Hall Of Fame…Coaches?

As the Hall of Fame induction looms, something I heard on a Cardinals’ broadcast the other day inspired me to hit the books. The gist of the discussion, which was dead serious and included not even a hint that the view might be a little skewed by some homerism, was that while there weren’t any coaches in Cooperstown, and there was no mechanism for electing any, obviously Dave Duncan would be elected, and just as soon as possible.

This is not to dismiss the idea. Far from it. I’ve always thought coaches were under-appreciated, and the first bit of research (and vanity publishing) I ever did was when I realized there were plenty of records of players and managers and umpires, but as of 1973, there wasn’t even a list of coaches anywhere. I spent a week in the Hall of Fame library that summer jotting down, by hand, all the data I could find.
I’m a “coaches guy.”
I’m just not sure Dave Duncan is the first choice to go to Cooperstown, even among just the pitching coaches, even if a side exhibit were to open honoring just them (and maybe scouts as well – that’s far more overdue). The problem, obviously, is evaluation. What constitutes a great coach? Number of .300 hitters coached? 20-game winners coached? Is it more esoteric? Does Duncan get a plaque because he managed to keep Todd Wellemeyer in the majors, and turned around Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley? Should he be elected solely because Kent Bottenfield, winner of 46 career major league games, went 18-7 under Duncan’s tutelage in 1999?
The bigger issue, of course, is how much is the tutelage, and how much is the talent? These aren’t exactly hunks of clay out there, being shaped by a sculptor. If coaches ever do go to the Hall of Fame, certainly SABR-metrics will probably be able to prove a coach’s impact on a staff, or a batting order, but subjectivity will be a huge factor. And what of the proverbial “bold print” data that form the shorthand of research into a player’s success relative to his peers?
This, finally, gets me to my scratch-the-surface research. Which men have coached the most Cy Young Winners? Which have coached the most World Series Champions? There are a few surprises, and though the leaders in the latter category do tend to become weighted in favor of the Yankee dynasties, there is some insight to be had.
First, the Series winners. There are a few caveats. The “coach” is largely unheard of in baseball until the early years of the 20th Century. Managers inevitably ran the team from the third base coach’s box (Gene Mauch did this well into the ’60s in Philadelphia, and Tommy Lasorda tried it as a slump-buster in the ’90s), and a pitcher or non-starting player would coach from first. Gradually the New York teams began to experiment with somebody to help the manager out – 19th Century stars Duke Farrell with the Yankees and Arlie Latham with the Giants in 1909. The Yanks clearly weren’t sold on the idea. Farrell did not coach in 1910, but came back in 1911. They then eliminated the position entirely until 1914.
The “pitching coach” was even later to evolve. Wikipedia erroneously lists Wilbert Robinson as John McGraw’s pitching coach from 1903 through 1913 and credits him with all manner of successes. In point of fact, contemporary records show Robinson managing in the minors in 1903 and 1904, playing in Baltimore as late as 1908, and running the family saloon there. He clearly helped McGraw instruct pitchers in spring training, but did not join the Giants full time as a coach until 1911.
It seems that the first World Series winning team with a coach dedicated to supervising and instructing pitchers was McGraw’s 1921 Giants, with the immortal Christy Mathewson doing the honors. But even then Matty’s health was failing and just how much time he really did the job is speculation at best. Nick Altrock might have been the nominal pitching coach of Washington’s only World Champions in 1924, but he was better known for comic antics in the coach’s box. The first true pitching coach on a World Series winner might in fact be ex-catcher Cy Perkins with the 1932 Yankees. It was still a novelty; the 1933 World Champion Giants had no pitching coach, nor did the 1945 Tigers.
In any event, the leaders by World Series wins are as follows:
7 – John Schulte, Yankees, 1936-1947
7 – Jim Turner, Yankees, 1949-1958
5 – Mel Stottlemyre, Mets, Yankees, 1986-2000
4 – Mike Gonzalez, Cardinals, 1934-1946
3 – Johnny Sain, Yankees, Tigers, 1961-1968
3 – Joe Becker, Dodgers, 1955-1963

The others with as many as two? Duncan (1989 A’s, 2006, Cards), Galen Cisco (1992-93 Jays), Ron Perranoski (1981, 1988 Dodgers), Larry Shepard (1975-76 Reds), Wes Stock (1973-74 A’s), Dick Such (1987, 1991 Twins).

