So, how do you replace a legend?
“I don’t know,” quipped new Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s manager Tom Bush, a 1970 Truman High School graduate who has made his mark as a longtime Eastern Jackson County American Legion baseball coach and manager, as he drove with his prep coach and longtime friend Clyde Kubli to a recent A’s tryout.
“I’ll let you know when I find out.”
Bush and Kubli chuckled because they realize no one can replace Mike Rooney, one of the winningest American Legion managers in the history of the state of Missouri.
Over the past 27 years, Rooney has managed A’s teams that won six state championships (1995, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2013), with two runner-up finishes (2000 and 2006), a third-place finish in 1994 and a fourth in 2017.
The 2003 team finished fifth in the American Legion World Series.
During Rooney’s reign, the A’s were an incredible 1,257-408.
But a number that makes those lofty totals pale in comparison is the fact that 89.7 percent of the 341 players Rooney has managed have earned college scholarships.
“Here’s what people don’t know about Mike,” said Kubli, a longtime A’s associate and former state championship winning coach and Truman High School Hall of Famer, “is how hard he works to get his kids scholarships.”
That work will continue, as Rooney will still serve as a general manager for the A’s.
But Bush will be calling the shots on the field – and that’s something he has had great success with in the past.
He was a coach for Rooney from 2000-2005, then left to manage Independence Post 21 for seven years. His 2012 team stunned the local American Legion crowd with a Zone 2 championship that few saw coming.
“That was quite a feat, because there is so much talent, so many great teams in the area,” said Bush, a humble individual who prefers to remain in the shadows while his players get the accolades. “But we went to state and so many of the kids and their parents began complaining about playing time, and it just ruined it for me, so I came back to the A’s in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and then went back to Post 21 for two years. We had some young, enthusiastic coaches with Post 21, but they had families and went their different ways, so I came back this year to coach with Mike.”
While it appeared Jack Gillis, who has been by Rooney’s side the past 18 years, would take over the program, that never materialized.
“I like Jack and would have loved to have coached for Jack,” Bush said, “but he has grandkids who are playing and he told Mike he just couldn’t make the commitment. So Mike and I talked and he asked me if I’d like to be the manger and I told him I’d do it.
“I love coaching, and there were days I loved managing. And I think I’m going to love managing the A’s next season. We might only have four players back, so it’s going to be a rebuilding year.
“Clyde and I are driving out to our second tryout camp, and I’m excited about the kids we’ve seen. We had 18 kids come out to our tryout the other day and that was a significant improvement over the numbers we saw last year.
“It’s exciting seeing the new kids, thinking about what they can become next year. It’s going to take some time to build an A’s team like all the great A’s teams Mike coached, but we’re going to give it our best shot and I’m excited.”