By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – The addition of Mike Maddux and Willie McGee and the return of Jose Oquendo to the Cardinals’ major-league coaching staff has put a renewed emphasis this spring on how important coaches are to a team’s success.
With that in mind, a natural question arose: Who coached these coaches, at earlier points in their lives and careers? Who were the most influential people in their past, who guided them, molded them, and led them to where they are today – trying to serve the same role for the current edition of the Cardinals.
In their own words, here were the answers, which not surprisingly for those who came up through the St. Louis organization centered on two long-time legendary coaches, George Kissell and Dave Ricketts.
“Dave Ricketts. I still do some of his things with defensive guys, teaching infielders, stuff you learned through the years. I am always watching and and thinking about what he would hav done differently.
“I really spent more time with him (as a player) and paid more attention to him. You are always watching the game and what the manager wants and how he wants you to prepare. You see all of that later won when you become a coach, just by paying attention.
“I also can relate stuff all the time back to when I was 14, in Puerto Rico, and Vic Power was our coach – the way he taught us how to play the game, the things he said. I still implement that as well as stuff that Ricketts said, phrases he used, and George Kissell said a lot. We tell the younger guys who those coaches were.
“I always appreciated the coaches. I learned a lot from them. Good coaches want you to succeed. Others just tell you things even though sometimes they don’t really mean it. I try to make it positive. My job is to make the players better.”
“The two guys early In my career in the minor leagues were George Kissell and Hub Kittle. George was a huge part of it and I had Hub in the instructional league as my pitching coach. He helped me a lot with my changeup and that was probably the only reason I got to the big leagues with the limited stuff I had. He helped me develop that. I was fortunate enough as a coach to spend some time with Dave Ricketts with the catchers early in the morning and learned a lot from him as well. There are things I say or talk about each day that comes from one of those gentlemen.
“Someone once told me you learn more as a coach than you do as a player. I believe that. I learned more about other parts of the game, other positions. When you are a pitcher you just try to hone your craft and there isn’t much emphasis on other parts of the game, you just do your specific part. Now I have a feel for all of it. I feel like I’ve learned a lot and I appreciate all of the guys above me over the years.”
“Lonnie Lewis was my Little League coach. He taught me when we got into games or practice to just get it done. He said, ‘We aren’t talking a lot.’ When you were hitting and he was coaching third and you looked down, he would just say, ‘I can’t help you.’ You had to start then relying on yourself. Responsibility; it’s a great way to start you off. He said, ‘I can’t help you now. I’m over here coaching. You’re in the box.’ What he was basically saying was that it was you and the pitcher. He was training you that way even if I didn’t know that until later.
“As I got older especially in the big leagues the best coach I have ever had all around was Dave Ricketts. He was the hardest working coach I’ve ever seen, He was a jack of all trades. He kept it pretty simple especially with the mental game. He always said, ‘When are you going to be you?’ Stuff like that; he also knew when to work and what to work on – your mental outlook or confidence or whatever. He installed confidence in you by the way he looked at you. He would say, ‘You’re all right.’ He was positive, and made everything seem OK.
“It’s just about the lessons you learned. You learn a lot as you play and you have so many coaches. You can tell the good coaches, and you take the good from them and you take the bad from coaches too and you formulate your style.
“Dave Ricketts was the man. If I can be half the coach he was, man that would be great. Oquendo reminds me a lot of him. Dave taught you to learn yourself. When I got traded I knew what I wasn’t doing and what I had to do. If you don’t know yourself you can get lost.
“That’s the way I was raised – hard work, but as you go, try to work smarter. I’ve found out coaching is a whole new entity; I’m like in rookie ball as a coach. I don’t care how much baseball I played, this is a whole different ballgame. I see why these guys are at the ballpark at 1 p.m. preparing before games.”
“As far as hitting goes, Jeff Pentland changed my philosophy an how I teach it. Mike Brumley helped me with the way I view the game in the sense of ‘This is how we’ve always done it.’ He taught me to dissect it and see if it can be enhanced in any category. He tried to broaden my mind in that regard to get better.
“First and foremost I hope they made me a better person and secondly made me a better coach. The biggest influence in my life was my father, especially from the aspect of respect and hustling and trying to get better; those kinds of foundational stuff. Those are the kinds of things that you carry with you into your daily work. Having kids has added a really big influence in my life about patience and teaching and things like that.”
“I grew up in a Double A ballpark so there was a lot of influence there. I was around Grady Little as a little kid and saw guys like him and Mark Wiley and John hart come through Charlotte as managers and the Orioles also had a lot of good roving instructors. A man named Jeff Schafer took me under his wing, he played a little in the big leagues, and we are still in contact today 30 years later. I had a great Legion coach named Bill Tate who knew the game, and I still see him in the offseason. Mark DeJohn was a huge mentor of mine; I’m not here today without him.
