Results tagged ‘ coach ’
If you ask Joe Girardi, Jorge Posada or Jason Varitek who was the best catching instructor they ever had, each highly respected veteran receiver would answer, “Gary Tuck.” Gary was a classmate of mine in high school back in Amsterdam, NY, in the early seventies. He was the quarterback of our school’s varsity football team and the catcher on our baseball team and the thing I remember most about him in both roles was his almost flawless technique. At the time, there were better athletes available to play both positions but Tuck was smarter and worked harder than everybody else. He was a keen student of both games even way back then and he is now considered one of Major League Baseball’s most gifted catching mentors. He won four World Series rings as a Yankee coach and currently serves as the Red Sox bullpen coach, where he has won a fifth ring. I’m hoping that some day, he gets a shot at managing in the big leagues. His hometown is very proud of him and all that he has accomplished.
The Boyer family of baseball fame was a large one, seven boys and seven girls. Five of the boys played professional ball and three of them made it to the big leagues. Of those three, it was Ken Boyer who had the best career. He was a seven-time All Star at third base with the Cardinals and won five Gold Gloves (Clete won just one GG,) the NL MVP Award and a World Series during his days with St. Louis. Ken was the only Major League Boyer who was never a member of the Yankee family.
Unlike his younger brother, Yankee third base great Clete, Cloyd Boyer never played a game in a Yankee uniform. Instead, after a torn rotator cuff ended his pitching career, he became a very effective minor league pitching instructor for New York for many years. But perhaps his greatest Yankee achievement occurred when he managed New York’s Binghamton farm team in 1968. He was given that job specifically so he could put the finishing touches on the development of a young Thurman Munson before Munson was called up to the parent club for good. The late Yankee catcher often said he learned more from Boyer in that one season than he had from any other manager or coach in his career.
The only Yankee player to be born on this date was a guy named Foster Edwards, an Ivy Leaguer who pitched for the Braves during the second half of the roaring twenties without distinction. He appeared in two games for the 1930 New York Yankees, which concluded his inauspicious big league career.
One of the things that always confused me is how guys who could not hit well at the big league level somehow become highly respected hitting coaches for Major League teams. Remember Charley Lau? Here’s a former player who couldn’t crack a starting lineup during the eleven years he played in the bigs because he averaged in the two-fifties, yet if you ask George Brett who it was that made him one of baseball’s great hitters, he credits Lau. The same mystery applies to bad pitchers who become great pitching coaches. Leo Mazzone was considered one of the game’s great ones during his tenure in that role with Bobby Cox’s Braves yet he wasn’t good enough to pitch even to a single batter at the Major League level.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was considered a top Yankee pitching prospect in the late 1980’s, when the team was in desperate need of starting pitchers. Drafted by New York out of the University of South Florida in the seventh round of the 1987 draft, Dave Eiland was being pegged as the next great Yankee right-hander after he was named the International League’s Pitcher of the Year in 1990. But he was a bust for the Yanks and the two other teams he pitched for at the big league level between 1988 and 2000, finishing his playing career with a 12-27 record and a career ERA of 5.74.
That’s when he turned to coaching. The Yankees hired him as a minor league pitching coach and he immediately impressed the organization with his ability to effectively work with young pitchers. He quickly worked his way up the New York farm chain, establishing an excellent rapport with prospects like Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain along the way. That’s why it seemed to make sense when the Yankees announced Eiland would replace Ron Guidry as the Yankee pitching coach in 2008. Brian Cashman was betting the team’s postseason chances on the young arms of Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain that year and he felt Eiland was the guy who could successfully transition them from minor to major league pitchers. That did not happen.
Eiland however, escaped front office wrath for the failed experiment and when the Yanks won the World Series in 2009, the young pitching coach was credited for helping AJ Burnett overcome the inconsistencies in his delivery to finish wit a 13-9 record and a huge win in Game 2 of that year’s Fall Classic.
It all unraveled for Eiland in June of the 2010 season when Eiland took a mysterious leave of absence from his Yankee coaching responsibilities for most of the month of June, citing personal family issues as the reason. During his leave, AJ Burnett literally fell apart, going 0-5 and never again reaching the comfort or performance level in Pinstripes he had enjoyed during his first season in the Bronx. Though it wasn’t officially given as the reason, most Yankee fans and pundits suspect it was Eiland’s leave that caused the team to dismiss him after the 2010 season and bring in current pitching coach, Larry Rothschilds. Eiland has since landed on his feet, getting the pitching coach position for the Kansas City Royals in 2012.
|NYY (5 yrs)||6||10||.375||5.23||36||28||5||0||0||0||160.0||193||109||93||24||48||58||1.506|
|TBD (3 yrs)||6||12||.333||6.54||39||26||1||0||0||0||137.2||181||111||100||16||48||71||1.663|
|SDP (2 yrs)||0||5||.000||5.38||17||16||0||0||0||0||75.1||91||54||45||6||22||24||1.500|
My first encounter with Art Fowler was his 1962 Topps baseball card pictured here. He was a member of the first Los Angeles Angels baseball team and according to Bill Rigney, the skipper of that ball club, when Fowler got hit in the head by a batting practice line drive and was lost for the rest of the infant team’s second season, it destroyed any chance the Angels had of shocking the world and winning the 1962 AL Pennant.
