I wouldn’t call it a hiring freeze, but the number of full-time major league players has been fixed at 750 since 1998, the last year of expansion. The September call-ups (let’s call them temps or part-timers) expand the field temporarily, but comes the next Opening Day, the number reverts to 750, 25 players per team, as the rules dictate. Apparently, though, MLB rules are silent on the number of coaches.
In days of old, they were called coachers, not coaches. They are one and the same, unlike coasters which are not identical to coasts.
Whatever we choose to call them, let’s examine the coaching staff of the Texas Rangers, not because the personnel are so unusual, but because they are the team with which I am the most familiar. The evolution of their coaching staff is fairly typical of major league teams.
As I do every year, in 2016 I purchased a copy of the Rangers yearbook. A group picture of manager Jeff Bannister and his coaches brought me up short. I stopped to count heads. I came up with 10 coaches, or reasonable facsimiles thereof (in other words, 10 guys in uniform). I can’t remember a time when the number of coaches on the Rangers (or any other team) was in double figures.
In 1972, the Rangers’ inaugural season, the team had five coaches: Joe Camacho, Nellie Fox, Sid Hudson, George Susce and Wayne Terwilliger. This was not unusual. During that season, some teams had five and some had four. A cursory examination of major league teams during the nadir of the Depression reveals that the number varied from one to three.
In 2017 the Rangers’ on-line roster contains 12 — count ‘em, twelve – names listed under the Manager & Coaches category. Aside from manager Jeff Bannister, the others are:
- Tony Beasley, Third Base Coach
- Josh Bonifay, Field Coordinator
- Doug Brocail, Pitching Coach
- Steve Buechele, Bench Coach
- Mark Connor, Special Assistant, Pitching
- Josh Frasier, Bullpen Catcher
- Brad Holman, Bullpen Coach
- Anthony Iapoce, Hitting Coach
- Bob Jones, Replay Coordinator
- Justin Mashore, Assistant Hitting Coach
- Hector Ortiz, First Base Coach
Admittedly, only seven of these men have the formal “coach” appellation. But all of them save one (Mark Connor, a former pitching coach) are shown wearing Ranger caps. I can only assume that they also wear uniforms and are therefore eligible to appear in the dugout and on the field on game days.
For example, Josh Bonifay is described in the Rangers’ program magazine as “responsible for organizing and scheduling the Rangers’ daily schedule during spring training and the regular season. He also is the club’s primary outfield and base running instructor.” Well, if he looks like a coach, acts like a coach, works like a coach…
Today no major league club has fewer than sevencoaches. The standard-issue coaches are first base, third base, pitching, bullpen, bench and hitting. Closing in on that status is the assistant hitting coach, who is already a presence on 27 of the 30 teams (the Brewers, Mariners and Rays are the holdouts).
The bullpen catcher is always listed on coaching rosters. In days of old when teams typically carried three catchers, the two non-starting catchers were dispatched to the bullpen to warm up pitchers. Now that two catchers is the norm, there will always be a need for at least one catcher in the bullpen when two pitchers are warming up. Former catchers, some with major league experience (e.g., Robinzon Diaz of the Brewers and Humberto Quintero of the Diamondbacks), sometimes occupy this position. Technically, they may or may not be coaches, but unless they’ve taken a vow of silence, surely they occasionally offer coach-like advice to pitchers.
Believe it or not, some teams now carry two bullpen catchers (e.g., Rob Flippo and Steve Cilladi of the Dodgers). Is it a fad or a trend? In other words, is this the wave of the future? Maybe, maybe not. Too early to tell. It’s like that point in 1950s-1960s suburbia when the two-car family began to supplant the one-car family. Eventually, it became the norm but it’s hard to pinpoint when.
If it’s getting more crowded in bullpens, it’s not just because of bullpen catchers, it’s also because pitching staffs are 20-30 percent larger. The norm used to be 10 pitchers, but now 12 is standard and 13 is not unheard of. Whereas teams used to get by with just one pitching coach, now a bullpen coach is warranted.
An intriguing variation on this theme is on display in Cincinnati. The Reds list Ted Power as an assistant pitching coach. Do his duties differ from the bullpen coach, or is it something altogether different? Will the assistant pitching coach role one day be as widespread as the assistant hitting coach role?
The hottest trend in recent years is the assistant hitting coach. But why? Most teams are carrying 12-13 position players, whereas 15 used to be the norm. So with fewer hitters, why are two hitting coaches needed? My guess is the video and data revolutions have provided an information overload. It’s not just studying a batter’s swing and analyzing it in real time. Now you can see it from assorted camera angles and in super slow motion. All of this takes more time. I have to wonder if one day the hitting coaches will be broken down into one for right-handers and one for left-handers.
Curiously, as coaching specialization grows, a number of coaching roles are vaguely defined. In Tampa Bay, Jamie Nelson is listed as “major league coach.” That’s pretty open-ended, but in Milwaukee, Jason Lane is merely a “coach.” Sounds like an identity crisis in the making.