“Inherently I knew I had a pretty good mindset of why I was coaching; it was to help young people and help them grow up, on and off the field. DJ kind of crystalized that, and it was something he got from George Kissell. He always said you have to care more about the players’ career than you care about your own career. He said that in your job as a young coach or manager in the minor leagues you can have aspirations to coach or manage in the big leagues but you should be satisfied with a 25, 30 or 40-year career as an instructor or manager in the minors and be really happy and satisfied even if you never achieve becoming a big league coach or manager.
“Working with young players I wanted to make sure I was investing in their careers and not trying to use them to get personal gain. The reality is that you sacrifice for the game and the return on it primarily at least for me is the growth and development you see in guys as they are able to fulfill their dreams of playing in the major leagues.
“Multiple times during the day I refer to things one of those guys taught me. Just talking in the cage with other coaches and sharing some information, one guy said, ‘You know I feel like I’m stealing information,’ and I said there isn’t anything we’re talking about in this small circle that any of us made up. All we are doing is being caretakers of the information we were given. One thing I can possibly give myself any credit for is being smart enough to steal good information from really competent people.”
“Definitely George Kissell and Dave Ricketts. They were two of the pioneers of The Cardinal Way. We still use the manual which George started. It’s all fundamentals; there’s not any great secrets. It’s just about doing the right things the right way. It’s been that wall all the time. The fundamentals are still the same, the game doesn’t change, the players do; they come and go.
“I refer to them all the time; about what they taught you over the years. It’s not just one thing they said. Go back to the Golden Rule about treating people the way you want to be treated. Coaching is about service, trying to give of yourself to these players. It’s an ongoing process for them too, coming back tomorrow and picking up where you left off today.
“I use George’s sayings and methods all the time. They work, they’re tried and true. It isn’t anything earth=shattering, it’s very simple but the consistency at which you do it is the important part. Stay with the same principles, tweak them for each individual because each guy has a different key that unlocks them but the principles are still the same.
“They (Kissell and Ricketts) rooted for you even when you weren’t rooting for you. If you were hungry, available and teachable they were going to spend time with you to help you get better. It’s what you want to do with everybody. You’d like to say you are going to treat everybody equally; well you’re not because one guy is going to be more involved in his own teachings. It’s a one person teaches, two people learn type of thing. You’re learning from them as much as they are learning from you and one guy is going to be hungry for more information, he’s going to be able to retain more, do more. You adjust your teachings to use a fire hose or an eyedropper, whatever they can handle.
“George was really good at scouting people for coaches for the organization; he was not always scouting big league players. He was scouting people he saw with the potential to be coaches – unselfish guys that knew the game, that worked hard, that he knew had a passion for other people. He spotted those people and brought them into the organization as coaches.
“As much as you’d like to think you stay the same it’s not the case. Times change, and you have to adapt with them. The principles are still the same but how you apply them might change a little bit. You evolve. Some of the stuff that worked or didn’t work in the past you can tweak and change, eliminate, improve – whatever you need to do.”
“Jackie Moore has been a big mentor of mine. He was the manager when I first got into coaching in Double A. He and I hit it off right away and we are still very close. He’s one of those guys who always had the words of wisdom. He would be my coaching version of George Kissell around here. His big words were to be yourself.
“I started paying closer attention to the game as I got near the end of my pitching career and thinking outside of my little 60-foot lane that we lived in. I learned a lot from Felipe Alou, Larry Dierker and Davey Johnson, the managers in my last couple of years that I played.
“My basic philosophy is same. I think with time we all get better with experience. The philosophy, command the fastball and change speeds and attempt to overachieve – that’s the basic foundation of what pitching is. Hitting is timing, and pitching is about messing with that timing.”
“There’s three guys that come to mind who had a big influence in the direction I headed in as far as coaching style and overall attention to detail – Mike Shildt was actually the scout who drafted me and was my first hitting coach and taught me about ways to go about it; Mark DeJohn was extremely influential as a manager in teaching me about how to go about my daily routine and aspects of the game, and Gary LaRocque when it comes to leadership and management of people. He played a big part in that. All three had a big influence in my career.
“Shildt was pretty good when it came to attention to detail and held me accountable for that on a daily basis. He showed me you really have no days off and that you have to pay attention to the small things and make sure there is a process for improvement. DJ taught me about the management of the game. Gary taught me about managing people and how to be patient and when not to be patient.
“Coming from college when you got here you saw things were just done differently here. There was a different level about attention to detail. There were a lot of learning points. There are still things that come up daily that I can reference something that one of those three mentaught me. George Kissell taught those guys and now those guys are teaching me. Hopefully I will teach the guys who come after me, and that’s what allows this organization to continue to have success.”
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