The Cleveland Guardians are in the middle of a COVID outbreak.
Not only did Manager Terry Francona test positive for the virus, but so too did many members of his staff.
So, stepping up to the helm, is Guardians pitching coach Carl Willis.
Here are three things to know about the former player.
Guardians pitching coach Carl Willis will serve as the team's manager this weekend in Minnesota. First-base coach Sandy Alomar among the six coaches who tested positive for COVID-19.
— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) May 12, 2022
1. Rings a Bell
Willis’ playing career wasn’t exactly…memorable.
He played nine seasons, mostly in relief.
But when he was progressing through the minors, he was hailed as “the next Rollie Fingers.”
However, it didn’t quite turn out that way.
Willis finished with a 4.25 ERA over 267 games.
But what might be his most memorable (and oddly foreshadowing) moment, actually came in his debut.
Willis was called into service by Sparky Anderson.
Anderson is, let’s just say, a legend.
And while Willis’ first stint on the mound wasn’t perfect, he did enough to hand the ball off to Willie Hernandez.
Oh, and it was the 1984 season.
OH–the season Willie Hernandez won AL Cy Young and MVP honors.
A pretty fun way to start a career.
2. Cy Young Magnet
If you’ve never heard of Carl Willis before today, that’s okay.
But you’ve probably heard of some of his students.
And what do all of those aces have in common?
For starters, each has been a Cy Young winner, and each one has been coached by Willis.
It’s an insane feat.
And one few have replicated.
Carl Willis pitched five seasons (1991-95) in Minnesota and was 20-10 with a 3.56 ERA IN 204 appearances. He won a World Series ring with the Twins in 1991.
Willis will manage the Guardians at Target Field this weekend while Cleveland’s coaching staff is decimated by COVID.
— Joe Noga (@JoeNogaCLE) May 12, 2022
The only other coach to have more pupils win the coveted award is Leo Mazzone, who oversaw the Atlanta Braves’ loaded pitching rotation featuring Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.
Willis regularly hosted his stars at his North Carolina home.
For instance, North Carolina is where his working relationship with Sabathia began.
And in the 2008 preseason, he brought Cliff Lee down to work on some mechanics.
Lee had been recently demoted to the minors, and the stubborn lefty was talked into changing his approach.
The next season, 2008, Lee posted an insane season.
And yes, a Cy Young winning season.
Think Willis learned anything from Hernandez back in ‘84?
3. High Respect
Not only has he coached some of the best pitchers in the game, but he has garnered high praise from them as well.
Here’s what Sabathia had to say about Willis:
“[Willis] molded me into what I am now. …I owe him everything.”
That’s fairly extraordinary praise, considering Sabathia is one of the top (five? ten?) pitchers of the 21st century.
And check out what Bieber had to say about Willis:
“He’s extremely special. He’s a pro’s pro. He is an absolute gem of a human being and a pitching coach. I’ve learned a lot from him not just about pitching but about life and the big leagues and how to go about things day by day.”
Again, very high praise from an excellent arm.
Over his career, Willis has shown an ability to work with highly-touted prospects (Sabathia and Lee), as well as former walk-ons (like Bieber).
I think the Guardians are in good hands.
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