MLB success could help Twinsâ€™ newest coaches communicate messages
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In October, the Minnesota Twins made major changes to a coaching staff that had remained mostly intact with the same faces since manager Ron Gardenhire took over in 2002.
Bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, first base coach Jerry White and third base coach Steve Liddle were all let go, with hitting coach Joe Vavra and bench coach Scott Ullger being reassigned to new coaching positions.
Terry Steinbach (bench coach), Tom Brunansky (hitting coach) and Bobby Cuellar (bullpen coach) were summoned to fill the openings.
In any sport, 10-plus years of the same voices -- Vavra (2006) is the only one who wasn't on board since 2002 -- is pretty rare. The Twins are hoping a few new voices will help spark things after two disastrous seasons.
But in addition to Steinbach, Brunansky and Cuellar bringing "new" voices, they also bring more successful track records as major league players than the three men they replace. Stelmaszek hit .170/.302/.239 in 108 career plate appearances. White played in parts of 11 big-league seasons, hitting .253/.337/.363 with 21 home runs and 57 steals in 1,367 trips. Liddle didn't play beyond Triple-A. Vavra, who remains on the staff, also never made it beyond Triple-A.
While Cuellar only pitched 6 2/3 innings in the major leagues, Steinbach and Brunansky were both impact players on good teams. Brunansky hit 20 or more home runs eight times, including 32 for a Twins team that won the World Series in 1987. Steinbach won a World Series with the A's in 1989 and finished his career with a .271/.326/.420 batting line and 162 home runs while throwing out a very respectable 36% of base stealers.
Great playing careers -- or, in this case, solid playing careers -- don't always equate to great coaching careers. Ted Williams is just one of many great players who wound up failing as a manager.
On the flip side, many good coaches and managers had nondescript playing careers. Gardenhire hit just .232/.277/.296 in parts of five seasons, and as a manager he's been very successful.
But do players generally respond better to coaches who have a track record to back up their words?
"I really do (think so)," Steinbach said in an interview with 1500 ESPN on Tuesday. "And I really want to reiterate, I don't think that's correct. There's a few guys that are no longer on the Twins' staff who put a ton of time in. ...
"But fortunately or unfortunately, whatever you want to call it, I do believe that players, if they hear something from a person that has an eight, 10, 12, 14-year career, or a person who has won -- they've been in All-Star Games, they've been in World Series, they've been on winning teams -- players, I think, just naturally are going to respond more to a guy like that. Because I think the players potentially can actually feel, 'This guy can relate to what I'm saying.'"
It remains to be seen what impact the Twins' new coaches will have, and the major league production of Steinbach and Brunansky certainly won't hurt when they attempt to pass down advice.
But Steinbach and Brunansky were hired for reasons other than their track records as players -- Steinbach for his ability to work with catchers, and Brunansky for the success he's had working with young hitters at Double-A and Triple-A the last two years.