By Sweeny Murti
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If the Yankees choose to go in-house for their next manager, the candidate with the most experience inside the organization is Rob Thomson, who interviewed for the job this week.
No, this isn't Robby Thompson the former Giants second baseman. This is Rob Thomson (no "p"), who has spent the last 28 years in the Yankees organization. And, yes, the latter does still get fan mail addressed to the former.
It is hard to find someone that people around the game like and respect as much as Thomson, whose only full season as a manager was with the Oneonta Yankees of the Class A New York-Penn League in 1995.
"He deserves to manage more than anyone I know," said Derek Shelton, the Minnesota Twins' new bench coach who has been a big league hitting coach for more than a decade since playing and managing in the Yankees minor league system. "He has put in the time and the work."
"I thought he was a very good communicator," added Mike Lowell, a four-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion who was a first-year pro at Oneonta in 1995. "He was to the point with us. He was direct with us. He was honest with us. He earned the respect of guys very quickly."
Thomson is 54 and his strengths are his knowledge of the game and his ability to teach. He is widely regarded in the organization as a great coach and communicator. After serving in both coaching and administrative roles in the organization from 1990 to 2007, Thomson spent the last 10 seasons on Joe Girardi's staff as both third base and bench coach. He's not exactly the youthful numbers-cruncher many assume the Yankees want as Girardi's replacement.
"I'm looking for the right person, regardless of age," general manager Brian Cashman said last week.
Cashman went on to say he wanted his manager to be open-minded, progressive thinking, and willing to challenge all the voices in the organization, including his own. Cashman said he wanted someone "willing to push back and have open discourse."
Thomson hit on many of those themes in a conference call with reporters on Thursday, and it's a good bet he highlighted those themes in a five-to-six hour job interview Wednesday that he called very thorough and tiring.
"It wore me down," said Thomson, who has interviewed for only one other managerial opening in his career. That was with Toronto after the 2010 season.
But one thing Thomson was able to highlight this time was his close relationships with the players and how he will be able to connect with them, perhaps in a way Girardi could not.
"I am a new voice, a fresh voice," Thomson said. "As much as I know Joe and respect Joe, everyone is a little bit different."
His familiarity with the current group is an attribute that no other candidate can match.
"I know these guys in and out," Thomson said. "My communication skills, being able to reach them and get some trust ... I think that's a big deal."
I asked him how he could maintain that same level of trust and communication with the players if he was the man in charge rather than their confidant and middle-man to the manager. Thomson said the key would be to "continue to give these guys the feel that you've got their back and you're doing everything you can in their best interests. You can't hide in the corner. You've gotta be out there and you've gotta be talking, you've gotta be communicating and get a feel for who they are. I think if you continue to do that as a manager, as a coach, whatever, I think you've got it."
I made the case last week that the next Yankees manager doesn't necessarily have to have ties to the Yankees organization, that it doesn't really matter in this day and age. But it does matter a little.
There are some I've spoken to who believe that being a Yankee or having some connection to the Yankees means something. It has little to do with winning or losing games, but for the public image that matters to the fans the face of the team should be aware of Yankees history and shouldn't have a quizzical look when someone brings up Reggie's three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series or some other part of the team's history that fans know forwards and backwards.
In reality, none of that makes much difference when trying to win in 2018. But there is such a thing as understanding the pressures and expectations that come with this job. And the weight of history is what makes those pressures and expectations real. That is part of understanding what managing the Yankees is all about.
Of all the candidates that will interview for this job, Thomson knows that as well as anyone.
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