The role of the bench coach in baseball

18 Jan

When many people think of the bench coach in baseball, at the professional level at least, it’s hard to not think of Don Zimmer in a kevlar helmet smiling and waiting for Derek Jeter to rub his head before leaving the dugout. Most of the time it looks like the bench coach does nothing. He doesn’t make trips to the mound, he doesn’t argue calls with umpires, he doesn’t coach a base. He just sits there right? That assumption would be dead wrong. The bench coach has become as important to many teams as any other coach on or off the field.

The job of the bench coach is varied, they have to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. Obviously if the manager gets thrown out of the game it is the bench coach that takes over managing the club, as well as if some need arises which calls the manager away from the team. You cannot underestimate how important stability like that is to a team, knowing clearly what the chain of command is should things go wrong is like having a safety blanket. That is just the beginning of his duties however.

The bench coach is also somewhat of a coaching co-ordinator. To provide the manager with more time to prepare for games, the bench coach will often act as a go between with the rest of the coaching staff and the skipper. If they have some issue which isn’t earth shattering, just a general concern with a player or some form of routine, the bench coach is the man that resolves it. He takes care of insuring everyone is able to focus on their specific job without having to worry about aggravating details.

Not always, but often, the bench coach is viewed as somewhat of a “manager of the future.” These come in two general types, one is being groomed to manage in the future, the other is often waiting for a job opportunity. Take the Los Angeles Dodgers as an example, Joe Torre is the manager while Don Mattingly is the bench coach. Each took the job with the knowledge that the Dodgers wanted Mattingly to learn how to manage under Torre’s tutelage. In effect for him, it is on the job training. At other times bench coaches like Tony Pena, Larry Bowa, and many others were seen as ready, but there just wasn’t a team they fit with at the moment.

During the game the bench coach serves as a sounding board for the manager to bounce ideas off of and as an extra source of input. Ultimately the decisions fall on the manager,but the advice of the bench coach is invaluable. A good bench coach thinks slightly different from the manager from a strategy standpoint so there multiple views on how to handle a situation. Should a team sacrifice and play for one run or gamble and go for the big inning? A good bench coach is aware of who was raking the ball in batting practice, watches for tells in a pitcher which may tip off fatigue, and is always well studied on how certain players perform against others.

Often the manager just needs someone to just say their thoughts to out loud. The bench coach is his ear. he listens and usually knows when to just agree or add his two cents in. In short, the bench coach is the manager’s right hand man. He takes care of the details and provides input when needed, but otherwise sits watching and learning. Looking for anything that may provide the team an edge the manager might miss. As slow as baseball moves to many, quite a bit is going on at one time and the more eyes you have the better your odds of winning.

While bench coaches have really only been the norm the past forty years or so, they look like they are here to stay. From the time the team reports to the stadium, to going over scouting reports for the next game, a bench coaches job is never done. He is the eyes, ears, and tool for the manager to do what he does better.

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