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Baseball Notebook: As manager, he sure talked a good game

Sunday, June 15, 2003

By Steve Ziants, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Penguins' hiring of Eddie Olczyk out of the Fox Sports Net booth this week to be the 18th coach in franchise history had the list gnomes busy assembling that exclusive fraternity of those who've gone straight from the land of second-guesser to second-guessed.

The Guy In The Stands could remind you that Larry Dierker won four National League Central Division titles in five years after being plucked out of the booth in Houston. That Joe Torre has earned 1,073 of his 1,579 career wins since leaving his comfy chair doing Angels games. That Bob Brenly went right from Fox Sports to a 2001 World Series ring in Arizona.

But why get your hopes up? Haven't we already spent too much time with our heads in the heavens this week pondering the possibility of Bishop Donald Wuerl going off to Boston on a crusade to wage holy war against The Curse of the Bambino?

No, better to keep this move grounded in the here and now. Dream of hamburger and be surprised with steak, The Dad In The Stands always said.

Better to ponder the case of Jerry Coleman and his one season as manager of the San Diego Padres in 1980.

His hiring remains a source of amusement around baseball. Mention the one year he came out of the club's radio booth and the response is not unlike a chortle reserved for an inside joke at the neighborhood tap room.

He was a decorated Marine pilot in World War II and Korea. He was the AL rookie of the year in 1949 with the Yankees and played on six World Series teams. But he also hadn't been in uniform in 23 years. To a generation of fans, he was merely the West Division's answer to Ralph Kiner and Harry Caray sans the national pub.

Of such quality are his malaprops and verbal faux pas that Web site www.funny2.com devotes an entire page to Colemanisms.

The Guy gladly samples the Coleman legacy:

"From the way Denny's shaking his head, he's either got an injured shoulder or a gnat in his eye. ... The first pitch to Tucker Ashford is grounded into left field. No, wait a minute. It's ball one. Low and outside. ... Over the course of the season, a miscue will cost you more than a good play. ..."

His Padres proved to be as big a faux pas. Just not nearly as humorous. They went 73-89 and slipped back into sixth place in the NL West after getting the hopes up of San Diegoans with a giddy run of fourth, fifth, fifth, fourth and fifth-place finishes the previous five years. With a bar set so high, is it any wonder he failed?

"That's a different kind of job. A lot of stress," he said years later. And that's saying something coming from a man who earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals and three Navy citations.

A month into that season, he was already rueing the days wasted at the knee of Casey Stengel. Wishing, as Stan Isle wrote in The Sporting News, that he'd learned the art of how to use a lot of words to say nothing.

Goofs that were amusing in the booth now weren't so funny, so charming, so Uncle Jerryish.

Coleman, apparently, tried to model the Padres after his own career. Scrappy, speedy -- they led the league in stolen bases -- but generally punchless. Only two teams in the majors scored less often. Take away Dave Winfield, and they hit 33 home runs. Over one stretch, they didn't score more than four runs in a game for better than a month. He forgot one not so insignificant fact when it came to his playing days: scrappy and speedy work well only so long as Joe D, Mickey and Yogi are around for protection.

Tim Flannery tells a story that he was able to talk his way into the starting lineup by telling Coleman he was able to play third base when, in fact, Flannery had never played third before. Coleman either didn't check or didn't care.

Perhaps his career as a manager was best summed up upon his firing that October when, to paraphrase GM Jack McKeon, he was told that as a major-league manager he made one heckuva broadcaster.

Actually, "I didn't ask why I was fired," Coleman told Phil Collier of The Sporting News. "If I had, they might have told me."

And so he went back to the radio booth, where to this day, at age 78, he still does Padres games for KOGO-AM.

Was 1980 worth it?

Perhaps The Guy can answer for him by calling upon one final Colemanism: "I've made a couple of mistakes I'd like to do over."

Penguins fans can only hope their club never understands what he meant.

Deep inside the no-hitter

The no-hitter in Yankee Stadium Wednesday night was just so strange that some Astros players didn't even know what had transpired even after the 27th out. Even some of the pitchers who'd been on the mound didn't quite comprehend. When Brad Lidge, who threw the sixth and seventh innings, retired to the clubhouse to ice his arm he happened to notice the numbers on TV. No-hit pitchers 2 and 3, Pete Munro and Kirk Saarloos, were already there. "I looked at Pete and Kirk and said, 'Holy cow!'" Lidge said. "They said, 'I know. Don't say anything.'"

A 'hole' different Guillen?

