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There’s a goal Cubs third-base coach Willie Harris wants to accomplish before his time in baseball comes to an end. One day, he hopes, someone out there will give him a shot to achieve it.
Harris is a charismatic individual who connects very well with the people around him.
You see that in his interactions with anyone he meets at Wrigley Field. You hear that in the way his fellow coaches and Cubs players speak about him. Heck, you even get a sense of that when you watch his various celebrations with players rounding third after a home run.
David Ross is one of Harris’ biggest supporters. The Cubs brought Harris onto Ross’ staff after Will Venable left to take the bench coach job in Boston after the 2020 season, and Ross has witnessed the value Harris brings to the table.
“I know Willie works his butt off,” the Cubs’ skipper said Sunday. “The players respect him. The players love him. He’s got a ton of experience.”
But when Harris looks at his future in baseball, it doesn’t end with him still being the one greeting sluggers 3/4 of the way through their home run trots.
He wants to be the manager of a Major League Baseball team. That’s been his goal since his playing career came to an end a decade ago and he broke into coaching in 2016. It’s a dream he hopes to one day fulfill, for reasons outside of just individual achievement.
“Man, for me personally, the ultimate goal is to help the young men,” Harris recently told CHGO. “I enjoy coaching third base, too. I enjoy being around the game. But I also enjoy leading young men. When you’re not the manager, you have to kind of stay in somewhat of a role and in your lane and certain things you can’t do, certain things you can’t say. That’s because you’re respecting the manager’s spot. For me, I just feel like I’ll be really good at it, because I’m good with players. I’m really good with relationships. I’m really good at communicating.”
One of the managerial spots that’ll be open this offseason sits right across town with a team Harris knows all too well.
Tony La Russa will not return to manage the White Sox in 2023, the team announced Monday, after he already missed all of September due to health issues. Harris previously interviewed for the same job two years ago before the South Siders hired La Russa and Harris ended up on the North Side.
Harris played for the White Sox for four seasons and was a role player on the 2005 World Series squad (his pinch-hit single in Game 4 led to the only run of the game as the Sox clinched the series over the Astros). His 2016 coaching debut came as the hitting coach for the White Sox’ Rookie League affiliate, Great Falls, and he managed their Single-A affiliate, Winston-Salem, in 2017.
The White Sox had a disappointing 2022 after being seen as World Series contenders in the preseason, but with Harris’ connection to the organization, that job opening is certainly one he’d want to fill.
“Oh, no doubt it would interest me,” Harris said. “I mean, with a team like that, a roster like that, that would interest any guy wanting to be a manager. They have a good thing going on over there. They’re going to make their decision on what they want to do. You just wait and see what they decide to do. Hopefully, I’m in their thoughts, and we’ll see what happens.”
Working against Harris’ candidacy for the job is what White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters on Monday is his criteria for hiring a new manager.
One, Hahn ideally wants someone who’s recently been a part of a winning ball club (the Cubs were 34 games under .500 in Harris’ two seasons on the North Side heading into Tuesday): “The right candidate is someone who has recent experience in the dugout with an organization that has contended for championships.”
And two, Hahn might be looking for someone with no direct ties to the White Sox, unlike their last four managers: “Having a history with the White Sox, having some sort of connection to White Sox DNA is by no means a requirement. I think we are going to use this opportunity to get different perspectives, new ways of looking at things, a little different from those who have been a little more insular to the organization.”
Hahn did also say he’s looking for a manager who is “an excellent communicator.” He wants someone “who understands the way the game has grown and evolved in the last decade or so,” though “respect for old-school sensibilities is going to be important, as well.” Those factors would seem to work in Harris’ favor, so it remains to be seen whether he does emerge as a candidate.
But regardless of if that becomes reality or not, Harris feels prepared to fill that role for any team that might come calling. His experience as the manager for Winston-Salem, plus two years managing the Giants’ Double-A affiliate, Richmond, has given him some knowledge in how to do it for a big league club.
He’s also gotten to learn under Ross for two seasons in Ross’ own first foray as a skipper — Harris describes Ross as “super positive,” “super fiery” and someone who “challenges his staff” — as well as bench coach Andy Green, who managed the Padres from 2016-19.
“It’s been fun, man,” Harris said. “Being around these guys and learning and picking up on different things. I pick up on something every day. Something happens in this game every day that you can learn from.”
Harris believes he has the skills and the knowledge to make it as a major league manager. All he needs now is a chance.
“We’ll see what happens,” Harris said. “I just feel like, when will you know if you’re ready if you don’t ever get an opportunity? I think about it all the time. You think about the great managers, like Dusty Baker, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon, Mike Scioscia. I could go on and on and on. They wouldn’t be who they are if someone didn’t give them a chance.
“You have to have an opportunity, and hopefully, at some point someone believes in me enough to give me that opportunity. I don’t know when that will be, or if that will be, but I’ll definitely be ready for it if it presents itself.”
That opportunity may not present itself this offseason. If it doesn’t, Harris said he’d love to keep coaching third base for the Cubs. But if it does, you better believe that Harris will be interested — and that the Cubs’ skipper would give him a glowing recommendation.
“He’s got a great baseball mind and has a lot of experiences to pull from,” Ross said. “So, as bad as it would be to lose him around here, he’s a pretty special human being. If that’s something he’s interested in — and it sounds like he is — then we wish him the best and [will] try to help him fulfill his dreams.”
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