NORMAL - With a World Series ring on his finger and a National League Manager of the Year award on his mantel, Hal Lanier took the managerial reins of the Normal CornBelters on Wednesday.
"This is very special starting off brand new from the ground up with a new organization like the CornBelters," Lanier said in a morning news conference at Heartland College. "I'm very excited. We intend to put a very competitive and productive team on the field, one our fans can enjoy watching and be excited about coming to our games."
Lanier's hiring was announced by CornBelters president Steve Malliet, who is overseeing the construction of a stadium on the Heartland campus. The Normal team will open play in the independent Frontier League in May.
"Hal is a guy we're thrilled to have come our way. To me, he's the No. 1 manager in independent baseball," said Malliet. "There is not another manager I know of in independent baseball or minor league baseball that has the kind of experience and knowledge we have here in Normal."
A major league infielder from 1964 to '73, the 67-year-old Lanier was the third base coach for the 1982 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. He earned NL Manager of the Year honors after leading Houston to 96 victories and a division championship in 1986.
After his final season with the Astros in 1988, Lanier returned to managing in 1996 with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League. He guided Winnipeg for 10 seasons before two years as the skipper of the Joliet Jackhammers. Lanier spent the past two summers with Sussex of the Can-Am League.
"Hal was my manager in Joliet a few years back. I really gained a healthy respect for Hal," Malliet said. "He has been to me the No. 1 manager in independent baseball, not just from a baseball perspective but from a good guy perspective."
Lanier pointed to his past association with Malliet as a critical factor in accepting the position.
"I've always had a great respect for Steve throughout the years," said Lanier. "That's why I'm standing here today."
According to Lanier, baseball is "still in my blood. I enjoy the young kids. Hopefully they can learn from myself and my coaching staff and maybe go on to better things."
In 21 years as a major, minor and independent league manager, Lanier has a record of 1,338-1,033.
Malliet also announced Nick Belmonte as the CornBelters' director of player development.