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From Mad Dog to Mentor
Jeff Pearlman
June 26, 2000
His days as a major league hothead are just a memory to Triple A skipper Garry Templeton
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June 26, 2000

From Mad Dog To Mentor

His days as a major league hothead are just a memory to Triple A skipper Garry Templeton

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A man is sitting in the manager's office at Edmonton's TELUS Field, filling out a lineup card, humming a song. His head is shaved. He has a gut and a sheepish grin. He wears wire-rimmed glasses. His passion of passions is golf. You do not recognize him. They say this is the skipper. They say he is Garry Lewis Templeton.

How could it be? You remember Templeton. Not for his 2,096 career hits, nor for being the first man to get 100 hits from each side of the plate in a single season. No, you remember him for the huge Afro and the fiery eyes and the me-me-me attitude and the forbidding scowl and the contract squabbles and the refusal to play in All-Star Games. Most of all, you remember him for Aug. 26, 1981. On that afternoon, in a game at Busch Stadium, Templeton, then the St. Louis Cardinals' 25-year-old shortstop, responded to the rowdy home crowd with a series of offensive gestures—punctuated by a crotch grab that caused manager Whitey Herzog to bolt from the dugout and yank his star from the field.

"He'll have to live with that the rest of his life, and it's not going to be easy," said Gene Tenace, the Cardinals' catcher, who was enraged by Templeton's antics. "The rest of his life, he'll walk down the street and be labeled."

Templeton is reminded of the long-ago incident, of what Tenace said at the time. Gently he rubs his thick black mustache, which is sprinkled with gray. " Gene Tenace," he says, "can say whatever he wants. I was a young, immature kid who made some mistakes." Pause. "That was a long time ago. The past is the past."

Somehow, baseball mellowed Templeton, transformed him from problem child with the Cardinals to savvy-yet-wobbly-kneed leader during 9� seasons with the San Diego Padres to one of the game's hot managerial prospects. He is in his first year with the Triple A Edmonton Trappers, who, despite 51 roster moves since the start of the season, were 33-34 at week's end, 11 games back of the Salt Lake Buzz in the Pacific Coast League. It is Templeton's style, even more than his appearance, that shocks. At 44 he is as low-key as they come, a student of the Joe Torre-Dusty Baker school of managing.

"His biggest quality is his demeanor," says Leon (Bull) Durham, the Trappers' hitting coach and Templeton's onetime teammate in St. Louis. "He's not someone to get upset, no matter how bad things get. We just lost five in a row. With some managers that's a panic. Tempy's too cool. He teaches, not screams."

Templeton swears he's in this for educational purposes. Shortly after the crotch grabbing St. Louis made a blockbuster trade, sending Templeton to the Padres for another All-Star shortstop, a wiry kid by the name of Ozzie Smith. Newspapers immediately wrote of a potential time bomb—the hotheaded Templeton playing for the hotter-headed Dick Williams. "But Dick Williams turned out to be my favorite manager," Templeton says. "He was an instructor. Yeah, he could scream and intimidate, but his passion was making a baseball player a better baseball player. That's my love, too. I learned tons from him."

After the 1991 season, having played 2,079 major league games and having had seven surgeries on his left knee, Templeton retired. He stayed in San Diego, where he spent two years competing on several California amateur golf tours. The former shortstop never thought about coaching until 1994, when Detroit Tigers vice president of baseball operations and general manager Randy Smith, who was then with the Padres, offered him a gig as a roving minor league infield instructor.

Templeton spent two seasons as a rover, then two years back on the links before, in 1998, he was named manager of the Cedar Rapids ( Iowa) Kernels, one of the Anaheim Angels' Class A affiliates. Last season he led the Class AA Erie (Pa.) Sea-Wolves to the Eastern League semifinals and an 81-61 mark. "I can't imagine playing for a better guy than Tempy," says Edmonton utility infielder Keith Luuloa, "but every once in a while he'll say, 'If I were still playing ...' or 'This is what I would've done....' It's rare, but...."

But, in the right mood, at passing moments—"If I didn't have all my knee injuries," the manager says, "I'd definitely be in the Hall of Fame. No doubt about it"—the new Garry Templeton still resembles the old Garry Templeton. Somehow, that's comforting to know.