WHY DO THIRD BASE COACHES (READ: BOBBY MEACHAM OF THE YANKEES) HAVE TO LEARN THE HARD WAY?

                                                                            Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas   

It’s stunning how, when given a chance, baseball lifers can make game-deciding mistakes and then look reporters right in the eye and say they would do it again.  It’s already happened to Yankees manager Joe Girardi (see Kallas Remarks, 4/13 /08), when he made the bizarre decision (along with Mike Mussina) to pitch to Manny Ramirez with first base open after Manny had already hit a moon shot off Mussina.  After the second moon shot (making the Yankees losers), Girardi was still explaining why it was a good decision.  But you can bet that it won’t happen again.

Which leads us to Saturday’s subway series (no capital s in either word unless it’s the World Series, please) game, an eventual Mets victory.  Mets-Yankees, top of the third, Yankees up 2-0, nobody out, Johnny Damon on first and Bobby Abreu hits one into the gap in right-center.  An excellent relay from Ryan Church to Luis Castillo to catcher Brian Schneider, who somehow managed to block the plate, catch the ball and tag Damon out on a bang-bang play. 

   

Frankly, a very poor decision to send Damon home.  Why, you ask?  Well, that’s easy.  There were NO outs, and the Yankees had numbers three, four and five hitters (Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi, respectively) coming to bat.  Stupid decision to send Damon whether he’s thrown out or not?  Absolutely.  Not that you would need more ammunition as to why this was a bad move, but Jeter had already hit a two-run homer off Johan Santana in the first inning.

    

But none of this phased third-base coach Bobby Meacham.  After the game, Meacham told reporters the following (according to Mark Hale of the New York Post): “I knew it was going to be close.  We’ve been struggling a little bit scoring runs and we’ve been preaching to these guys got to be more aggressive.  Once it got in the gap, my mind was made up.” 

    

Very scary stuff if you understand the different “skill set” needed to coach third base, which is vastly different from any other baseball job, including manager.  Unlike managers, third-base coaches have to make bang-bang decisions – they can’t turn to their bench coach, they don’t have 30 seconds or five minutes to think about that reliever or that pinch hitter or “should I get this guy warming up for the seventh inning?” or many other decisions.

    

Frankly, once Bobby Meacham “knows” it’s going to be close at the plate, HE HAS TO HOLD DAMON WITH NOBODY OUT AND THE HEART OF THE ORDER COMING UP.  Like not pitching to Manny Ramirez, this is a pretty simple solution, nothing complex.  To say after the game that we have to be aggressive is fine, but there’s a line (not that fine) between aggressiveness and stupidity.

    

We saw this when Larry Bowa came to coach third base for the Yankees in 2006.  Considered to be a relatively good manager of the Phillies (before his hard ways turned the players off), Bowa had a lot of trouble early on.  In the first couple of weeks of the season, he (mystifyingly) waved both slow-footed Jason Giambi and slow-footed Jorge Posada home (in different games) only to have them both thrown out.  Any Yankee fan could have told Bowa not to do this.  He eventually learned (the hard way, of course).

    

Which brings us back to Bobby Meacham.  Joe Girardi supported his coach, stating: “It’s an aggressive play.  I don’t have a problem with it.”  While you have to stick up for your guy, hopefully Girardi told Meacham privately that you don’t send these guys with no outs and the heart of the order up unless you’re 110% sure he’s going to make it.  In fact, Meacham should be told that if you know (as Meacham said he did) that it’s going to be close at home in the same situation, DON’T SEND THE RUNNER HOME.

    

It’s scary that this stuff takes place in the major leagues.  Again, it’s actually harder to coach third than to manage a team because you simply have to make instant decisions.  Anybody who’s coached third at any level knows this.

    

One final thing:  the one time a third base coach does have a little time (say, five seconds) to make a decision was this play – man on first, ball in the gap.  If a third base coach says as soon as I saw it in the gap, I’m sending him home, he’s given up those five seconds to make an informed decision.  Again, with nobody out, it’s a no-brainer: let your three, four and five hitters drive the runner in.   If the Yankees don’t have confidence that these guys can do that, then they are in deeper trouble than they already appear to be in terms of making the playoffs.

    

Won’t it be great if, some day, a manager or coach says:  “I shouldn’t have let my pitcher pitch to Manny.  It was a stupid move on my part and I hurt the team.” Or “I shouldn’t have been aggressive in that spot with nobody out and the meat of the order coming up.  Next time, I won’t do it.”

    

Good luck waiting for either of those to happen.  But know this:  right now, the Yankees aren’t good enough to overcome these coaching/managerial blunders.  Games like this (and the Manny two-homer game) are often the difference between making the playoffs or not.

 

 

 

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved

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