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Rookie manager Steven Vogt inspires hot Cleveland Guardians to 'go the hard 90'

Cleveland Guardians manager Stephen Vogt greets his lineup of players with fist bumps.
Ron Schwane
Cleveland Guardians manager Stephen Vogt is introduced before a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, Monday, April 8, 2024, in Cleveland.

The Guardians are off to one of their best starts in franchise history. After a 13-7 win Tuesday night in Colorado, they're 37-18, 3.5 games ahead of Kansas City for first place in the American League Central Division. Only the Philadelphia Phillies have a better record in Major League Baseball.

It’s a surprising start, considering the team began the season with a rookie manager who took over for the legendary Terry Francona. Francona retired at the end of last season after 23 years as a manager, including 11 in Cleveland.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said Stephen Vogt was unknown to many fans.

“Now some hardcore fans would know that, you know, he made a couple of All-Star teams once upon a time, and that. But I don't think anybody would say in late May of ‘23 this guy will be managing the Guardians and be probably the hottest young manager in baseball a year later. That's what's happened,” Pluto said.

At this time in 2022, Vogt was catching for the Oakland A's. Last year he served as the Seattle Mariners' bullpen coach before being named manager in Cleveland.

“I really had no idea how Stephen Vogt would be as a manager. Wasn't negative, wasn't positive,” Pluto said.

But Pluto said he was sure of one thing: Vogt’s background as a catcher would work to his advantage as a manager.

“In fact, he literally sees the game differently. Think about when everybody else is in the field. They're all looking at the batter. The catcher is behind the plate. He's looking at the entire field. So that's one," Pluto said.

"Number two is when they prepare each game, the catcher is sitting there with the pitcher and the pitching coach, and usually some guy from the analytics department, or at least some guy with all the stats, and they're going over the opposing lineup they're facing that day," he said. "So in the process, the catcher is having more contact with the coaching staff, with the front office, than about any other regular player.”

Pluto said Vogt also has characteristics the team was looking for.

“He's very poised, very upbeat (and he) has heart for players. By the way, a lot of these are Francona traits. He also has a Francona gift of talking about the obvious in an interesting way and sending messages to his players through his press conferences," Pluto said. "It's like, you know, he has a phrase, he goes, ‘We go the hard 90.’ You know, it’s 90 ft. from home plate to first base. ‘We run out pop ups, we run out ground balls, we run out everything. We’re willing to cause chaos on the bases and if we get thrown out, o.k.,'" Pluto said.

Pluto believes that message not only helps the players, but the franchise.

“You know, they're battling for every ticket, every fan, every eyeball on TV. They're not the Browns. It just, that's the life in Cleveland if you're running a baseball team,” Pluto said.

The biggest key to the Guardians’ early success, according to Pluto, is having one of the best players in baseball at third base: José Ramirez. He leads the majors with 54 RBIs.

“When you have José, who's a veteran, and then you have these younger stars coming up, when your best player plays harder than anybody else —José's always running things out hard — you don't have to do a lot of speeches to other guys. You just go, ‘Look at him. Do what he's doing,’” Pluto said.

Pluto said the other weapon has been the Guardians’ surprisingly stellar bullpen, which is among the best in the majors.

Pluto acknowledges he didn’t see the hot start coming.

“I picked them 72-90. I'm a moron, that’s what this made me look like. And I'm glad. I remember when I said that … Man, I hope I'm really wrong on this one. I mean, they look like a playoff team,” Pluto said.

Pluto said he’ll be watching to see how Vogt handles adversity as the season progresses.

“I mean, the big test will be, he's going to have one of these where they're going to lose 10 out of 15 or something like that, you know, how does he handle that?" Pluto said. "My guess is though, he'll be pretty steady and handle it pretty well because that just seems to be his style."

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