Earlier today, ESPN broke the news about the Chicago Cubs hiring Rob Deer as the new Assistant Hitting coach for the 2013 season. Fans might recognize him as being a former teammate of Manager Dale Sveum on the Milwaukee Brewers. However, Deer is better known for leading the American League four times in strike outs. A couple of fans were shocked and appalled that a man who struck out so many times would be part of the team that would be trying to “teach” the players how to hit.
What people often overlook when remembering Deer’s major league career, is that despite his high strike out totals, he generally saw a fair number of pitchers per at bat, and was known for having a great eye at the plate and showing good patience. His on base percentage was .100 points higher than his batting average, and that is what Cubs President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer want to teach their ball players.
If you are still not sold on him, let me take things a little bit further for you. Forget for a moment, that he is only the Assistant hitting coach; you do not need to be a great player in order to be a great coach. Need some examples? Not a problem at all.
Because this came about with the hiring of a hitting coach, let’s start with one..
Before coming to the Cubs, Rudy Jaramillo was regarded as the best hitting coach in the game. Questions of how he got there, well that is another topic for another time. Do you want to know how great of a career this great hitting coach had? He was so great of a hitter, that he never even made his major league debut. He spent his four year career never getting above Double A. He hit .258 with 171 strike outs and 108 base on balls, with 11 home runs, but did drive in 120 RBI. In short, he had a very poor career, but had a great run as a hitting coach.
Hitting coaches are rather useless in my mind so we will stick with just him.
Not convinced with my hitting coach example? Okay then, let’s take a look at some of the better pitching coaches in baseball.
I am sure that Cub fans are pretty familiar with St. Louis Cardinals’ former pitching coach, Dave Duncan. Around baseball, he is thought to be the greatest pitching coach in the game. Did you know that Duncan was never even a pitcher? He was a catcher, and a mediocre one at that. He spent his 11 year career with four clubs hitting a robust 214 with only 109 home runs and 341 RBI. So, the greatest pitching coach in baseball never even threw one pitch in his major or minor league career. Go figure.
Another name Cub fans should be familiar with is Larry Rothschild, who is also regarded and respected around the league as a great pitching coach. In his two years in the major leagues, Rothschild pitched in only seven games for a total of 8.1 innings. He totaled one strike out and issued eight free passes with an ERA over five. The memories of Cubs fans is fairly short, and often remember Rothschild as a bum and a failure who helped to ruin the careers of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. I will not get into that, but to say that those statements could not be more false.
Over his nine year career as the Cubs pitching coach, the Cubs pitching staff led the major leagues in strike outs the first seven years. The other two years they tied for second in 2009 and were fourth in 2010. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t throw strikes don’t you think?
How about White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper? He is another pitching coach who is well regarded as one of the best coaches in the game. He is also a great coach who failed to have a good career as a major leaguer. His four years were horrible. In this time he pitched in 44 games throwing 85.1 innings. In that time he managed to strike out only 47 people while walking 46, and compiled an ERA of 5.27.
Still need more proof that you do not need to be a good player to be an extraordinary coach? Fine then, let’s look at two of the best managers in the history of the Major Leagues. I will stick with two of the more recent names, people that you might be more familiar with.
Cub fans know Tony LaRussa all too well. He spent several years managing the St. Louis Cardinals in games that usually saw them beating the Cubs. He also won few championships as the manager of the Cardinals. He may have been a great manager, but as a player he was a waste of a roster spot. His six year career saw him play in only 132 games where he hit a robust .199 with 0 home runs and seven RBI. He struck out 37 times and walked only 23 times. While he was a very crappy player, he was a great manager.
If you still are not convinced that you do not have to be a great player to be a great manager, I offer up Bobby Cox. He is another Hall of Fame worthy Manager, who was nothing to notice as a player. He played a total of two years in the major leagues hitting .225 in 220 games where he was able to hit nine home runs with 58 RBI. Along the way though he struck out 126 times while only drawing 75 walks.
Now, there are some great managers who were also very good players, but that is not now, nor should that ever be a requirement. History is filled with mediocre at best players going on to have great careers as managers. So, before you decide to write off the hiring of Deer, remember these names of crappy players who were great coaches and managers. You might also want to remember that he is still only the assistant hitting coach.