Monday, June 15, 2009
A Conversation With Rich GalePosted by Bruce Markusen
Earlier this month, the Washington Nationals promoted Steve McCatty to pitching coach, replacing the fired Randy St. Claire. In turn, the Nationals filled a void on the coaching staff of their International League affiliate, the Syracuse Chiefs, by appointing Rich Gale as Triple-A pitching coach. A lifelong baseball man, Gale pitched in the major leagues from 1978 to 1984. As a rookie with the Kansas City Royals, Gale went 14-8 with a 3.09 ERA. Two years later, the hard-throwing right-hander won 13 games in helping the Royals win the American League pennant. Gale later pitched for the San Francisco Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Red Sox before retiring in the mid-1980s.
On Sunday, I interviewed Gale at Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field, where the Chiefs played the Pawtucket Red Sox in the second annual Cooperstown Classic. Approachable and friendly despite an imposing six-foot, seven-inch build, Gale talked about his influences, his philosophies as a pitching coach, and the transition he has faced in taking over a pitching staff in mid-season.
Markusen: Rich, as someone who played in the 1970s and eighties, who were some of the managerial and perhaps even pitching coach influences that you’ve drawn from to be a pitching coach today at this level?
Gale: Well, probably the biggest influence on me in my whole career [in terms of] pitching and playing and now coaching is Bill Fischer. He was my minor league coordinator/pitching coach with the Royals when I first came up. He was responsible for a very rapid rise through the minor league system and my initial success in Kansas City. And then I had him in Cincinnati; he’s been a mentor for a long time.
And then probably from the managerial aspect, it was a couple of guys I had in the minor leagues, John Sullivan and Gordy Mackenzie, along with Whitey Herzog [with the Royals], obviously.
Markusen: Talk a little bit more about Whitey and his influence on you.
Gale: Well, Whitey, you know, he was one of those guys who was proverbially two or three steps ahead of the other people. Unbelievable preparation with stats and information and defensive spray charts. We used to frustrate hitters by taking base hits away from them because of our positioning. It’s something I’ve used in my years of preparation.
Markusen: Was he a pitcher-friendly manager—because you hear about some managers that are more offensive minded, some that are more to the pitching side? How about Whitey?
Gale: Well, with Whitey I don’t think there was any bias either way. He was involved in the total game. He paid complete attention to the pitching aspect, to the defensive preparation, the positioning, the hitting, the baserunning, all of that stuff. He was a good guy to play for, I will say that.
Markusen: How difficult has it been for you to come in mid-season and take over this staff, with Steve McCatty having been promoted to Washington?
Gale: It’s been really, very, very easy. You know, Cat [McCatty] had these guys prepared. I knew a few of them from spring training. But it’s been really a very easy transition for me. Tim Foli, you talk about managers that are prepared and take a strong interest in every aspect of the game, he’s been out there for every side session we have. He knows the pitchers. That’s been a huge help to me.
Markusen: When you take over in mid-season, are you a little bit limited in what you can in terms of working with mechanics, or adding a pitch for a guy who’s been struggling? Does all of that have to be done during the winter or spring training, or are there significant changes that you can make with guys that need help right now?
Gale: Well, there are significant changes you can make, but the thing is I have to realize—and I always try to do this—I’m not going to make a change or come up with an idea for a suggestion based on seeing someone pitch once or twice. I mean, it might be the best game of the season that I’ve seen; it might be his worst. I’m not going to make any rush judgments based on one or two performances. I trust the input of Cat, whom I talk to frequently, and Tim [Foli], and talking to the pitcher, since some of these guys have pitched long enough to know when they’re in a good streak, or when they’re struggling, and what they need to do to get out of it.
Bruce Markusen is the author of seven books on baseball, including the award-winning A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s, the recipient of the Seymour Medal from the Society for American Baseball Research. He has also written The Team That Changed Baseball: Roberto Clemente and the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates, Tales From The Mets Dugout, and The Orlando Cepeda Story.