Former Pirates outfielder Jose Guillen popped off more this week than corks in the Astros' clubhouse after Wednesday's six-pack no-hitter. A sign that perhaps Guillen has matured since his days here as a failed phenom, not all the shots were negative. Sure, he put a couple holes in a Reds' clubhouse wall with a few well-placed bats after finding out he wasn't starting Sunday. But he also hit a tie-breaking homer (his 11th) and threw out a runner at the plate to preserve a 4-2 win vs. Tampa Bay Tuesday, then Wednesday jump-started a ninth-inning rally with a single and scored the winning run in a 7-6 win vs. the Devil Rays.

It was the throw that nailed Aubrey Huff that made The Guy pause, though, if for no other reason than Reds Manager Bob Boone's comment afterward. "Jose's got one of the best arms, not only in baseball but probably for all-time," Boone said. All time? That's a long time.

Hades: It's all in the outlook

Maybe Hades in June isn't such a bad place after all. Who knew?

After a 1-9 start, after rainouts that forced doubleheaders in Miami and Philadelphia, after being swept in both twinbills, after losing All-Stud outfielder Vladimir Guerrero to the disabled list, after giving up an AL-record 13 homers in consecutive games to the Angels and after an 8 1/2-hour flight from San Juan to Seattle (plus an hour layover in Atlanta for refueling), the Expos seemed as dead as a Martha Stewart stock option. Instead, they went into Day 19 of their six-city, 22-game, 25-day trip Friday resurrected (again!) and with a 7-10 record on the trip after taking 2 of 3 against the AL West-leading Mariners. And at 39-27, they were still in possession of the NL's wild card, as they were when the trip began.

Maybe everyone broke out the crying towels a bit too early. "With what this team went through last year with the [threat of] contraction, this is a piece of cake," Manager Frank Robinson told Darrin Beene of the Tacoma News Tribune.

Big head wins

Ballplayers have switched uniform numbers for a lot of reasons. Money. Luck. A Rolex. But when the Mets' Tony Clark switched from 00 to 52 last week, it was out of deference to a Shea Stadium legend. And The Guy isn't talking Tom Seaver or Ed Kranepool or even Marv Throneberry. No. Bigger. Much bigger. As in Mr. Met, the club mascot with the giant baseball for a head.

Clark said he realized he was stepping on some large mascot toes when he visited a middle school recently.

"They asked me if it was my favorite number, and I said no" Clark told David Lennon of Newsday. "Then they asked me if it was my lucky number, and I said no. Then they asked me if there was any other reason why I had the same number as Mr. Met."

(Insert light bulb going on over Clark's head about here.)

"A lot of kids have expressed their opinion that there's only one double-zero in their heart." And, when you've only been a Met for three months (and hitting .196), it isn't you.

Cone 'n' The Barbarian

So which is it? Does George Steinbrenner dislike the Red Sox more or the Mets more? (We'll leave Juan Acevedo out of the equation for the time being.) With David Cone's comeback with the Mets cut short by an arthritic hip, the subject of Cone's return as analyst on the Yankees' YES cable network was broached to The Boss. "What about Cone? He's a Met now," Steinbrenner told Bob Klapisch of The Bergen (N.J.) Record. "He's with them ... I told David not to [make a comeback]. At his age, he needs to be careful. But he wanted to go, so I said, 'If you have to go pitch, then pitch.'" Addendum here implied: Don't let the Monument Park door hit you in the backside.

This 'n' that

Would someone please tell the Braves they're a team supposed to be built on pitching. Their first five hits in Wednesday's 11-6 win against the A's in Oakland were home runs. ... Noticed who's been batting leadoff for the Reds since June 1? Bopper Adam Dunn. Unorthodox? When Dunn sat out Wednesday, lumbering Sean Casey stepped in. Hardly prototypical table-setters, but the Reds are 8-3 since the switch. ... Can anyone recall when a Yankee Stadium crowd last cheered (even a little) for the other team as it did for the Astros Wednesday night. ... Best headline after the Astros' combined no-hitter in Yankee Stadium Wednesday: "Six In The City" on MLB.com. ... And finally, enduring stat of the Expos' 22-game, 25-day road trip: Shortstop Orlando Cabrera packed 25 pairs of undies -- one for each day. Why 25? So that when he runs out, he told Stephanie Myles of the Montreal Gazette, he'll know the trip is over (and that it's time to get a new laundry bag).

Shot and a jeer

Shot: "A month from now, we'll be right back in this race. This team will be there." -- Pirates Manager Lloyd McClendon, May 15, 2003. Uh, it's "a month from now" as of this morning and the only place the Pirates have gone is to the basement of the NL Central.

Jeer: You know it was a rough week for Boss Steinbrenner and his YankeesNets, Inc., when his basketball team shoots a mason-esque 35 percent Wednesday night in an abominable NBA Finals Game 4 and still outhits his baseball team.

Steve Ziants can be reached at sziants@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1474. This notebook was gathered from personal interviews, the wire services and other newspapers.

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