With former Phillies skipper Larry Bowa set to coach third base for the Yankees next season, I’m wondering; can you remember a time when coaches occupied so many headlines?
Bowa would become third base coach for the most significant team in the sport. Bowa spent last season as an analyst for ESPN and XM Radio and has been a third base coach before, with the Phils from 1988 to 1996, Anaheim from 1997 to 1999, and Seattle in 2000. He is, for our purposes, the Leo Mazzone of third base coaches.
And speaking of the most famous coach in baseball, Mazzone’s departure after 15 years as the Braves pitching coach signifies, to some, the end of their NL East dynasty.
Mazzone, considered the best pitching coach in baseball, signed on with Baltimore for $500,000. The move marks a return to his home state of Maryland and reunites him with his long-time friend Sam Perlozzo, elevated from interim to full-time manager two weeks ago.
Closer to home, rookie third base coach Billy Dancy became the focus of much fan angst for sending and holding runners in costly spots. Dancy, a company man of 30 years himself, replaced organizational mainstay John Vuckovich, who was moved into a front office position.
Coach role overblown?
Jeff Schultz, columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, believes Mazzone’s role with the Braves was overstated:
"Notwithstanding the hysteria that seems to be surrounding the imminent departure of the Braves’ pitching coach, I’m going to tell you at least two things Leo Mazzone has never done in Atlanta:
1). Thrown a pitch.
2). Called a pitch.
This isn’t meant as a slap at Mazzone. Clearly, when a team has had only one pitching coach during a run of 14 division titles, it means something. There becomes an escalating belief that Mazzone has become one of the better pitching coaches in baseball.
But this feeling that the Braves are suddenly going to crumble like Pompeii or that Mazzone even remotely approaches the importance of Bobby Cox or John Schuerholz to the organization represents the height of absurdity.
He doesn’t pitch.
He doesn’t call the pitches.
He’s basically a shrink and an adviser. That’s what pitching coaches do. Yes, the Braves have had some wonderful reclamation projects through the years. But if you’re going to give Mazzone credit for Jaret Wright, you had better put him on the hook for Dan Kolb. Here’s a guy who went from a pretty decent closer to a complete basket case. So the teachings of Leo didn’t apply to the Braves’ bullpen this season?
John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine — they were going to be great, with or without Mazzone. Even Mazzone would tell you that. He also would tell you that when it comes to handling a pitching staff, Bobby Cox may go down as the greatest manager in baseball history. A lot of pitchers have come through here. When they leave, they all say the same thing: "I loved pitching for Bobby."
It all comes back to the same thing for me: what do coaches really do? Managers are more hands on, pitching coaches are next in line, but the rest of the staff is used mostly in an advisory capacity.
On the manager front, today's headlines are monopolized by White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen, a whole new breed of manager who hangs out with players in the clubhouse and cracks wise.
Manager labels, like "players manager" never stick, in terms of which type is preferred. After a year and a half of intense baseball refocusing because of this site, it’s clearthat bullies don’t work, and a new era of player-friendly skippers are having noted success.
The worst implosion of the season occurred in Florida where conservative senior Jack McKeon saw his team crumble around him in the midst of a Wild Card race.
The opposite occurred in the AL Central, which saw two new breeds, Eric Wedge of the Indians and Guillen of the White Sox, lead their clubs to in their push to the postseason. Last year, it was former Phils boss Terry Francona, run out of town for being a players’ manager, that led the Red Sox back to their first World Title in ages.
Here's my thinking: In order for managers like Guillen to fit, there must be good leaders within the team itself. The White Sox appear to have them, just as the Red Sox had them last year in the form of players like Jason Varitek.
With managers, it's not the style that counts. It's the fit.