Saturday, July 02, 2005

Freaky Friday: Tigers Try Coaching Swap To Get Out Of The Doldrums

Fields (left) and Gibson try a job swap to jump start Tigers' offense; inspiration or desperation?

Okay, so you're at work and you're in charge of, say, production, and your coworker is in charge of sales, and the boss calls you into the office, individually, and tells you that you will no longer be in charge of production, but that you will lead the sales team. He tells you that Joe Coworker will, in turn, now be in charge of production. The way I see it, there are two ways you can take that: either you did a lousy job in production, or your coworker did a lousy job in sales. After all, why would there be a change if both of you were doing a good job?

That's about what is happening with the Tigers' coaching staff right now. Bench coach Kirk Gibson is now the hitting coach, and hitting coach Bruce Fields is now the bench coach. The changes were announced before Friday night's game with the Yankees.

"It wasn't working," manager Alan Trammell said about Fields as hitting coach. "He worked his tail off, but the message wasn't getting through." Yeah, I guess not, if the message was "we need to score more runs, boys!" But of course it's not that simple; there's working the count and making the pitcher earn it and not opening your hips and swinging through the ball and going back up the middle and trying not to pull everything and being relaxed at the plate and just putting the ball in play and protecting the plate with two strikes and hitting behind the runner with less than two outs. So if Gibby can do a better job of making the Tigers' hitters do all those things, then God bless him, and God bless Trammell for making such a move. We've come a long way since Ted Williams, whose viewpoint on hitting boiled down to one sentence: "Every at-bat you'll get one good pitch to hit, so don't miss it." Wonder if the Tigers could understand that message.

But back to the situation at hand. I can't figure out if someone got demoted here, or promoted here, or what. Supposedly a bench coach was the next best thing to managing; rarely do hitting coaches get bumped up to being manager. So, did Gibby get downgraded? Or for that matter, did Bruce Fields inrease his ranking? Judging from Tram's comments, it appears as if this was an anti-Fields move as opposed to pro-Gibson. According to Trammell, Gibson was "lukewarm" to the idea when it was first presented. Maybe because he considered it a demotion of sorts, or perhaps taking him a step away from a possible managerial spot somewhere? Or maybe Gibby just isn't all that jazzed about talking hitting technique?

I have never heard of a team which made a hitting coach or bench coach change in mid-season end up making the playoffs because of such a move. Well, the Tigers have done both in one sweep of Trammell's wand, so that should count for something, I suppose. The change smacks of desperation, but I would rather think that it is a calculated move that will, indeed, provide some freshness of voice and a potential spark.

There are so many funny things about this, though. Like I said, the change appears to be more anti-Fields, yet in terms of order of succession, Fields moved up and Gibby moved down. Also, the Tigers' hitting woes have allegedly been a bi-product of their lack of patience at the plate and their over-aggressiveness. Given that, do you think of patience and harnessed aggression when you think of Kirk Gibson at the plate? Maybe he'll be a "Do as I say and not as I did" kind of hitting coach.

In keeping with the opposite theme Friday, right fielder Magglio Ordonez went from being on the DL to being activated. He responded by hitting a home run off Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson. Obviously Maggs must have gotten Gibby's message. See? The move is already paying dividends.

Maybe Mike Ilitch and Bill Davidson can pull the same switcheroo as Kirk Gibson and Bruce Fields. Mr. I's message hasn't worked for going on 13 years now.
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1 comment:

Ian C. said...

My first thought when I heard about the move was, "Given Fields' managerial experience with Toledo, why wasn't he the bench coach in the first place?" That's not to say Gibby didn't have a perspective on things, with his previous position in the Tigers' broadcast booth. But it seemed to me that Fields might've had a better feel for managing a game than Gibby.