With his team tied for first place in the Frontier League’s East Division, Bart Zeller resigned Sunday morning as manager of the Wild Things.
According to Wild Things owner Stu Williams, the 72-year-old Zeller cited “health reasons and concerns” for his resignation.
Zeller did not respond to a request for comment.
Zeller guided Washington to a 31-19 record entering Sunday evening’s home game against the Florence Freedom. It was Washington’s final game before the all-star break.
“I do not know what his health reasons and concerns are,” Williams said, “but I do know that to leave a team as good as this one, and at this point in the season, that must say something.”
An interim manager has not been named. Hitting coach Bob Didier, pitching coach Kevin Gryboski and bench coach Bob Bozzuto prepared the team Sunday.
“I’ve talked to the coaching staff, and I’m going to take the rest of the week to think about it,” Williams said.
“We have three extremely talented individuals. Bob Bozzuto has meant so much to this team for so many years and is a knowledgeable baseball guy. Bob Didier has probably 50 years of experience, almost all of it is on the major league-level, and Kevin Gryboski is a major-league-talented pitcher who is taking good care of the pitchers. With that in mind, I can’t make a wrong decision. I expect we will have a solution after the all-star break.”
Zeller was to manage the East Division team in the Frontier League All-Star game Wednesday night in Sauget, Ill. He will be replaced by Evansville’s Andy McCauley. Gryboski and Bozzuto were to be coaches at the game but Williams said no members of the Wild Things’ coaching staff will be going to Sauget.
Among the in-game duties for Zeller was coaching third base. That job was done Sunday night by Didier, who coached third base in the major leagues when he was on the coaching staff of the Oakland Athletics.
The resignation came one day after the Wild Things defeated Florence, 5-4, in a game that included two pitches thrown behind batters and warnings issued to both teams by home plate umpire Matt Neader. Moments after Washington starter Tyler Elrod threw a pitch behind Florence’s Joe Staley in the fourth inning, there was an altercation in the Wild Things’ dugout between Zeller and Gryboski.
Following the game, there was a players-only meeting on the field that Williams described as “a group of adults getting together and deciding to act like adults.”
The coaching staff later met with Williams. Gryboski was not in the dugout Sunday night. He watched the game from the owner’s suite. A Wild Things spokesman said Gryboski was not suspended.
“Last night, we had a problem in the dugout and a little problem on the field. We got to the bottom of that situation (in the dugout),” Williams said. “It was all game-time emotion and needed to be dealt with.”
Despite trailing 4-0 in the inning of the altercation between coaches, Washington rallied to win the game, getting a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth from Stewart Ijames and scoring four times in the fifth.
“This team is incredible,” Williams said. “It is as professional as a group as any I’ve met in any walk of life. … If anybody is missing this season, then they’re missing something extraordinary.”
Zeller was in his second season as Washington’s manager. The Wild Things had a 41-55 record and finished in sixth place in the East last year.
Zeller managed the Joliet Slammers for two seasons (2011-12) and led them to a league championship in 2011. He was let go by the Slammers after the 2012 season and hired as bench coach by Washington. When Chris Bando resigned citing health reasons in the offseason, Zeller was promoted to manager.
Washington will begin the season’s second half Friday night at home against the River City Rascals.