Thursday, July 12, 2007

Down and Out in Flushing Queens (Rickey Henderson In)

Newsday is reporting that Mets hitting coach Rick Down has been replaced by all-time steals leader Rickey Henderson. Henderson has been an instructor for the Mets over the past couple spring trainings and has served as a part-time baserunning coach over the past two seasons. This is a big promotion however, and it will be interesting to see how Ricky can handle it. I'm not saying Rickey can't do the job, but he has no prior experience as a hitting coach on any level. Furthermore, Rickey is widely considered a a third-person referring, arrogant jerk (kind of redundant I know), which is a trait I love in a player, but is not nearly as coveted for a coach. At this point I'm willing to give Omar and Co. the benefit of the doubt based on the decisions they have made to this point, but I'm generally weary of Hall of Famers who go on to become hitting/pitching coaches. The old saying goes, those who can- do and those who can't-teach (I have no clue who to construct that sentence in a grammatically correct manner). Ted Williams couldn't cut it as a hitting coach, and just a few weeks ago Eddie Murray was fired from the position by the Dodgers. Ricky, along with the above mentioned players, all had very special talent, but a lot of times that talent does not lend itself to instruction perhaps because they never had to analyze the mechanics the act like a lesser player would. For example, Ted Williams claimed that he was able to recognize a pitch by seeing the spin of the ball. I've never heard another player make a similar claim of being able to slow the game down to that level. This means that much of Williams success was due to abnormal reflexive and visual ability that simply can't be taught. Because of this there can be a great disconnect between coaches who were some of the best to ever play the game and the average player. The same line of thinking applies to pitching coaches as well. Two of the best pitching coaches in the game today are Rick Peterson and Leo Mazzone, who have thrown a combined zero major league innings. Meanwhile, the Yankees employ former Cy Young Award winner Ron Guidry to middling results. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think teams are better of hiring a coach based on his resume as a coach rather than his resume as a player. The correlation between playing career achievements and coaching success is tenuous at best, while someone who has paid his dues and plied his trade at different levels of the game would be a much safer bet.

I'll leave you guys with my all-time favorite Rickey Henderson story (which unfortunately didn't actually happen):

The setting is Seattle Mariners batting practice. The year 2000.

Rickey Henderson (to John Olerud): Hey, Rickey sees that you wear a helmet in the field.
John Olerud: Yeah
Rickey: Rickey used to play with a guy who wore a helmet in the field.
Olerud: Yeah that was me Rickey.
(Rickey and Olerud had played on the Mets together the season before)

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