Right off the bat (ha ha), let’s clarify the headline: This is not a call to fire Chris Chambliss, though I know this is scapegoat season, and Chambliss is a prime candidate to be made an example of as the Mariners return to their flailing ways.
This is a call to get Chris Chambliss some help: A second hitting coach to provide another set of eyes, a different voice. It’s obvious the Mariners need to do something to shake up their offense, which after a promising start (on the road, anyway), is now regressing to the same old tepidness. But I don’t think firing Chambliss is the answer. The Mariners have gone down this road before — Jeff Pentland was axed on June 9, 2008, and Alan Cockrell on May 9, 2010. I don’t remember either of those teams suddenly catching fire at the plate. I tend to think hitting coaches get way too much of the blame when things go off kilter.
So my plan is to keep Chambliss, and to beef up what has become the most time-consuming and exhaustive job in baseball. It’s not like this is some radical new idea, either, as this recent Scott Miller story on CBS Sportsline details. It’s one of the hottest trends in baseball, and the Mariners seem to me to be a perfect candidate to join the new wave.
The Cardinals have done it for years, with Tony La Russa credited for being the innovator of the trend of assistant hitting coaches. John Mabry currently assists Mark McGwire. In past years Mike Aldrete assisted first Hal McRae and then McGwire.
The Braves went that route this season after firing Larry Parrish at the end of 2011. Greg Walker was hired, but he requested that he have an assistant, which turned out to be Scott Fletcher.
Here’s what Braves GM Frank Wren told Miller, after noting that retired manager Bobby Cox remembered that in the old days, players often didn’t even get to the park until 5 p.m.
“Now, with the facilities and work ethic of players … the norm for these guys now is to eat lunch at the ballpark for a night game,” Wren sid . “They’re here working, and one coach is spread awfully thin with 13 guys.”
The Padres also hired two hitting coaches this winter, Phil Plantier and former Mariners coach Alonzo Powell. Here’s what Padres manager Bud Black told Miller: “If you go around the league, everyone has [indoor] cages. Players now are spending so much time in the cage and watching video, both at home and on the road. We felt, you can’t be in two places at once. There are scenarios now where you’d like to be in the video room with someone, but you might have three or four guys hitting in the cage and three or four guys in the video room.
“One coach for 13 position players, in the modern era, with cages and video … it’s the most physically demanding job, and the most time-consuming,” Black added. “You’re working, throwing, flipping in the cage with guys … from 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon, you’re on until game time.
“I see this as a trend because, if you ask most hitting coaches, they’d welcome it.”
The Cubs did it last year with Dave Keller helping out (since-fired) Rudy Jaramillo. Mike Gellinger worked with Walker with the White Sox for several years. Pentland assisted Don Mattingly with the Dodgers, and when Mattingly became manager, Pentland took over as hitting coach with Dave Hansen as his assistant (Pentland was fired last July, and Hansen took over).
Already this season, the Tigers have gone that route, with Toby Harrah being brought in last month to aid hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. Here’s what Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters when that move was made:
“This is in no way, shape or form any disappointment in Lloyd. This is to get another body up here to help. Mac and Toby have a great rapport and won’t be getting in each other’s way.”
Seems to me this would be a prudent — and humane — way for the Mariners to go. And it seems to me they have the right guy for the job right in their organization — none other than Pentland, who has been serving this year as Tacoma’s hitting coach. He’s already received some credit for his work with Casper Wells. Pentland had experience in a two-person system with the Dodgers, and has vast experience as a major-league hitting coach.
Yeah, it would be a little weird to bring back the guy you fired four years ago. And Chambliss might find it awkward at first to have another coach on hand. But desperate times call for outside-the-box solutions. This one may well be worth a try.