Another glimpse of the future could be embodied in Henry Blanco of the Cubs, a quality control coach, and Juan Castro of the Dodgers, a quality assurance coach. (Robby Hammock of the Diamondbacks does double duty as a QA/catching coach.) I suppose if the quality assurance role become too burdensome, the Dodgers and D-backs could create a post for a quality reassurance coach.
I know what quality control/assurance means in the manufacturing process, but I’m not sure what it entails with a baseball team. In a sense, all coaches are involved in quality control, since they are all involved with improving individual performances which they hope will result in more victories – the ultimate barometer of team quality.
Obviously, baseball coaching is a growth field. An indirect cause of this is the escalation of player salaries. The payroll of the coaching staff pales by comparisons, so hiring another coach or two isn’t going to make much difference in the balance sheet. Can’t hurt and might result in an additional win or two.
Assuming that the number of coaches will continue to grow, what will their job titles be in the future? What functions will they perform? Getting in touch with my inner futurist, I predict:
Social Media Coach
Instructs players on etiquette, restraint and diplomacy in social media to assure that no one sends out any message that could embarrass the team. and require a front office representative to respond with platitudes, corporatespeak, hand-wringing or virtue signaling.
Maximizes articulateness in pre- and post-game interviews with special emphasis on avoiding the word “awesome” and the phrase “you know,” while cutting the use of the word “like” as a useless modifier, as in, “He threw me like a cutter that was like low and outside, but I like swung at it but I was like too late and so the count was like 2 and 2.”
Counsels players on the best locations, patterns and color schemes for tattoos. Advises players as to what designs and colors would blend best with the team colors, logo and uniform lettering and numbers. How to coordinate uniform sleeves with tattoo sleeves. For players acquired via free agency or trades, who may have tattoos that clash with their new team’s aesthetics, references on tattoo removal will be available.
Video Games Coach
Helps players become proficient in video games in order to develop the player’s hand-eye coordination; theoretically, if a player achieve can self-esteem in this pursuit, it will carry over to his on-field performance.
Assists players with their cursive script in order to enhance fine motor skills. Special emphasis on refining the player’s signature to produce autographs that are actually legible and therefore more marketable.
Provides instruction on the fine art of spitting. Instructions on distance and volume. Additional instruction on the nuances of non-liquid projectiles such as sunflower seeds. Oral exams given once a month during the season.
Champagne Spraying Coach
Dos and don’ts of clubhouse clinching celebrations. Hints on how to build up maximum pressure in bottles to achieve maximum spray in both volume and distance. Helpful hints on how to soak media personnel without doing damage to expensive electronic equipment.
Bat Launching Coach
How to achieve maximum distance on a bat after swinging, missin, and losing one’s grip. Explores the pros and cons of the rotating bat versus the non-rotating bat (a/k/a the knuckle bat) with special attention to the art of helicoptering.
Instructs pitchers in pre-game shagging of batting practice fly balls as a way of life, as a state of mind. In other words, as a zen exercise. Explores the eternal dilemma of whether to ignore bleacherites or toss them an occasional ball. Competitive drills on tossing balls into the plastic bucket behind the infield cutout.
New York Coach
Preparing visiting teams for playing at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field. Tips on ignoring verbal abuse from bleacher creatures and anger management dropouts, dodging projectiles, ignoring comments about one’s mother, and hiding from the New York media.
Martial Arts Coach
Emphasis on pregame workouts as well as techniques that will be useful during team brawls. How to pose as the ultimate warrior for maximum exposure on sports highlight shows, but without actually hurting yourself and ending up on the DL.
Bat Flip Coach
Provides instruction on the complete spectrum of bat flips, from the casual flip toward the dugout or batboy after drawing a walk to standard home run flips (arrogant to insouciant) to the triumphant flip of the walk-off home run.
Instruction in how to interact with umpires for maximum emotional impact, whether on the stadium crowd or the television audience. Emphasis on precise enunciation for the benefit of lip-reading viewers. Tips on method acting as a means of developing optimum emotional and cognitive understanding of a manager’s/coach’s/player’s role in a confrontation.
Instruction in the fine art of downward dogging it as well as intensive scrutiny of the utterances of ascended master Yogi Berra. Refines such famed poses as Crouching Catcher, Hidden Signals (Squatasana); Belching Belly (bambinoasana); Basket Catch (sayheykidasana); and Chubby Buddha (pablosandovalasana);
These, of course, are just suggestions, but the growth rate in the coaching profession is undeniable. Where will it all end?
By the year 2525, if baseball can survive…will every team have 25 coaches? Will every player have, in effect, a personal coach?
Resources & References
- Gerry Fraley, Dallas News, “Rangers promote from within for a new-look front office”
- The Sporting News, 2017 Yearbook
- Texas Rangers 2016 Yearbook
- Texas Rangers Magazine, April 3-9, 2017