Benji Gil has never been offered an MLB manager job. He's determined to change that
Benji Gil didn’t hold back. When asked about the World Baseball Classic’s decision to move up Mexico’s quarterfinal game against Puerto Rico to Friday, the Mexico manager bluntly contended that it was unfair.
The plan had been for the winner of Pool C to play Saturday against Pool D’s runner-up. Mexico won Pool C. Puerto Rico finished second in Pool D. But there was some fine print: Team USA would play Saturday’s quarterfinal game if it advanced from Pool C no matter what — whether the Americans finished in first or second. As a result, Team USA will face Venezuela, the Pool D winner, Saturday while Mexico had an off day after a cross-country flight snatched away.
“It’s a disadvantage,” Gil said a few hours before first pitch Friday. “100%.”
The hindrance ultimately didn’t matter. Mexico came from behind to beat Puerto Rico 5-4 after falling behind 4-0 in the first inning for the country’s biggest victory in international baseball competition. With it, Mexico advanced to the WBC semifinals for the first time to play Japan on Monday.
"We are showing what Mexican players are capable of at the highest level," Gil said.
Gil is known for his (relatively) unfiltered thoughts on topics. One is his future. He played eight seasons in the majors — four each with the Texas Rangers and Angels — as a utility infielder and nearly two decades in the Mexican winter league. Now he wants to become a major league manager. It’s what he’s working toward. It’s a reason why he took a job on the Angels’ coaching staff before last season and a reason why he chose to manage Mexico in the WBC.
“Anything that keeps you getting closer to the end goal,” Gil, 50, said. “And the end goal is to manage at the big league level some day and win a world title.”
Gil isn’t the only manager in the tournament who could end up heading a major league dugout in the future. Puerto Rico manager Yadier Molina began his managerial career in the Venezuelan winter league immediately after retiring at the end of last season following a 19-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Team USA manager Mark DeRosa had never managed before this tournament, but he’s interviewed for multiple major league managerial jobs.
DeRosa, however, said he didn’t take the Team USA job with an eye on a future opportunity in the majors.
“I felt like it would just be a golden opportunity to get back in the fight with the best players in the world,” DeRosa said. “That was the motivating factor in this.”
Team USA was the overwhelming favorite to win Pool C, but Mexico upset the Americans last Sunday. The result ultimately served as a tiebreaker to win the group. But, as Gil noted, Mexico was given a bad draw.
Mexico landed in Miami from Phoenix at 7 a.m. Thursday. Instead of working out, Mexico chose to take the day off. Meanwhile, the U.S., with an extra day of rest, worked out Friday at loanDepot Park. The adjustment also meant Mexico and Dodger ace Julio Urías had a day of rest taken away. Urías gave up four runs in the first inning Friday before tossing three scoreless innings to end his outing. He threw 60 pitches.
“It's nothing against the U.S., all right?” Gil said. “If it's because of TV, I'm telling you right now, if I'm not here, if I'm not at the tournament, I would be watching the game. And I'm not going to say, ‘Oh, well, I'm not going to watch the U.S. game because it's on Friday and FS1, instead of Saturday on Fox.’”
Gil’s candor is refreshing in an increasingly buttoned-up world. It’s one of the things he’s known for from his time managing in Mexico. That, and winning. Gil has won a lot from the top step. He’s compiled four championships in the Mexican winter league with the Tomateros de Culiacán, a team he spent 13 seasons with as a player. They lost in Game 7 of the championship series another year.
Last season was rocky in Culiacán. So rocky that he was fired in November after a disappointing start only to be re-hired within hours after players protested the decision.
“For us, he's a leader, a leader to follow,” said Mexico catcher Alexis Wilson, who has also played under Gil in Culiacán. “He's a mentor for me and for many, someone who has given us that confidence you need."
In his only season in the summer Mexican League, he led the expansion Mariachis de Guadalajara to the league’s best record without an expansion draft to fill the roster. The exploits led to being named manager of Mexico’s Olympic baseball team in Tokyo and to the position for the country’s 2023 WBC team — the most talented Mexican baseball team ever assembled for an international competition.
“He’s the best manager in Mexico,” said former major leaguer Edgar González, Mexico’s manager in the 2017 WBC. “And he’s the best because he’s a great motivator. Guys have to be able to motivate players nowadays.”
This week, Gil led Mexico to an unexpected first-place finish in Pool C, buoyed by an upset over Team USA in Phoenix. It’s a tiny sample size added to a decade of managerial experience. But none of that experience has come in affiliated baseball.
“I want to believe that this helps, and that it should,” Gil said. “I think anybody managing in this should be worthy of consideration. Hopefully, this matters and they'll really evaluate. The way I would love it to be is that I'm literally getting scouted.”
Gil was born in Tijuana and grew up on both sides of the border. He went to school on the U.S. side — in National City and Chula Vista — and played all of his baseball in Mexico. He crossed the border, he said, three or four times a week. His father lived in Tijuana — he had a business there — and visited days at a time.
Because of the experience, he not only seamlessly bounces between English and Spanish, but he relates to Latinos and Americans alike at a different level. About 30% of players on major-league rosters are Latino. Gil’s ability to communicate checks another box.
“”There's a lot of people that are bilingual,” Gil said. “There's not a lot of people that are bicultural. There's a tremendous difference.”
Gil said he’s never interviewed for a major league managerial job. He remains hopeful he’ll get a shot down the line. For now, he continues to pad his resume and speak his mind with a team making history.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.