It seemed like an eternity. The Phillies search for a pitching coach, that is. In actuality, it lasted 53 days.
53 days and over a dozen candidates – that we know of. In the end, the Phillies got their man. Or did they?
It’s no secret that Bob McClure was not the team’s initial choice to fill the position that had been held by Rich Dubee since 2005. Candidates for the position came and went – a who’s who of names from the pitching fraternity. Some were passed over, some decided they like it just fine where they currently conduct business. “Thanks Ruben. But, no thanks.” Yet another, became manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
When the dust had finally settled, the Phillies ended up with a solid pitching coach. A coach with a solid resume, as a player and as a coach.
Bob McClure’s journey in professional baseball began as a third round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals in the 1973 amateur draft. In 1975, the left-handed pitcher made his Major League debut for those same Royals. Thus began a 19 year, seven team odyssey. McClure had a lot of stickers on his suitcase from the numerous ports-of-call – the Royals, Brewers, Expos, Mets, Angels, Cardinals and Marlins. He has the distinction of having played for the only World Series team in Milwaukee Brewers history – Harvey’s Wallbangers of 1982, as well as, the inaugural season of the Florida Marlins in 1993.
McClure’s longevity can be summed up by the age-old baseball axiom – if you’re left-handed and throw strikes, you can pitch forever. Which he did. He pitched in 698 career games. 73 of those games were as a starting pitcher for the high octane Brewers of the early 1980’s. He finished his career with a 68-57 record and 3.81 ERA. Ironically, the last game of his Major League career was against the Phillies. It was May 17, 1993. The Phillies were on their way to a National League pennant and the Marlins were trying to avoid morphing into the 1962 New York Mets. McClure knew the end was near. He was 41 years old, playing for an expansion team that was going nowhere fast. His WHIP was just a shade under three and his ERA a tick over seven. Horrific numbers. He pitched a scoreless inning against the Phillies that night. Lenny Dykstra was the final batter he ever faced – a groundout to short. McClure was released the following day.
He didn’t have to wait very long for a coaching career to commence. Marlins manager Rene Lachemann, the same manager who released him the previous season, hired him to serve as the bullpen coach for the 1994 Florida Marlins. That season ended prematurely on August 12 when the players went on strike. McClure did not have his contract renewed for the following season. He would have to wait twelve years to coach in the big leagues again. McClure was a minor league pitching coordinator in the Colorado Rockies organization from 1999-2005. Four of those seasons were spent as pitching coach for Triple-A Colorado Springs. Then came the call to rejoin a Major League coaching staff.
Kansas City Royals manager Buddy Bell hired McClure to be his pitching coach for the 2006 season. A position he would hold through 2011. The results in Kansas City were mixed. The pitching staff was dead last in team ERA in 2006 and 2010. The team ERA in 2006 was an unsightly 5.65. But, when you have hurlers by the name of Brandon Duckworth, Jimmy Gobble, Ambiorix Burgos and Scott Elarton…well, let’s just say the statistics will not be for the faint-of-heart.
McClure, however, can be credited with cultivating the careers of two of the elite pitchers in the game today – a starter and a reliever. Zack Greinke and Greg Holland. Greinke was an underachieving, blue chip prospect who turned his career around. Becoming an elite, top of the rotation pitcher, an All-Star, and a Cy Young Award winner. Holland is arguably one of the Top 3 closers in the majors. He struggled mightily in his 2010 debut season. The following year he became a lights-out flame thrower coming out of the bullpen. Joakim Soria was one of the elite closers in baseball during McClure’s tenure. Luke Hochevar, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow were up-and-coming young pitchers who flourished under his tutelage. They are now top flight relievers who were a part of the best bullpen in baseball in 2013.
Then there is Boston. Ah yes, Boston. The whopper of a season that was the 2012 Red Sox. A three-ring circus, if you will. With a court jester who goes by the name of ‘Bobby V.’ Poor Bob McClure was caught in the middle of the madness. First, general manager Ben Cherington hires McClure – before he hires a manager. Then he hires Bobby Valentine to be manager. Cherington didn’t want Valentine, ownership did. You follow? All the ingredients were in place for an epic disaster before the season even began.
The team was led by a manager with no people skills. The clubhouse was run by a group of veterans who couldn’t care less. McClure knew he wasn’t Valentine’s man. The animosity was obvious. The two key elements to a manager-pitching coach relationship are trust and communication. Both elements were nonexistent from Day 1. The writing was on the wall almost immediately. During the season, McClure had to take a two-week leave of absence to take care of a serious medical emergency in his family. A few weeks later, in early August, Valentine humiliated him on a Boston radio show. When asked about McClure by the host, Valentine started a sentence with, “When Bob was on his two-week vacation…” The end was near.
McClure was fired on August 20. A scapegoat. He probably danced and skipped out of the clubhouse and into the parking lot that day. Popping wheelies as he drove onto the Mass Pike. Relief.
Bob McClure’s strength is working with young pitchers. Working with young talent for seven years in the minors, as well as, having a perennially young staff in Kansas City, will, for all intents and purposes, force a coach into being a good teacher. Rich Dubee’s weakness was working with young pitchers. Working with such pitchers requires patience. The Phillies will have plenty of young talent vying for spots on the pitching staff next spring.
The Red Sox’ trash is the Phillies’ treasure. Or, at least that’s what the faithful are hoping for. At least he won’t have to worry about Ryne Sandberg going on WIP and throwing him under the proverbial bus.