The more I learned about Fowler, the more he sort of grew on me. For example, he didn’t just have an older brother who had pitched in the big leagues, he had a much much older brother. His name was Jesse and he made his big league debut in 1924, when his younger sibling was just one year old. Art himself didn’t get to pitch in the big leagues until 30 years later, in 1954, when he was a 31-year-old rookie member of the Reds starting rotation. He went 12-10 that season and then won 11 games in each of the next two years with Cincinnati. But by 1957, he had been converted into a full-time reliever with the Reds and when his ERA climbed above six in that role he was traded to the Dodgers. He spent the ’58 season in the minors and then got into 36 games for the Los Angeles team that ended up winning the ’59 World Series. He then went back to the minors until May of 1961, when his contract was purchased by the newly formed Angels.
One of the things Fowler enjoyed more than pitching was drinking and when he joined the Halos, he was entering the big league heaven for booze. That Angel team featured an All Star line-up of imbibers that included Ryne Duren, Bo Belinski, Eli Grba, Dan Osinski, Ken Hunt and of course Fowler. With their better than expected pitching and a potent lineup that included Leon Wagner, Lee Thomas and Albie Piersall, the second-year Angels were in first place as late as August 12th, finally finishing in third place behind New York and the Minnesota Twins. Fowler spent the rest of his big league playing career pitching out of the LA bullpen until he was released in May of 1964.
Instead of quitting, he signed on to continue pitching for the Denver Bears, the Twins triple A franchise in the Pacific Coast League. Billy Martin was the manager of that club and he took enough of a liking to his new 42-year-old right-hander to make him the Bears player/pitching coach. It was rumored that Fowler got the job because he happened to be Martin’s best drinking buddy. Whatever the reason, it was the beginning of a partnership that would continue off and on for over the next two decades in five different big league cities.
It started when Martin was named manager of Minnesota in 1969 and continued in Detroit from 1971 through ’73 and then in Texas for two more seasons. When George Steinbrenner hired Martin to manage the Yankees late in the second half of the 1975 season however, his baseball people had told him that his new manager had a serious drinking problem that needed to be controlled and they warned the Boss that Fowler was Billy’s best drinking buddy. The Yankee owner thought hiring Martin but not Fowler would somehow reduce Billy’s taste for booze. When that didn’t turn out to be the case, Steinbrenner finally relented to Billy’s request and Fowler was hired as Yankee pitching coach in 1977.
The Yankee pitching staff got along fine with their new mentor. Ron Guidry still claims to this day that Fowler was the best pitching coach he ever had. The fact of the matter was that Fowler’s coaching philosophy was pretty simple, throw strikes and stay in the game. Fowler expected his starters to give him lots of innings and he expected his relievers to warm up and appear in games as often as necessary. One of the other reasons Martin loved Fowler was because he would do whatever the manager wanted. That included answering “yes” whenever Martin asked if so and so could pitch tonight.
Martin was famous for blaming his pitchers for Yankee losses. If one of the team’s hurlers was struggling on the mound, an irate Martin would tell Fowler to go out there and give the guy hell. Instead, when he got to the mound, the portly coach would often explain to whoever was on the mound how angry Martin was back in the dugout and then plead with the pitcher to please start getting the ball over the plate or Billy was going to get even madder.
Though Steinbrenner and many sportswriters considered Fowler something of a joke, he did obtaint some impressive results. During his tenure in the big leagues, he mentored 18 twenty-game winners, a record for pitching coaches.
Still, the relationship between the Boss and Martin was too rocky to enable smooth pinstriped sailing for Fowler. Every time the manager angered the owner, Steinbrenner would threaten to fire Fowler. Finally in 1983, during Martin’s fourth tour of duty as the team’s skipper, he carried through on that threat and dismissed Fowler in June over Billy’s strenuous objections. He tempered the harshness of his actions by giving Fowler his full salary plus a $20,000 bonus. When the press asked the terminated coach if he had been unfairly treated, Fowler told them he thought the Yankee owner was a great guy but that he didn’t know nothing about baseball. He publicly urged Steinbrenner to listen to what Billy Martin tells him to do and the Yankees would get back to the World Series. He then went home to South Carolina and waited for Billy to call.
