Sherry Is Aging Gracefully -- Everett Manager Far From Majors, But He's Happy
Norm Sherry stands in the middle of his classroom, running his fingers through what's left of his graying hair, watching intently as a group of young, professional baseball players practice.
Sherry's classroom, Everett Memorial Stadium, comes with batting cages and bullpens, dugouts and designated hitters.
Outfield billboards replace chalkboards and desks are replaced by wooden benches no student wants to sit on for long.
The curriculum is baseball, and Norm Sherry has a hard-knocks degree.
The students are the Everett Giants, the San Francisco Giants' Class A minor-league affiliate.
The former catcher has spent 42 seasons in professional baseball as player and coach, including stints as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, a winning record over two half-seasons as manager of the California Angels and coaching positions with the Giants, Angels, San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos.
Yet he's delighted to be on baseball's first rung, taking long, overnight bus rides instead of chartered flights.
The major leagues are a five-star restaurant; Sherry is managing at a fast-food spot.
"If I can't be coaching in the majors, this is where I'd rather be," Sherry says, leaning back in a standard-issue, school-district office chair in a painted, cement-block office.
"These offices are all pretty much the same; they really don't change that much," he said, waiting out a rain delay earlier this season. "I just like working with the kids. They just want to play baseball and you don't have all the distractions you have higher up in the organization."
Natty and trim in his baseball uniform, Sherry, 61, is the consummate professional - from the tilt of his cap to the cut of his black baseball socks.
Uniform basics was his first lesson from "Baseball the Giants' Way."
"My job is to teach them how the Giants want things done," Sherry said. "We want these players to know exactly what's expected of them when they go to spring training next year."
Sherry is well-versed in how the Giants want things done.
The past five seasons Sherry worked with his best friend, Roger Craig, as pitching coach for the Craig-managed San Francisco Giants.
But after the 1991 season, a second consecutive down year after the Giants reached the 1989 World Series, General Manager Al Rosen decided to make a change and did not renew Sherry's contract, moving Carlos Alfonso out from the front office, where he directed minor-league player development.
"When that happened, I decided that if I couldn't find another job in the majors, I'd like to go back to the rookie league and work with young players just getting started," Sherry said.
So a man who coached in two World Series in six seasons, with the Padres in 1984 and the Giants in '89, is standing in the middle of a stadium that doubles as a high-school team's home field.
Craig figures it's a perfect fit.
"Norm naturally wanted to stay here," he said. "This is a perfect job for a guy like Norm. Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the road I'll try doing it.
"He and his wife Linda are in a beautiful place and they love it. He's happy and he's having a lot of fun, and the young players who're playing under him can learn a great deal from him because he's not only a great guy off the field, he's a great baseball man."
Everett assistant coach Mike Bubalo, who finished last season as Everett manager, admits to a high level of frustration when Sherry was hired to manage this season.
"It's no secret that I really wanted the job," Bubalo said. "I thought I should have gotten it and I was really disappointed. But I'm happy with the way things have worked out, and I learn something new every day working with Norm."
Sherry knows what it means to claw your way to the big leagues, and he's known the disappointment of falling short.
Twice he made the Opening Day roster of the Dodgers, in 1959 and '60, only to be shipped back to Class AAA right away.
"When I first started there were 16 major-league teams," he said. "When I signed with the Dodgers' organization, they had 26 minor-league teams.
"When I went to my first spring training there were hundreds of players working out, and it seemed like every one of them had a catcher's mitt. I knew right then that I was really going to have to fight if I was going to make it to the big leagues."
Today's player, he said, expects an automatic promotion, and major-league teams look to have players on the field years earlier now. Instead of breaking in at 26, players are breaking in at 22 or 23.
Sherry's credentials as a teacher were established early. He was credited with helping turn Sandy Koufax from a wild left-handed pitcher into a Hall of Famer when the two were teammates with the Dodgers.
"Norm never got enough credit for what he did with Koufax," Craig said. "He really helped Sandy and helped make him the dominant pitcher he became."
When former Mariners manager Dick Williams was hired to manage the Expos in the late 1970s, he called on Sherry to work with a young outfielder/catcher named Gary Carter, turning him into one of the majors' best catchers during the 1980s.
"I worked with him every day," Sherry said. "He was a good student."
Though reluctant to plug his rivals, Craig said a lot of the credit for his and Sherry's ability as coaches and teachers comes from their Dodger years.
"Heaven knows I'm the last one who'd want to say something nice about the Dodgers, but it was that organization that gave us both our start," Craig said.
"You didn't just play baseball in those days, you studied baseball. They gave you written tests on the rules and you studied everything about the game. That's why you see so many people out of that organization become successful coaches."
Sherry's upbeat attitude is his biggest asset with Everett. Always positive, he teaches patience by never running out of it himself.
"In Norm's capacity there, you're going to find kids failing at some aspect of the game every day," Craig said. "It's Norm's job to find something positive to say to those guys the next day. He has to get them back out there to work on what they did wrong."
Sherry's players appreciate that part of their manager's job.
"Norm really makes you want to learn," said outfielder Butter Jones, who was promoted earlier this month to Clinton, Iowa. "You make mistakes and he teaches you how to learn from it instead of getting on you about it. I like that."
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