Brewers stumble and coaches take the fall
Butch Wynegar is one of the more pleasant, patient, personable and professional coaches in Major League Baseball. Ditto for his friend, Dave Nelson.
As of Monday, they'll both be unemployed.
The Brewers announced this week that they would not offer 2007 contracts to Wynegar, who has been their hitting coach since 2003, and Nelson, who has coached first base through the same period.
"It wasn't because of their passion, and it wasn't because of their work ethic," manager Ned Yost told MLB.com in explaining the moves. "It just boils down to production on the field. There are certain areas that, as hard as they worked and as hard as they tried, we did not improve in."
Wynegar was in charge of the hitters, who once again ranked near the bottom of the National League in most major categories including runs, on-base average, slugging percentage, walks and strikeouts. Nelson was in charge of baserunning and bunting, two other areas in which the Brewers were at best erratic.
So, now that they've been swept aside, the Brewers should really be ready to soar in both areas in 2007, right?
The one thing the Brewers have been adept at during their streak of 14 winless seasons is shuffling the coaching staff. Want to win a bet with your buddies this weekend? Ask them to the name the hitting coach from the Brewers' last winning season in 1992. (It was Mike Easler).
If you're feeling bold, have them work their way through the list since then: Gene Clines, Lamar Johnson, Ron Jackson, Jim Lefebvre, Rod Carew, Gary Matthews and Wynegar. (If you really want to stump the band, try to name the first base coaches starting with Tim Foli and working your way to the present.)
Like former colleagues Rich Donnelly and Rich Dauer a year ago, Wynegar and Nelson were swept aside because that's what happens when teams don't win consistently.
It would be naïve and unfair to say that major-league coaches are irrelevant. The reality is, however, that coaches are a disposable commodity in the major leagues. Just like managers, they're pretty much hired to be fired. (The difference is that managers make more considerably money and generally get a longer leash).
As Wynegar and Nelson go the way of their similarly-doomed predecessors, a question arises: What makes a good coach?
The answer is painfully simple: good players.
In 2003, when Richie Sexson drew a career-high 98 walks, Wynegar was hailed as a genius for teaching him a measure of discipline. When Scott Podsednik stole 70 bases in 2004, Nelson was regarded as a baserunning guru. While with Cleveland in the 1990s, he helped transform Kenny Lofton into a premier basestealer. During spring training in 2005, I heard Yost say several times that Nelson was the best guy he'd ever seen at conducting a baserunning seminar during spring training. Nelson also specialized in bunting. The Brewers didn't bunt particularly well this season. But, Nelson was in charge when Podsednik bunted for a bunch of hits in 2003 and '04.
So, did Wynegar and Nelson get dumber over the past year or so?
It's true that Wynegar was unable to get Geoff Jenkins out of his funk this season. (Jenkins has caused more than one hitting coach to beat his head against the wall in frustration). But, Wynegar was also the hitting coach when Jenkins made the National League all-star team in 2003. He also was coaching when Jenkins turned in a sizzling second half last season, wasn't he? Brady Clark didn't hit well for the Brewers during long stretches this season. and Wynegar probably feels guilty about that. But, Bill Hall did pretty well, didn't he? (Hall will be the first to tell you that Wynegar has had a big impact on his emergence as a feared hitter in the National League).
If you blame a coach for a player underperforming, don't you also have to give him credit when players do well?
Some of the coaches the Brewers have had over the past 14 years were fiery; others were laid back. Some were hard-working; others seemed to be punching the clock toward their pensions and one or two were downright lazy. Some were universally liked; others were loathed. None of them worked harder than Wynegar, though. If the man had a flaw, it might have been that he worked too hard and cared too much.
Wynegar spent countless hours in the cage and the film room, only to see the hitters he was working for let him down. He spent too many sleepless nights thinking of ways to get his pupils to replace bad habits with good ones.
Few people in general society know what it's like to try to hit a 99-mph fastball or a backdoor slider, but plenty know what it feels like to swing a golf club. Sometimes, grip it and rip it is the best strategy on the links. Its cousin "See ball, hit ball" is often the best way to go in baseball. Maybe the Brewers' next hitting coach will keep things simple and find success.
More likely, it won't matter. Through all of the changes on the Brewers' staff over the years, the utterings of hitting and first base coaches haven't changed drastically: Swing at good pitches; Use the whole field; Trust your hands. Don't get picked off. The messages are the same; it's the messengers that change. And, when things go bad, the team almost always shoots the messenger.
It's not fair. It's just the way it is.
Mike said: Both Butch and Davey were first class coaches and gentleman. I really enjoyed their insights during the Brewer telecasts. It is too bad that hard working, caring, nice people take the fall for players failures. Those players who are not "coachable" or are high maintainence should feel ashamed of themselves for costing two fine indivduals their jobs. Hopefully both will land on their feet somewhere else. I certainly will be pulling for them.
Same Sam said: Same old story from the Brewers. Sad. These are good people taking the fall cause the organization likes to show the fans that it's changing. Life isn't fair nor should it be. They will both be fine, but Milwaukee will lose two fine gentlement. It's sad.
2 comments about this article.
Post a comment / write a review.
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.