Two notes on the above. You may or may not want to give Stottlemyre the 5th Series. He had to leave the team to undergo intensive treatment for multiple myeloma in September, 2000, and the pitching coach duties were assumed by Billy Connors. And whereas Turner was the embodiment of the modern pitching coach, Schulte, as late as the 1947 World Series program, is described more informally as “the man who readies the pitchers.”
The Cy Young Winning coaches are a little more diverse. The usefulness of the data also suffers from the fact there were no awards before 1956, and only one for both leagues until 1967. Nevertheless they provide some insight:
6 – Leo Mazzone: Glavine ’91 ’98, Maddux ’93 ’94 ’95, Smoltz ’96
4 - George Bamberger: Cuellar ’69, Palmer ’73 ’75 ’76
4 – Dave Duncan: Hoyt ’83, Welch ’90, Eckersley ’92, Carpenter ’05
3 – Joe Becker: Newcombe ’56, Drysdale ’62, Koufax ’63
3 – Bill Fischer: Clemens ’86 ’87 ’91
3 – Ray Miller: Flanagan ’79, Stone ’80, Drabek ’90
3 – Claude Osteen: Carlton ’82, Denny ’83, Bedrosian ’87
3 – Johnny Sain: Ford ’61, McLain ’68 ’69
3 – Rube Walker: Seaver ’69 ’73 ’75
The others with two apiece: Rick Anderson (Santana ’04 ’06), Mark Connor (Johnson ’99 ’00),  Billy Connors (Sutcliffe ’84, Maddux ’92), Roger Craig (Jones ’76, Hernandez ’84), Bobby Cuellar (Johnson ’95, Martinez ’97), Art Fowler (Lyle ’77, Guidry ’78), Marv Grissom (Chance ’64, J. Perry ’70), Cal McLish (Fingers ’81, Vuckovich ’82), Billy Muffett (Gibson ’68 ’70), Lefty Phillips (Koufax ’65 ’66), Mel Queen (Clemens ’97 ’98), Dave Righetti (Lincecum ’08 ’09), Ray Rippelmeyer (Carlton ’72 ’77), Mel Stottlemyre (Gooden ’85, Clemens ’01), Carl Willis (Sabathia ’07 Lee ’08).
There’s one scorer’s judgement required here. In both 1977 and 1978 Art Fowler gets partial credit. The first year saw Sparky Lyle’s Cy Young season, as well as what might have been the first full-time Bullpen Pitching Coach, in the Yanks’ Cloyd Boyer. In ’78 Fowler exited at mid-year along with manager Billy Martin, and Clyde King coached Ron Guidry the rest of the way.
Obviously the two lists barely coincide. Schulte’s career was over before there were Cy’s, and though he coached in the majors all but two years from 1949 through 1973, Jim Turner coached only one winner (Bob Turley in 1958). The men who fared the best on both lists seem to be Joe Becker and Johnny Sain. Consider Becker for a second. How does the team that hires you as pitching coach in 1955, the Dodgers, proceed to win three World’s Championships and three Cy Youngs through 1963 – and then when you come up empty in 1964, they
fire you? Becker went to St. Louis in 1965 and the Cubs in ’67 and did pretty well with Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins in those places, but evidently not well enough.
Lastly two intriguing facts which figuratively fell off the book shelf while the research unfolded. Two Cy Young winners have gone on to be pitching coaches for Cy Young winners, and if that’s not a good new trivia question, I don’t know what is. The answers are Warren Spahn (1957 winner; coach for Gaylord Perry in 1972), and Bob Welch (1990 winner, coach for Randy Johnson in 2001).
That fact in turn led to this one, which suggests Hall of Fame berths for pitching coaches may not be that great an idea. Johnson won four of his six Cy Youngs with the same team, yet with three different pitching coaches in three consecutive years: Mark Connor in 2000, Welch in ’01, and Chuck Kniffin in ’02

12 Comments

Coaches in the Hall of Fame? Why not? Seems reasonable to me. I’m sorry about all the people who have passed away lately… I know this year has been difficult for you. I’ll be happy when it’s over. It’s been a rough one for my family and friends as well. Just wanted to say “Thank you” for touching me on so many different levels – intellectual, artistic, humorous, compassionate… you engage my senses, my mind, and my emotions in so many good ways. Much appreciated.

Anyone could coach most Cy Young winners to great seasons. That is not a legitimate measure for pitching coaches. A better question is who was consistently able to rescue pitchers from the scrap heap and resurrect their careers. As a die-hard Cubs fan who dislikes few things more than the Cardinals and White Sox, it pains me to admit that Dave Duncan shines brightly under that light. If you are going to admit coaches, he should be at the top of the list.

good idea on coaches in the Hall but I can’t agree with Mazzone.
he was great with Maddux, Smoltz & Glavine (as almost anyone would’ve been), then went to Baltimore and did zero.

good idea on coaches in the Hall but I can’t agree with Mazzone.
he was great with Maddux, Smoltz & Glavine (as almost anyone would’ve been), then went to Baltimore and did zero.

