From the Tampa Tribune’s Carter Gaddis :

“A couple of years ago, I actually sensed that what’s in my heart is baseball,” Mike Schmidt said Friday during a conference call with reporters, shortly after he interviewed for the Devil Rays’ vacant manager position. “It was sort of wasting away, a lot of knowledge, secrets I’d learned about how to win a baseball game. I’m a baseball man, and I’m a baseball man without a place to prove it.”

Schmidt, 56, requested the interview with Rays team president Matt Silverman and director of baseball development Andrew Friedman. After a tough 2004 season as manager of the Single-A Clearwater Threshers — during which he became convinced life in the low minors was not for him — Schmidt said he was intrigued by the chance to help shape the direction of an organization being rebuilt “from the ground up.”

Schmidt had hoped merely for a foot in the door. He came away after spending the early afternoon with Silverman and Friedman feeling confident about his chances to at least be considered a finalist for the job as Lou Piniella’s replacement.

Schmidt said he hopes his status as a Hall of Famer could be an asset to the organization off the field, as well as on it. He also said he learned a lot in ’04 with the Threshers, despite resigning after a 55-81 season.

“I’m a communicator. I think my strongest asset going is my bedside manner,” he said. “I love to create relationships with the young men on the team and create an environment where they have their best chance of reaching their potential in the game. In any way, shape or form … having passed through my watch, it’ll make them a better player.”

I suppose part of baseball’s universal appeal is that it is such an incredibly simple game to manage, so much so that a guy can leave the game for 14 years, lead a club in the lowest rung of the minors to the worst record in their league, and still be considered a viable candidate for a big league opening a year after quitting.

Or failing that, be considered a candidate for the Devil Rays vacancy.