January 30 – Happy Birthday Joe Kerrigan

UnknownOne of the last things George Steinbrenner did as the active owner of the New York Yankees to upset me was harping and complaining about Mel Stottlemyre’s coaching style just enough to cause one of my all-time favorite Yankees to resign as the team’s pitching coach. I always thought Stottlemyre was one of the best pitching mentors in the game and his work with the Mets’ staffs of the mid eighties and the Yankee pitchers in the nineties produced outstanding results. Nevertheless, the Boss had a long history of blaming his team’s coaches for the players’ failures and Stottlemyre became part of that history after the 2005 season. The Yankees had hired today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as a scout that same season.

Joe Kerrigan had an unspectacular three-plus season big-league career as a reliever during the late 1970s and than became the Expos bullpen coach in 1983. After four seasons in that position he became a pitching coach in the Expos farm system and after completing that three-year apprenticeship, he was promoted to the same position with the parent club. He did great work with that Montreal pitching staff for the next few seasons and is credited with helping a young Pedro Martinez become a premier pitcher.

In 1997, Kerrigan was hired as the Red Sox pitching coach and one year later, he was reunited with Martinez, when Boston traded Carl Pavano to the Expos for the ace right-hander. During the next three seasons the two helped Boston’s staff evolve into one of the best in the game and in August of 2001, Kerrigan was rewarded for his good work, when Red Sox GM Dan Duquette hired him as the team’s new Manager and gave him a multi-year contract. In a shocking development, Kerrigan lost the job after his team finished the 2001 season with a lackluster 17-26 record. Larry Lucchino, Tom Werner and John Henry had purchased the franchise during the offseason and wanted to move in a different direction, so they lowered the boom on the just-hired skipper and replaced him with Grady Little.

So when Brian Cashman found himself without a pitching coach after Stottlemyre quit in 2005, the Yankee GM immediately considered his new scout Kerrigan, as the leading candidate to replace him. Instead, the Yanks hired Ron Guidry to fill the slot but did make Kerrigan the  Yankee’s new bullpen coach. Gator was counting on Kerrigan to help him communicate with the ornery Yankee ace, Randy Johnson. Steinbrenner had blamed Stottlemyre for not being able to get Johnson pitching better during his first season in pinstripes and the departing coach agreed that he had a tough time communicating with the multiple Cy Young Award winner. Kerrigan had spent three seasons working with the Big Unit back in the late eighties when Johnson was an Expos’ minor league prospect and the two had a good relationship.

Instead of improving however, Johnson got worse in 2006 and his ERA ballooned to a career-worst 5.00. Both Guidry and Kerrigan were replaced after the 2007 season, as was Torre. Kerrigan became the Pirates’ pitching coach the following year. In February of 2009, Torre’s book, “The Yankee Years” was released. In it he cited the hiring of Kerrigan as one of the examples of Brian Cashman trying to undercut his authority as Yankee Manager. It seems Cashman really wanted Kerrigan and not Guidry to get that pitching coach job in 2006, while Torre insisted on Guidry. According to the former skipper, Cashman made it a point to criticize Guidry’s methods during his entire tenure in the job. Joe Kerrigan had landed himself right in the middle of the famous Bronx Zoo.

Kerrigan shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever.

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