Even as they remain lashed to the mast of the game’s predictable canon, baseball teams seldom ride out the storm of a disappointing start to a season.
Instead, they find a scapegoat, usually the club’s pitching or hitting coach. A press conference ensues, in which the general manager praises the guy he just fired and professes a deep respect for the coach, wishing him well in the MLB unemployment line.
In their 46 seasons since arriving in Texas, the Rangers have employed 16 pitching coaches, including the resident scapegoat, Doug Brocail. There surely will one day be a 17th pitching coach, and Brocail knows that.
But this year, this bullpen, this chargrilled dumpster?
Firing Brocail would be a cop-out, something a discontented fan would Tweet from his sofa.
As I tap-danced around the subject with the manager the other night, Jeff Banister seemed to know exactly what I was asking and said, succinctly, “I feel good about where these coaches are at, and what they’re saying and how they’re doing it.”
So, like in Hoosiers, the coach stays. At least for now.
A brief anecdote seems in order here:
It was the summer of 2002, and the Rangers were on their way to a forgettable 72-90 season, even though Alex Rodriguez would hit 57 homers and drive in 142 runs. Jerry Narron was the club’s manager and a blunt, tempestuous Oscar Acosta was the new pitching coach.
The ace of that pitching staff was supposed to be Korea-born Chan Ho Park, but Park was on-again, off-again bothered by a sore back and a steady fusillade of opponents’ line drives.
Though that’s not what he told us in the clubhouse. After each sorry outing, Park, a $65-million free agent ruse played by agent Scott Boras on Rangers owner Tom Hicks, would insist (in English) to the Texas media that nothing was wrong, and that the real Chan Ho was just around the bend.
So in June of that baseball season, I am sent to South Korea to cover soccer’s World Cup. A Korean taxi driver spots my credential and sees that I am from Texas.
“Texas!” the driver says in animated English. “Texas! Park Chan Ho, Park Chan Ho!”
Yes, I say, nodding my head. I’m from Texas, home of the last-place Rangers.
“Texas!” the driver continues, eyeballing me in his rear-view mirror. “Pitching coach – NO GOOD!!”
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Apparently, while Park was blowing sunshine up our Texas posteriors, he was daily telling it like it was to the media back in Seoul. An entire foreign country was calling for Oscar Acosta’s head.
On June 22 of that season, Acosta was fired.
I sense no similar clubhouse mutiny — in any language — toward Brocail or any other Rangers coach. Nor should there be.
If you’re going to criticize Brocail for the planet-leading 17 blown saves and the bullpen’s recurring failures, you have to give him credit for the development of Nick Martinez, Alex Claudio and Jose Leclerc. You have to acknowledge his role in getting Keone Kela’s career back on track.
Martinez, who’s having his best season, explained Brocail’s best attribute.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Doug has my back in any situation,” he said. “He has all our backs.
“You want a pitching coach that genuinely wants to make people better. He doesn’t worry about job security, or where he’s going to be next year. He’s 100 percent in it to make us better.”
Newly acquired reliever Jason Grilli, a 15-year veteran, pointed out the value of a big league coach’s experience.
“Usually coaches have been through this,” Grilli said. “It’s always nice to have a coach that has your back, who can help you through the tough times.
“They’re our teammates, too. They put on uniforms. Drawing on their past experiences, they’re giving us everything they have to put us in successful situations or get us back on track.
“Coaches have to have that feel. They hold the meat thermometer that can measure what’s inside. They know the person and can ‘bring him into the office.’ ”
Among the Rangers pitchers, Brocail is that guy. He has their backs. He’s girded for the storm.
Firing him, firing any of this team’s coaches in the middle of this under-performing season, would be a cop-out.
Gil LeBreton: @gilebreton