By: Brian Frank
Jeff Ware took over as interim manager of the Buffalo Bisons on July 13 when former manager Casey Candaele was promoted to Toronto to be the bench coach for new Blue Jays manager John Schneider. Ware recently spoke with The Herd Chronicles about becoming the twenty-third manager of the Bisons' modern era.
“It had crossed my mind,” Ware said of his desire to become a manager, “but I was so locked into being a pitching coach and I was a pitcher – you don’t see a whole lot of pitchers getting an opportunity to manage a club. When the Blue Jays approached me about being the interim manager, I was a little nervous, but I was excited at the same time just for the opportunity and that they believe in me to take over the club for the rest of the season.”
Ware is the twenty-third manager of the team's modern era. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Ware pitched professionally for ten seasons and made it to the major leagues with the 1995 and 1996 Blue Jays. He began his coaching career in 2007 as pitching coach of the Staten Island Yankees. After seven years coaching in the Yankees system, he became the pitching coach for the Blue Jays affiliates in Vancouver (2014) and Lansing (2015-16), before serving as Toronto's Minor League Pitching Coordinator from 2017 to 2019. The last two seasons, he’s been the Bisons pitching coach.
Ware has been influenced by many managers throughout his careers as both a pitcher and coach.
“You try, even as a player, to take bits and pieces from other players and staff. As a staff member, a pitching coach or a manager – what you learn, you learn from the environment that you’re around. I’ve been with so many managers. I’ve learned things from Dennis Holmberg. I learned things from John Schneider – we lived together and now he’s the manager in Toronto. You just take bits and pieces from everybody and kind of make it your own. You kind of see what works and what maybe doesn’t work. There’s countless other managers that I’ve had. I played for Cito Gaston in the mid-90s. So taking a little bit from him. Just take a little bit of everything and try to make it your own.”
Not a lot of pitchers go on to become managers. Ware is only the second former pitcher to manage the Herd in their modern era – with Marc Bombard being the first in 1992. As a former pitcher and pitching coach, he brings a unique perspective to the Bisons’ helm.
“I think I can give a pitching perspective to the position players when we’re talking about pitch metrics or pitch sequencing – you know setting up hitters and reading swings, things like that,” he said. “That’s something that I can continue to bring to position players and give them another perspective.”
“The most important thing for me, besides obviously knowing the game, is having relationships with your players. As a pitching coach, you had those relationship with the pitchers. Sometimes you don’t get to be around or have those close relationships with the position players – but as a manager you get to do both sides. That’s kind of one of the things I’m really excited about. I get to talk about the whole game of baseball as opposed to just limiting it to the pitching side.”
There’s always a balance in the minor leagues between developing players and trying to win. Ware believes that proper player development leads to winning.
“Everybody wants to win, you always want to win, but you want to develop too,” he said. “I always like to use the phrase – You want to develop with the intent to win. I think that if you’re developing players you should be able to win some games. I feel that if you’re developing the right way that should put you in position to win some games, for sure.”
Ware looks on from the Sahlen Field dugout. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
One of the issues Ware was dealing with as pitching coach has followed him to the manager’s role. The Bisons have only been using two true starting pitchers – Casey Lawrence and Thomas Hatch – and have been having bullpen days for their other games. Ware believes that the large number of pitchers the Bisons have on their roster allows them to successfully have so many bullpen days.
“Actually, I think we have nineteen pitchers here right now – two of them are major-league rehab guys – so, you can get away with using two starters,” Ware said. “It’s not that bad – juggling them all around and making sure they’re getting their work that they need to get in so they can be ready for the big leagues when that call comes. Being the pitching coordinator for three years with the Blue Jays, I really think that gave me a good sense of how to work it. It’s like putting a puzzle together. You have so many pitchers and you’ve got to get them in. You’ve got to do some matchups here and there. You’ve got to get this guy multiple innings, this guy’s got to start, this guy’s a one or two inning guy. I got used to that as a coordinator, so I think that’s going to help me put this puzzle together.”
Bisons fans can expect to continue to see the same hustling type of team they’ve grown accustomed to the last two seasons under Candaele.
“We have a lot of energy,” Ware said. “The guys want to win. They play hard every day. Casey Candaele, a friend of mine, set that tone last year when he became the manager. Two of our main rules are be on time and play hard. That’s what we want to do. That’s kind of the tradition I’m trying to carry on here with these guys – in Casey’s honor so to speak.”