As you pointed out, there would be a lot of variables to consider in determing which coaches were HOF calibre. It would be great if some criteria could be formulated.

At the risk of being accused of a little homerism of my own, Dave Duncan should be right at the top of the list. In addition to the successes that you mentioned, he is responsible for transforming Adam Wainwright from a bullpen guy into one of today’s elite starting pitchers.

Roger Craig also needs to be given credit for some of Jack Morris’ success. Jack was one of the most competitive players EVER, and you can’t teach that. But I wonder what his career numbers would’ve been had Roger Craig not helped him develop that filth nasty splitter. Don’t forget, Willie Hernandez was a cast off of some pretty crummy teams before he donned the Olde English D. Roger Craig taught him the splitter that won the Cy Young in 1984.

Interesting debate – though I think what we really need to be looking at is not Cy Young awards (or successful seasons) per se, but IMPROVEMENT from before. Sure, Mazzone had 6 Cys, but 3 of them were from Maddux, who was good before Mazzone got his hands on him. It also pads the totals of coaches of great pitchers. If the Braves had signed, say, Tim Belcher instead of Maddux, Mazzone would only have 3. Ditto George Bamberger sans Jim Palmer. You might want to try this again, this time looking at, say, ERA improvement over a 3-year period before joining the team, and/or after leaving the team – something along those lines.

The Braves are an interesting case. Was it Bobby Cox? Was it Leo Mazzone? Was it Glavine-Maddux-Smoltz? I choose #3. When Mazzone went to Baltimore the pitchers were still, well, Baltimore pitchers. Since the Big Three broke up, Cox has had zero division titles. However, Dave Duncan is a different story. Look at the 2006 championship team with pitchers like Suppan, Weaver (Jeff), Anthony Reyes, Braden Looper. One could argue Suppan and Weaver were pitching for big money in their contract years and that was their motivation to pitch so well. But once they left the Cards they were lousy. It’s not like Ryan Franklin was Greg Maddux before coming to St. Louis, even on steroids. What we might not find out is how Duncan would do without LaRussa. Maybe LaRussa is the key. (What I find interesting is how Orel Hershiser, who states things so clearly and forcefully on ESPN broadcasts, could have had so little impact on Rangers pitchers, whereas Nolan Ryan, a freak of nature with talent you can’t teach, has been able to change their mindset and he’s not even a coach.) At any rate, if Jorge Posada doesn’t make the Hall of Fame as a player (which he should) hopefully he will someday as a manager, if not coach.

A way to look at the question: why did Doug Harvey go into the Hall of Fame? He was the best umpire of his time. How do we know? That’s what everybody in the game said. So, we might learn something from what is said about a coach. Dave Duncan is a fine choice for a coach going into the Hall of Fame based on Keith’s criterion of improvement. Leo Mazzone? A tougher call, made tougher by his having been influenced, in turn, by Johnny Sain, who improved every pitching staff he touched–the Yankees, White Sox, Braves, and Twins, to name a few. What about Charley Lau? As a hitting coach, he greatly influenced hitters and other coaches.

In other words, a tough call to make. In the meantime, a couple of words about the induction ceremonies yesterday. I cried with Doug Harvey at the end of his speech, and I noted the presence of two umpires he worked with for a long time, Gerry Crawford and Joe West, as well as Bruce Froemming, Ed Montague, and Randy Marsh. Froemming merits consideration for Cooperstown, as does Harry Wendelstedt–33 years in the National League, highly regarded throughout his career, plus his years as the head of a top umpire school. Let’s see about Wendelstedt and Froemming, then let’s talk about coaches.

I vote no. As you’ve pointed out, data is limited, and attributing coaching stats to coaching skills tends to overlook the skills of the player. Identifying true causal relationships would take LOTS more data and one heck of a regression algorithm.

You need to add Joe Kerrigan to your list of pitching coaches with 2 Cy Young winners. Pedro Martinez won in 1999 and 2000 with Kerrigan as his coach.

Gotta vote no on this one. I suspect pitching coaches’ success or failure on many staffs is frequently coincidental. Mazzone seemingly can’t get arrested these days, and it’s interesting that Maddux, Glavine & Smoltz have never really publicly endorsed Leo either. Sid Hudson, who was a pitching coach for years, had a bunch of his pitchers become pitching coaches years later, but that doesn’t seem to count for much.

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