PP Feature: Stump Merrill

Stump Merrill, the sixty one year old skipper of the Trenton Thunder, is esteemed by many as one of the most knowledgeable people in the game. The term "lifer" is often used to describe how long Merrill has been involved with the game, and this is actually not far off.

Merrill was born on February 15, 1944 in the small town of Brunswick, Maine and still resides in Harpswell, Maine. Merrill, who would have been an teenager in the mid to late 1950's, said that his interest in baseball probably came from the fact that when he was growing up there was no TV and that the thing to do was to play baseball.

"Way back when I was a kid, they didn't even have organized ball yet." said Merrill.

But how did Merrill, born and raised in the heart of the Red Sox Nation, wind up finishing his 28th season in the Yankees organization in 2004?

"My college coach worked for the Yankees. He was the farm director."

Merrill played baseball during his time at the University of Maine, earning his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Physical Education. After college, Merrill was drafted in the second round of the 1966 free agent draft by the Phillies and played in their minor league system for six years before returning to the University of Maine as an assistant coach. Merrill was a catcher in the Phillies system during his playing career and hit .233 with two home runs and 92 runs batted in in his career.

Merrill entered professional ball as a coach in 1978 with West Haven of the Eastern League. Merrill is completing his 21st season as a professional manager with the Thunder this season. Merrill has coached at all different levels in his long career from Fort Lauderdale in the Florida State League all the way up to the almost two full seasons he spent as manager of the Yankees in 1990 and 91. Steve Braun, the Thunder hitting instructor, describes Merrill as "one of the best baseball men I have met."

"Stump's a great communicator. He commands respect and knows his personnel," added Braun.

"He's a strong, patient man. He never embarrasses the players." said Thunder coach Dan Radison.

Merrill is legendary for his will to win and his competitive desire. He says he probably crafted this part of character when he was growing up as a kid. Merrill credits his brother for instilling this in him and says it probably occurred because he would always lose to his brother when they played against each other growing up.

]Merrill is the owner of 445 career Eastern League wins and 1,447 Minor League wins, but Merrill cites his best moment in baseball as his first ever Major League win. That win came at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Wins have been hard to come by for the veteran Merrill in his two years with Trenton, however. The grizzled manager, who is known for captaining his boat to the ballpark and docking it just beyond the right field wall of the stadium, will finish both of his two seasons here with sub-.500 records. When asked if this year's team has provided him with a specific challenge or problem, Merrill replied, "Every team provides a challenge. If you're not challenged, then it's time to get out."

Merrill says he prefers to coach at the upper levels of the minor league system for a couple of reasons

"The players should know how to play a little bit better by the time they get to these levels." said Merrill.

Merrill says that it is this experience and this knowledge of the fundamentals that is the reason behind his preference to coach in the upper minor leagues. Merrill acknowledges that, "teaching goes on at all levels but there are more fundamentals at the lower levels." Merrill adds though that since players get to the Majors quicker in today's game there is more teaching at every level of professional ball.

The manager said that the most valuable lesson he learned in baseball during his illustrious career was, "respect the game and everything that goes with it." Merrill and his coaches try hard to impart the importance of this characteristic on to each of the players they coach. Thunder outfielder Mitch Jones said that his skipper, "keeps the team on a straight and narrow line. Stump is good at motivating (his players for success)."

Merrill credits his own success to a lot of the opportunities he received during his career.

"I was fortunate to spend time with a lot of good baseball people. Listen. Talk and ask questions." He added that, "Trial and error is also a part of it. I have been at a lot of games that I have been able to attend and watch." Merrill said that he wants to finish his managerial and coaching career as a Yankee and that it would mean quite a bit to him to be able to achieve this goal. He did not however speculate on a timetable as to when he might retire from the game.

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