The phone rang again in 1988, when Billy was hired for his last tour of duty in the Bronx. That job lasted just half a season and when they were again fired, Martin’s managing career was over which meant Fowler’s was as well. Billy didn’t last too long after that, getting killed in his pickup the following year. Fowler lived in his Spartanburg, SC home until 2007, when he died at the age of 84.
He shares his birthday with this Yankee GM.
If you weren’t around during the 1960’s when the great New York teams led by Mantle and Maris were doing their thing, you missed a great era of the Yankee dynasty. Fortunately, you also missed the second-half of that decade as well, which means you didn’t see that dynasty crumble, as the players who comprised it grew old or got hurt seemingly all at once. What was left were a bunch of prospects who would never become good big league players along with a few who weren’t yet ready to do so. That forced the Yankees to fill in the holes and gaps with acquisitions from other teams and one of those deals was for a switch-hitting Dodger shortstop named Gene Michael.
The resident of Akron, Ohio had only been in the big leagues for a couple of seasons when the Yanks purchased his contract from Los Angeles, yet Michael was already 30 years old. He was considered a decent fielding shortstop but what had kept him in the minor leagues for so long was his inability to hit. He might have been a switch-hitter but the problem was he really couldn’t swing the bat very well from either side of the plate. In fact, after he averaged just .202 trying to replace Maury Wills as the Dodger shortstop in 1967, Michael spent the following winter in the Florida Instructional League, determined to become a pitcher. That’s when his phone rang and it was Yankee GM Larry MacPhail telling him he was coming to New York where Ralph Houk hoped to make him his starting shortstop. That plan looked like it had flopped decisively after Michael played 61 games at short during the ’68 season and hit just .198. That forced Houk to bring Tom Tresh back in from the outfield to once again play the position at which he had won the 1962 Rookie of the Year Award.
When the 1969 spring training season rolled around, Houk had penciled in Tresh to remain at short but was also hoping Bobby Murcer or Jerry Kenney might win the job in camp. Both players were returning from military service that spring but neither could handle the position and when Tresh started the regular season in a horrible slump, Houk again turned to Michael.
Even though this all happened over 45 years ago, I can remember feeling not-to-thrilled when I heard that Michael was being given the job again. If he had been with the Yankees just a half dozen seasons earlier and hit .198, he’d have been released or buried so deeply in the Yankee farm system his family would have needed a backhoe to find him. So what’s Michael do? He goes out and hits, 272 and fields the position close to brilliantly. Could I have been wrong? Was the player sarcastically nicknamed “Stick” actually evolving into a good stick? Unfortunately no. Houk and Yankee fans like me spent the next four years waiting for Michael to replicate the offense he generated during that 1969 season and he never did.
When Steinbrenner took over the team, Houk left to manage in Detroit and when the Yankees released Michael in January of 1975, he joined the Major in Mo-Town for his final season as a big league player. Steinbrenner may have not respected the Stick as a player but he valued his baseball smarts so he kept giving Michael jobs in the Yankee organization. In 1981, Steinbrenner made him Yankee manager and he had the Yankees in first place when baseball went on strike that June. When play resumed that August, Michael grew so sick of Steinbrenner’s meddling with his handling of the team that he told the Boss to either fire him or shut up. Steinbrenner felt he had no choice but the latter and replaced him with Bob Lemon. The following April, when Lemon’s decision making irked the Boss, he fired him too and replaced him with the Stick.
He would eventually ask Steinbrenner to relieve him as manager because the two argued too much when Michael was in that job. He wanted to work in the Yankee front office and fortunately for the Boss, he gave Michael his wish. So when Faye Vincent suspended the Yankee owner for his roll in the Dave Winfield-Howie Spira episode in 1990, Michael took over control of the organization and is credited with building the team that won four World Series between 1996 and 2000. So the shortstop who signified the end of one Yankee dynasty became the architect of another.
Michael’s Yankee playing record:
|NYY (7 yrs)||789||2656||2405||205||561||79||10||12||204||21||215||356||.233||.296||.289||.585|
|PIT (1 yr)||30||33||33||9||5||2||1||0||2||0||0||7||.152||.152||.273||.424|
|LAD (1 yr)||98||245||223||20||45||3||1||0||7||1||11||30||.202||.246||.224||.470|
|DET (1 yr)||56||158||145||15||31||2||0||3||13||0||8||28||.214||.253||.290||.543|
Michael’s Yankee managing record:
|1||1981||43||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||56||34||22||.607||1||First half of season|
|2||1981||43||New York Yankees||AL||1st of 2||26||14||12||.538||6||Second half of season|
|3||1982||44||New York Yankees||AL||2nd of 3||86||44||42||.512||5|
|New York Yankees||2 years||168||92||76||.548||4.0|
|Chicago Cubs||2 years||238||114||124||.479||5.5|