Voices Of Experience–The Detroit Tigers’ Coaching Staff


Their duties are many and varied.

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They direct traffic, get hitters into the swing of things, and encourage pitchers to get a grip.

Their good work keeps infielders grounded, outfielders well-positioned, and pitchers humming.

To get a player’s attention they’ve been known to critique, cajole, comfort and cuss–often in the same sentence.

Before the term “soft skills” was even invented, they were massaging the brittle egos of professional baseball players who make 50 times their salary.

Though their names never appear in a box score, they are an integral part of the team, fellow passengers on the 162-game roller coaster ride that comprises a major league season.

Of course I speak of the coaches, without whom baseball would be a lesser game.

Since Detroit Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus retained the major pieces from last year’s staff, let’s get re-acquainted with them.

Pitching Coach–Jeff Jones

Jones pitched five years for the Oakland A’s (1980-1984), primarily as a reliever. He totalled nine wins and nine losses in 112 games, with a 3.95 ERA.

Like most major league coaches, Jones paid his dues to reach the high profile position he now occupies. He spent many years as both a bullpen and minor league pitching coach in the Detroit organization before finally being named the team’s pitching coach in 2011, succeeding Rick Knapp.

Aside from bench coach Gene Lamont, Jones was Ausmus’s only holdover from the Jim Leyland regime.

Biggest challenge: Overseeing Justin Verlander‘s transition from a pure power pitcher to one who uses more finesse.

Little known fact: Detroit-born Jones helped Southgate HS win the Wyandotte League championship in 1974.

Hitting Coach–Wally Joyner

Memorably dubbed Wally “Absorbine” Joyner by ESPN’s playful Chris Berman, Joyner burst upon the major league scene with the California Angels in 1986, making the American League All-Star team as a rookie.

That year he hit 22 home runs with a batting average of .290, and inspired his legion of smitten fans to informally rename Anaheim Stadium “Wally World”.

Throughout his 16-year MLB career, Joyner played for four different teams and slashed .289/.362/.440.

Like Jones, Joyner has an expansive coaching resume, which includes various instructional roles in minor and major league settings, mostly as a hitting coach.

Biggest challenge: Working with Anthony Gose to elevate his batting average/OBP to somewhere in the .250/.330 range.

Little known fact: During an Angels-Yankees game in 1986 a fan threw a knife at Joyner, which deflected off him and did not cause injury.

Third Base Coach/Outfield Instructor–Dave Clark

Clark was the first round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians in 1986. He had a 13-year MLB career during which he slashed .264/.338/.408. He has extensive coaching and managerial experience, including a 13-game stint as the Astro’s interim manager in 2009.

Clark’s aggressive tendencies as a third base coach generally played well last year, and if not for an egregious mistake in the eighth inning of game two of the ALDS against Baltimore, he might have slept well in the offseason.

With Detroit leading 5-3 and no one out, Torii Hunter was at second and Miguel Cabrera at first when Victor Martinez ripped a double.

Hunter scored easily, and as Cabrera chugged toward third Clark inexplicably waved him home, where he was easily thrown out. Welcome to “How to Kill a Rally 101”.

The problem with the “bad send” was not that Cabrera was thrown out at home plate. It was that he was thrown out at home plate with nobody out.

A third base coach simply can’t risk anything resembling a close play at the plate under those circumstances, but Clark, like Gene Lamont in game two of of the 2012 World Series against San Francisco, got it very wrong.

Of course Martinez died on the bases and the Orioles, suddenly aflutter, rallied to win 7-6.

Forgive my mini-rant, Mr. Clark–I respect what you do and what it took to get there.

But it still hurts.

Biggest challenge: Making Rajai Davis comfortable in center field.

Little known fact: Clark’s brother Louis played seven years in the NFL and is currently the director of pro personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

First Base Coach/Infield Instructor–Omar Vizquel

Vizquel finished a lengthy and distinguished major league career in 2012. In 2,968 games he slashed .272/.336/.352 and had the best ever fielding percentage for a shortstop at .985. He will be strongly considered for Hall of Fame induction when eligible in 2018.

Biggest challenge: Making Nick Castellanos a major league third baseman.

Little known fact: Vizquel recorded a sacrifice hit in 24 consecutive seasons, tying Ty Cobb for the longest streak in MLB history.

Bench Coach–Gene Lamont

Lamont, a longtime friend of Jim Leyland, has virtually seen it all in his nearly 50 years in professional baseball. As a player he was originally drafted by the Tiger organization, and played five years with them in the early 70’s as a back-up catcher. His career totals were .233/.278/.371.

From 1993-2000 Lamont also managed the Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Biggest challenge: Keeping the dogs away from Ausmus’s door if things go wrong.

Little known fact: In 1993 Lamont was named AL Manager of the Year for guiding the White Sox to a 94-68 record.

The Bottom Line

Make no mistake, the players are the show.

But it’s a tough game and even the stars require a re-alignment at times.

A major league coach’s job is to work quietly behind the scene, using all means at his disposal to smooth out the ripples in a player’s game.

If he succeeds, his reward is a lavish lifestyle and a full measure of adulation.

If not?

Well, there’s always that gig in Moline.

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