to the majors. The manager of the Ottawa Champions has already managed at the big league level.
Hal Lanier is the manager of the Ottawa Champions. In the majors he was named Manager of the Year.
The Lanier family is a baseball clan. His father was an All Star pitcher named Max Lanier who led the NL in ERA in 1943 and was part of the 1942 and 1944 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Hal played 8 seasons with some star studded San Francisco Giants teams. He didn’t hit much but could field well. After a few years with the Yankees, his playing days were up.
He became a minor league coach and manager before being named to Whitey Herzog’s coaching staff in St. Louis during the 1980’s. He won a World Series ring after coaching for the 1982 Cardinals and was still on the staff for the 1985 World Series.
Sought after as a managerial prospect, he was brought to Houston where he replaced Bob Lillis as the big league skipper.
The 1986 Astros were a strange combination of aging veterans like Jose Cruz, Nolan Ryan and Davey Lopes and solid rising star like Glenn Davis, Bill Doran and Kevin Bass.
The also had Mike Scott in their rotation who was about to explode for the season of his career. For much of the first half of the season, the Astros battled with a surprising San Francisco team for the NL West. But a 7 game winning streak in July helped create some breathing room for Houston. Mike Scott capped off his Cy Young season with a no hitter on September 25th that clinched the NL West.
They finished the season with a 96-66 record and a 10 game cushion. They would face the mighty New York Mets in the playoffs. The strategy was simple. Win one single game NOT started by Mike Scott and have Scott win his three starts and the Astros would win the pennant.
They came so close to doing that. Scott won Game 1, the Mets won Game 2. The Astros had the lead in the bottom of the 9th of Game 3 but Lenny Dykstra hit a 2 run homer to win. Scott won Game 4. The Astros lost Game 5 in extra innings.
Then came the epic 16 inning marathon of Game 6. If they held the 3 run 9th inning lead or scored one more run in any of those extra innings, Scott would have pitched Game 7 and chances are the Astros would have won the pennant and maybe the World Series against Boston.
Instead it became one of many agonizing moments of Houston baseball frustration. He won the Manager of the Year for the solid season and looked like he would be the Astros manager for the foreseeable future.
But he clashed with general manager Dick Wagner and the team struggled to a 76-86 record in 1987. In 1988, the Astros could pitch with any team but couldn’t hit. Houston was in first place on June 13th but would play sub .500 the rest of the season, finishing behind the Dodgers in the NL West.
Lanier had finished his third season as Astros manager and that was it. He was let go after the 1988 season. Art Howe took over.
The one time National League Manager of the Year who just three years before was one of the hottest and most respected young managers in the game, never managed again in the major leagues.
He has been the skipper for many minor league teams and independent leagues, but never got the call to the majors again.
Hal Lanier is managing in Ottawa. He is not part of a major league organization or affiliate. Most of the players he will manage will never go to a big league game without paying admission.
But he still manages. It was what he does. He is a baseball man from a baseball family.