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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

October 4, 2012 at 11:28 AM

Serving as Mariners’ hitting coach doesn’t offer much job security

molitor.jpg

(Paul Molitor works with Edgar Martinez in spring training of 2004 — Molitor’s one and only year as Mariners’ hitting coach. Seattle Times file photo).

It’s not true that serving as Mariners’ hitting coach is as dangerous as being the drummer for Spinal Tap. At least when the Mariners make a change, it’s merely the result of porous offense, and not, say, a bizarre gardening accident.

But it’s not a job to get comfortable in, as Chris Chambliss has become the last occupant to find out (yes, it’s true, a similar post could be written about Mariner pitching coaches, but Carl Willis seems to have locked that one down for now). The next hitting coach will be the 13th person to hold that title in the last 17 years (including Lee Elia twice, 12 years apart). In one memorable span, they had five different hitting coaches in five seasons — Gerald Perry in 2002, Lamar Johnson in 2003, Paul Molitor in 2004, Don Baylor in 2005, and Jeff Pentland in 2006. (Scroll to the bottom to find a chronological list of every Mariners’ hitting coach).

In 2008 alone, they had three hitting coaches. Jeff Pentland was fired on June 9, and Elia brought back to fill the job. He held it for all of two weeks, when the Mariners fired manager John McLaren, moved Elia to the role of bench coach for McLaren’s successor, Jim Riggleman, and brought up Jose Castro from the minors to finish out the year as hitting coach.

Those were the days. In 2010, Alan Cockrell started out in the job — his second season under Don Wakamatsu — but was fired on May 9. Again, the Mariners dipped into the minor leagues to bring up Alonzo Powell from Tacoma to finish out the 101-loss year. Good times.

Chambliss was next in line, but now, he too has been sent on his way after two seasons. The last Mariners’ hitting coach to last more than two years was Gerald Perry (2000-02), who had the major advantage of actually having quality, established major-league hitters to work with. The longest stint ever for a Mariners’ hitting coach was four years, by Gene Clines (1989-91) and Lee Elia (1994-97), the latter also serving as bench coach throughout his tenure. Clines nursed Ken Griffey Jr. through his initial major-league seasons, enjoying a close relationship with the phenom, until he was replaced by someone with an even closer relationship to Junior: Ken Griffey Sr.

Senior lasted one season before stepping down a few weeks before spring training in 1994. Manager Lou Piniella essentially became his own hitting coach that year, aided by his bench coach, Elia. Here’s what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote in its story about the Griffey resignation: “An M’s spokesman said Griffey’s position won’t be filled this season. Instead, manager Lou Piniella will take a more active role in the day-to-day hitting instruction and be assisted by bench coach Lee Elia.”

Elia served as bench coach/batting coach for four years, during which time Piniella was always heavily involved in hitting instruction. It was a period that coincided with the greatest hitting exploits in Mariners history, with players like Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Alex Rodriguez fully exploiting the hitter-friendly Kingdome.

What’s really interesting, in researching Mariners’ hitting coaches, is that they didn’t even have one for their first four years of existence. Not until Maury Wills’ ill-fated regime did they hire their first dedicated hitting coach — Wills’s Dodger teammate (and former Seattle Pilot) Tommy Davis, a two-time batting champion, in 1981. Davis lasted the season, but Wills’ didn’t. The hitting coach position remained vacant (not uncommon in the major leagues in that era) until 1984, when Ben Hines took over (his son, Bruce Hines, would later be a short-lived part of Wakamatsu’s coaching staff).

Hines gave way after one year to Deron Johnson, who lasted two years before handing off to Bobby Tolan, who lasted one year before giving way to Frank Howard, who passed the baton a year later to Clines.

Ever since, it has been a revolving door, and now Chambliss is the latest on his way out. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the next one coming back through the door is Pentland, who came back to the organization this year as Tacoma’s hitting coach and finished the season with the big club. He received praise for his work with young Mariners hitters — including Justin Smoak and Casper Wells during their minor-league stints. I’d still like them to think about having two hitting coaches, as more and more teams are doing.

Mariners hitting coaches

1977: None

1978: None

1979: None

1980: None

1981: Tommy Davis

1982: None

1983: None

1984: Ben Hines

1985: Deron Johnson

1986: Deron Johnson

1987: Bobby Tolan

1988: Frank Howard

1989: Gene Clines

1990: Gene Clines

1991: Gene Clines

1992: Gene Clines

1993: Ken Griffey Sr.

1994: Lee Elia*/Lou Piniella

1995: Lee Elia*

1996: Lee Elia*

1997: Lee Elia*

1998: Jesse Barfield

1999: Jesse Barfield

2000: Gerald Perry

2001: Gerald Perry

2002: Gerald Perry

2003: Lamar Johnson

2004: Paul Molitor

2005: Don Baylor

2006: Jeff Pentland

2007: Jeff Pentland

2008: Jeff Pentland/Lee Elia/Jose Castro

2009: Alan Cockrell

2010: Alan Cockrell/Alonzo Powell

2011: Chris Chambliss

2012: Chris Chambliss

*Also served as bench coach

Which general manager of a Seattle professional team should be voted out?

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