Lou Fitzgerald: Minor League manager par excellance
Lou Fitzgerald: Minor League manager Par Excellance

Fitzgerald as manager of the Class D Pensacola Dons

Lou Fitzgerald did not break into minor-league managing with the 1957 Pensacola Dons, but that's where his career began to take off, and for now, at least, it's where I'll start the story. The Dons were an independent team in the Class D Alabama-Florida league, and Fitzgerald was a player/coach when a guy by the name of Rex Ford was fired partway through the season. The Dons still finished fifth of six teams, but in 1958, the Orioles picked up the Pensacola club as an affiliate and retained Fitzgerald. He led the club to a third place finish that year, as the Dons led the circuit in attendance. In 1959, Fitzgerald took a step back, as the Dons finished in fourth place, 25 games out. After the season, the new Los Angeles Angels signed a player development deal with Pensacola, and Baltimore moved him to the Class C Northern League for the 1960 season. But Pensacola was in a lot better shape when Fitzgerald left than when he'd come on.

He landed with the Aberdeen Pheasants, a club that had been managed by Earl Weaver to a second place finish the year before. Fitzgerald kept Weaver's winning ways, finishing 2 games over .500, and in third place. The following year, in 1961, Aberdeen finished second during the regular season, but swept their playoff games. Aberdeen had their first Northern League title in twelve years, and Fitzgerald had his first championship.

The 1962 expansion Colt .45's, who'd only had two affiliates the year before, had managerial openings throughout their four-tier system, and hired Fitzgerald on to manage the Class B Durham Bulls. He led the squad consisting of Rusty Staub and Ron Davis, among others, to a regular season championship, and a first round playoff series win, before bowing in the league finals.

For 1963, Fitzgerald was promoted to the AA Texas League, as he took over the newly-renamed San Antonio Bullets. Only Mike White, who'd actually played a class higher at AAA the year before, made the league All-Star team, and the team had no statistical leader, yet Fitzgerald again led his team to a regular-season championship. The Bullets lost to Tulsa 3 games to one in the finals, however.

Fitzgerald as manager of the '64 Bullets

The following year, they would avenge that loss. The '64 Bullets were loaded. Future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was in his second professional season, and eventual major leaguers Chris Zachary, Sonny Jackson, Dave Adlesh, and Chuck Harrison were all on board. San Antonio won games at a .670 clip, compiling an 85 - 55 record during the regular season, then followed that up with six playoff victories vs. only two losses to claim the Texas League championship. Fitzgerald had his fourth title of some type in four years. Fitzgerald left town following 1964, but he remains the winningest manager by percentage in San Antonio's long baseball history.

I guess it was too good to last, and in 1965, it didn't. The Astros moved their Texas League affiliate from San Antonio to Amarillo after only two years, incidentally creating a baseball vacancy in San Antonio that would last 4 years . The new Amarillo Sonics weren't startlingly bad (they finished 60 - 80, good for second place in the Texas League West), but from late July to early August they went through an embarassingly long 58-inning scoring drought. The Sonics absorbed six straight shutouts during the streak. I would imagine that was kinda tough for Lou to take; whatever the reason, though, 1965 was Fitzgerald's last season managing an Astros affiliate.

He landed in the Florida State League for 1966, managing the Reds' Tampa Tarpons farm club. They finished last, 46-1/2 games out. There must have been mitigating circumstances though, because after 1966, the Reds promoted Fitzgerald to their AAA Buffalo affiliate. It was the first time Fitzgerald had managed as high as AAA. But the affair was short-lived. Civil unrest rocked the city of Buffalo throughout the year, concerning the community to the point where night games had to be moved out of the city, and according to The Buffalo Bison's web site, ". . .the unrest and the uncertainty about where they were playing had a dire effect on the team. There was a further disruption on July 5 when the parent Reds, without even notifying President Guthrie, removed Lou Fitzgerald as manager and replaced him with long-time major league infielder Don Zimmer." Actually what happened is they promoted Zimmer to Buffalo from the AA Knoxville Smokies and demoted Fitgerald to Knoxville. The Reds' minor league systems appears to have been a mess: Fitzgerald was not impressed with Knoxville, telling Bernie Carbo, one of the better players at Knoxville, that he had never had a worse team than the Smokies. At the end of the season, the Reds treated the city of Buffalo in the same way they had treated Fitzgerald, declining to extend the player development deal with Buffalo at a time when the city of Buffalo needed the Reds most, saying that "the City of Buffalo is no place to develop a player." Kinda reminds me of the way the Cleveland Indians treated the city of Homestead, Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.

Glad I'm sure to be out of the Reds' system, Fitzgerald reappeared the following year in the Western Carolina league. In something of a comeback, he managed the 1968 single A Greenwood Braves to both regular and post-season championships, and was named the league's manager of the year. The events of the previous three years notwithstanding, he had managed five teams in 12 years to at least a regular season title, and had twice in that time been named his league's best manager.

For 1969, the Braves promoted Fitzgerald back up to the Texas league, where he managed their Shreveport affiliate. The team went 61 - 75, 7-1/2 back of the (barely .500) Memphis Blues. After a poor start there in 1970, Fitzgerald was removed and replaced by Clint Courtney, who ironically, Fitzgerald had managed while at the helm of Durham in 1962.

. . .And that's it. Fitzgerald seems to have disappeared off the minor league map after that. Looks like he went out the way he came in: at midseason. In 2001, he scouted for the Florida Marlins, and maybe 1970 was the year he first figured it might be easier to be a professional scout than a minor league manager. Or maybe he took a coaching job with a major league club, then fell into scouting after that. Regardless, Fitzgerald appears to have been a damn fine manager who was at the receiving end of a couple raw deals.

"I was fortunate enough in the minor leagues to have some coaches like Clint Courtney, Scrap Iron, Lou Fitzgerald, guys who now aren’t household names, but who not only taught me how to play the game, but who taught me how to think the game, and to think ahead of the game."

     -- Dusty Baker

Anyone who can fill me in further on the managerial career of Lou Fitzgerald, like with his split season records in 1957, 1967, or 1970, or with his activities after that, or pictorial materials, is invited to email me. I'd appreciate it , and will give you credit for your help.

This page, like most of my minors page, would have been impossible without Lloyd Johnson & Miles Wolff's Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball. The MySanAntonio.com and the Buffalo Bisons websites were also very helpful.

Click here to go back to Astroland