DETROIT — Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters that the pivotal decision Gene Lamont made in Game 2 of the World Series had nothing to do with the announcement Tuesday that Lamont would move from third-base coach to bench coach.
But there’s no denying Lamont’s unsuccessful attempt to have Prince Fielder score all the way from first on a Delmon Young double put Lamont on the hot seat with those who pay the club’s coaches and players. And I’m not referring to owner Mike Ilitch, but rather the fans.
Lamont, along with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, were human piñatas for Tigers fans last year. Lamont’s ill-advised decision to send the lumbering Fielder home with nobody out became a symbol of the frustration that came with getting swept by the underdog Giants.
Now know this: Giants manager Bruce Bochy thought Fielder would score and allowed that it took “two perfect throws,” from left fielder Gregor Blanco and second baseman Marco Scutaro, to get Fielder. And Tigers on-deck batter Jhonny Peralta failed to aid Fielder by coaching him on the slide.
Still, Lamont took the blame afterward, and Leyland agreed with Lamont’s assessment that he was “overly-aggressive.”
When the first out of a potential big inning comes at home plate, the third-base coach can’t really justify such a decision. It’s that simple.
Leyland is big on having your back if you work for him. That’s why he protected Lamont’s decisions in postgame press conferences whenever asked. It’s also why he told reporters this while discussing the decision to move first-base coach Tom Brookens over to third base.
“I think Gene Lamont is as good of a third-base coach as anybody in the American League — terrific judgment, terrific,” Leyland said. “But it might be time for him to come over to the bench with me and put Brookie out there.”
Lamont and Leyland have been close friends since meeting in Detroit’s minor-league system as players nearly 50 years ago, so the move had to be tough on Leyland. He likely made it because, deep down, he knew Lamont’s “terrific” years were behind him. Lamont will turn 66 on Christmas Day.
I thought Lamont, a former major-league manager who has manned third base for the Tigers since 2006, was a “terrific” third-base coach until the second half of the 2010 season. That’s when I began, for the first time, wincing at some of his decisions while watching from the press box. Over the next two years, I winced even more.
It was time for a change, and Brookens, 59, will be an excellent third-base coach because he’s also the club’s base-running and outfield coach. His anticipation on relays beginning in the outfield and knowledge of the club’s runners is keen. Perfect combo, isn’t it?
Leyland has never had a bench coach here, opting instead to have Rafael Belliard as strictly an infield coach. Now Belliard will add first-base coaching to his job description.
Leyland’s game instincts are so good that he’s one of the few who could prosper without a bench coach, but he’ll benefit greatly from having Lamont next to him all nine innings.
Sparky Anderson considered his bench coach, Billy Consolo, central to his decision-making. Consolo, a “bonus baby” with the Boston Red Sox and Anderson’s friend since childhood in Los Angeles, was somebody Anderson could bounce things off of with total confidence because Consolo was smart and not a “yes” man.
A great bench coach can be a very beneficial to a manager, and Lamont will be a “terrific” one. He has a baseball IQ that is off the map, and that’s not just me talking.
While speaking during the playoffs with ESPN’s Orel Hershiser, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 1988 Cy Young Award winner and World Series MVP, he told me, “Gene Lamont is a brilliant baseball man — just brilliant.”
Coaches are being placed in their areas of strength, so these moves give the Tigers a much better coaching staff without hiring or firing anyone.