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Claire: Relaxed Towers misses running show

Claire: Relaxed Towers misses running show

It is early September, and Kevin Towers is more relaxed at this time of the year than he has been since, well, he really can't remember when.

It isn't that Towers doesn't have responsibilities and reports to file for his new employer, the New York Yankees, it's just that life is very good for an energetic 48-year-old man who has spent all of his adult life in professional baseball as a player, scout and front-office executive.

When I reached Towers by telephone, he was at a beach house in La Jolla, Calif., with an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean.

It isn't Towers' favorite view -- that one would be sitting behind home plate at a baseball game -- but it will do just fine for now.

Life is good when the team you are working for is on top of the standings in the American League East, and the team you played a major role in forming -- the San Diego Padres -- is leading the National League West.

Towers is in his 29th season in professional baseball, including 26 years with the Padres and two with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He was the longest-tenured general manager in the Major Leagues, guiding the Padres over parts of 14 seasons, when the team announced he was being relieved of his duties last October with a year to go on his contract.

Under his guidance, the Padres had reached the postseason four times (1996, 1998, 2005-06) and narrowly missed a third consecutive playoff appearance in 2007 following a one-game tiebreaker loss to Colorado.

The dismissal of Towers created a perception that the Padres were in trouble and needed a new direction.

Towers and his staff, and the players themselves -- if you go by their recent comments -- knew better.

The Padres under Towers had assembled a talented group of young players, and that has been on display this season despite the team's recent struggles.

Other teams also recognized the job Towers and his organization had accomplished, and it wasn't long before job opportunities came the way of the veteran baseball man.

In mid-March of this year, Towers accepted a job to work for Yankee general manager Brian Cashman as a special assignment scout.

"My role with the Yankees couldn't have worked out better," says Towers. "I spent three weeks with the big league club in Spring Training, and then in April and May I did free-agent scouting for [vice president of scouting] Damon Oppenheimer.

"In June and July, Brian asked me to see all of the Yankees' top Minor League clubs, because he didn't want to make a mistake on the players in the Yankees' system with the Trading Deadline approaching.

"I was just one set of eyes in all of this, as the Yankees have a great group of executives and talent evaluators. Brian does a great job of gathering information as he prepares to make his decisions."

In the middle of this month, Towers said he will do advance scouting as the Yankees prepare for the stretch drive and for postseason play.

"It's been a real learning experience to see first-hand how the Yankees operate," Towers said. "They have a well-oiled machine. It was a learning experience for me, as you are a part of forming an American League team as opposed to a National League team.

"And it's nice to be in a position that when you talk about players available in trades, you don't have to eliminate people because of salary concerns. Everyone is open for discussion."

The former San Diego general manager said he is happy to see the success of the Padres this year, and he gives credit to new GM Jed Hoyer.

"This is Jed's team, and the people now with the Padres deserve the credit for the success this season," Towers said. "Jed took a good team and he made it a better team."

The people in the game know the work that Towers did to help assemble the Padres' young starting pitching staff through the Draft and the acquisition of effective performers in the bullpen, but the former GM is quick to pass on any credit to his scouting department.

"I've been given credit for pitchers we acquired while with the Padres, but that credit belongs to the scouts," said Towers.

Towers said he has enjoyed getting back to his own scouting roots this year and he has treasured the time he has been able to spend with his family.

"My life has been such that my blood pressure has dropped considerably after being at a level of concern," said Towers.

All of that being said, Towers admits he misses the role of being a general manager and leading an organization.

"Once it's in your blood, you can't help but miss it," said Towers. "You miss the day-to-day decisions, the people who you work with and the feeling of that daily pressure. You can't help but miss it."

Towers' current contract with the Yankees, paid primarily by the Padres, will come to an end on Oct. 31.

"I guess you could say I'll be a free agent at that time," he said.

You can be assured Towers will be open to getting back into the role of a general manager, high blood pressure and all.

A more relaxed September and a view of the ocean is nice. It just doesn't compare to the dream of seeing a World Series championship flag whipping in the breeze at your own ballpark.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as Executive Vice-President and general manager. He is the author of "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue." This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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