When the Mets hired Dave Jauss to be their bench coach, they brought on board a true baseball man. The 53-year-old Jauss has spent his entire adult life in the game, performing a cornucopia of roles for a multitude of organizations. After getting his feet wet in independent ball and the college ranks, the Amherst College grad spent three years as a minor-league manager in the Expos system before moving on to the Red Sox, for whom he served as a first base coach, minor-league field coordinator, bench coach, director of player development, and major-league advance scout. From Boston he went to Los Angeles, where he was Grady Little’s bench coach with the Dodgers in 2006 and 2007. For each of the past two seasons, he performed the same role under Dave Trembley, in Baltimore. Jauss, who was hired by the Mets in November, talked about his time in the game during the final month of the 2009 campaign.
David Laurila: What led you into the coaching ranks?
Dave Jauss: Complete lack of ability. A lot of people lose opportunities to play further because they don’t get seen, or they get hurt, or their coach in high school or college didn’t give them an opportunity. Well, I got plenty of opportunities, and I didn’t get hurt; I just couldn’t play a lick. The only way for me to stay in the game was to get into coaching.
DL: Is it not harder to get into the coaching ranks when you didn’t play at a high level?
DJ: Yes, but it also allowed me to get into my profession at the age of 21, where a lot of guys start their careers in coaching at the age of 29, 30, 35, 37, so I’ve had more years of doing it. Most everybody has that initial question of, “Hey, do I really want to quit playing, or not?” That was done really early in my life. I had to. You don’t want to quit, but you have to. So, I was able to get into coaching and managing. I actually managed a team in Canada. I was in Canada 24 hours after I graduated from college, managing a Canadian professional team. They had a lot of guys who had played up to Triple-A, and while I didn’t have any major-league players that year, the year before Jeff Reardon had played before getting signed. The year after, both Bill Lee and Bernie Carbo played there after their careers in Major League Baseball were over. We got two import players a year from the States, and they were all college players who were on the border of being drafted, or had been drafted but weren’t signed yet. I was the first non-native manager up there.
DL: Where did you go from there?
DJ: I was coaching in college the following fall and had probably six players who were older than I was; I was the youngest coach in the nation. That was at Westfield State, a Division III Mass State Conference college in Massachusetts. I kept trying to get into professional baseball, and most people were trying to steer me to the scouting end, but I wanted to stay on the field. I really enjoyed coaching and teaching on the field. I enjoyed putting the uniform on. So, after coaching in college, and in the Cape Cod League, and up in the Canadian League for two years, I finally got an interview with Jerry Manuel, who was the field coordinator for the Montreal Expos, and he offered me a Gulf Coast League managing job. That was in 1988 and I’ve been in professional baseball ever since.
DL: You’ve also managed in winter ball.
DJ: Yes, this year will be my seventh managing winter ball. I’ve coached in the big leagues with the Dodgers, Red Sox and Orioles. I’ve managed in the Montreal Expos system, and I’ve been a farm director, a field coordinator, and also a scout.
DL: Is coaching and managing the same everywhere, or does it differ from one environment to the next?
DJ: Managing and coaching the game itself is the same everywhere. I even believe that it’s the same at the high-school level. To manage a game, the game of baseball is the same. Now, it’s played at higher levels, and it’s played in more intense situations, but the pure game itself-if people watch the game well enough, the high school team that wins is the team that executes better. The major-league team that wins is the team that executes better. Yeah, they say that the Yankees have better talent; they say the Red Sox might have better personnel, but they still lose when they don’t execute. As a manager, you have to execute right. Your team has to execute right, no matter what level you’re at. So, I believe that it’s the same everywhere. Now, managing players, managing people, that’s the change. And that’s different no matter if you’re in Boston, Baltimore, Santo Domingo, Caracas, or Middlebury, Conn., with a high school team.
DL: How much is the ability to execute innate as opposed to teachable, especially when it comes to more experienced players? Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
DJ: It’s not new tricks. It’s the basic fundamentals. The same basic fundamentals string all the way from the high-school level to the big leagues. At each successive level, the execution of those fundamentals has to be sharper, because the game is faster. But if a player is ready for that level, he’s capable of it. And every club drills. They drill in different ways- not every club has their second baseman and shortstop out at 4 p.m., when they’re going to stretch at 4:15 p.m., taking extra ground balls. Not every team has their catchers throwing at 2 p.m., but they all get it done somewhere or another. The drilling is done everywhere. However, certain drilling makes you more successful. Certain venues allow players to execute better. Certain confidence-building things allow players to execute better. Certain motivational things allow players to execute better.
DL: You’ll often hear fans saying, “So and so is hitting .350; why hasn’t he been promoted?” Are there certain developmental benchmarks a player needs to reach in order to show he can handle the next level?
DJ: Numbers are only one variable as to when a guy advances. A lot of people say that the difference between A ball and Double-A is the biggest jump. Others say that the biggest jump is from Double-A to Triple-A, because Triple-A has the older veterans. No. By far and away, the biggest difference is Triple-A to the big leagues. That’s because there is no higher level; you can’t have any better players than are in the big leagues. So, the numbers are only one variable, because Triple-A is still Triple-A. You can put up certain numbers there, but you’re putting them up against guys who aren’t at the highest level yet. Yes, one of the variables is that they have to have the right numbers, but another is that they have to execute in their area-pitchers in pitching, hitters in hitting, position players with what they’re doing defensively. They have to be handling the whole aspect of the Triple-A level. And there is a difference between playing in front of 8,000 or 10,000 people and 46,000 people, and between dealing with three media people and 46 media people. Those are all variables that, at the right time, people are going to have to be ready to take the next step with.
DL: Players are sometimes promoted from Double-A directly to the big leagues. Is the gap between Double-A and Triple-A narrower than many people think it is?
DJ: The first, most important reason for that is the economic factor. If the Double-A player is a really good player, economically he’s going to be paid the minimum. Even though you’re starting his clock, if he’s the better player, why take the guy that’s not going to help your organization five years down the line? He might be the same, but he’s older and doesn’t have as high of a ceiling. Tha”s one thing. Another thing is, yes, I believe that the play in Double-A and Triple-A is closer-even though you have those veteran players in Triple-A-than it is getting to the big leagues.
DL: Of the roles that a bench coach plays, which do you excel at the most?
DJ: I hope that, as a bench coach, what I excel at is what the manager needs me to complement the most. I think that most bench coaches have a wide range of things that they can do. They make sure that they complement the manager, so my strength with Dave Trembley is different than it was for Grady Little. I know that, specifically. And I think that it was different for Joe Kerrigan. I’m not quite as sure with that one, because it was only for six weeks, but I know that my strength, and what I bring, is different for Dave than it was for Grady. They’re both strengths that I had, but to complement each manager was the priority.
DL: What was the difference in roles between the two?
DJ: Well, Grady wanted me to be the organizer and numbers guy, while one of Dave’s great strengths is (being) organized and numbers. So, I bring a bit more of the communication to the players and a little bit more of the time and experience that I have in the big leagues to complement all of his time as a manager, not a lot of which has been spent in the big leagues.
DL: Is that the biggest difference between Trembley and Little?
DJ: They’re two different personalities. Grady is really outgoing and laid-back. He’s also a very shrewd, solid, disciplined baseball man, but he always tried to live that image down.
DL: Was Grady Little misunderstood?
DJ: He wanted to be. He didn’t want players to ever know that he did the diligent work, because he felt the players would then play tighter for him, they’d think differently of him. He wanted his players to be the most relaxed, because he was the most relaxed. But he didn’t want to let up on anything we could do as far as giving ourselves information that would help us beat the other team.
DL: You have a psychology degree. Was Little’s approach a good one in that respect?
DJ: It was very good. Very good.
DL: How much does psychology come into play for you as a bench coach?
DJ: Before something is ever done, I don’t ever know that I’m doing it. But it’s the same way when I try to train, and teach, and guide my children. It’s not like I put a plan together and say, “Geez, this thing is psychologically sound, so it is going to be good.” But after the fact, after managing the situation, I’ll look back as a parent and think, “Yeah, that was really psychologically sound, doing it along those ways.” Maybe it was modeling the right behavior first, or coming at them with a comfort, maybe an ego-building thing, and then hitting down to the problem, or the situation, or something along those lines. But you rarely ever do it beforehand. So, it’s not like I plan that way, but I do plan the numbers. I plan how we’re going to stop (Jacoby) Ellsbury from stealing. Even if we’re not always successful, I plan that. I don’t plan on dealing with Brian Roberts to see how he’s going to be comforted after not getting any hits the previous day.
DL: What goes into the planning when you’re trying to stop Ellsbury from stealing? Is it primarily data?
DJ: It’s a mixture. To stop Ellsbury is data, and then in the game it’s your feel. But to deal with individuals, it’s feel. You know beforehand that this guy is going to need a little bit extra-you’re going to have to work with him a little bit extra that day. It might be something physical that he did, but usually, in baseball, it is more mentally why he didn’t do something physically. You say, “This is a guy we’re going to have to get to,” and maybe it’s today, but maybe it’s not until tomorrow. It’s a 162-game season with a comfort zone that is different from football, or even from high school or college baseball. In a 162-game season, there are certain things that have to be addressed all along. That’s also why lineups are different. In football, if your starting quarterback is ready, he plays every time. You never sit your starting quarterback, whereas in baseball, Jason Varitek didn’t catch yesterday and Victor Martinez isn’t in the game today. That would never happen in football. That would never happen in high school or college baseball. But because of the baseball season, there are days where you decide it’s probably a good time to talk to that pitcher, but sometimes you have to wait for the next day, or the day after that.
DL: Going back to Grady Little, how well did he understand the data you provided him with?
DJ: He was really shrewd. He was really, really shrewd.
DL: Did he change after what happened in 2003?
DJ: I wasn’t in the dugout with him as a coach (in Boston). I was his advance scout and he took all of my stuff, and thoroughly went over it. When I’d rehash it back to him, he knew exactly what I was talking about. Now, how much did he go with it in a game, rather than his gut feel, in 2002 and 2003? I don’t know, because I wasn’t in the dugout with him. How much he did in 2006 and 2007 (with the Dodgers)-it was a lot more numbers than you would think. You can work those numbers to make them part of your gut feel, too. Numbers are numbers. You can make every number look right or wrong; you really can. So, you have to stay consistent with which numbers you want to use. Do you want to use head-to-head before anything else? Do you want to use lefty-righty before anything else? Do you want to use what a guy has done over the last 10 days before anything else? Do you want to use parks and leagues- something along those lines-more than anything else?
DL: From the conversations I’ve had with Dave Trembley, he might be more numbers-savvy than a lot of people think.
DJ: He’s really numbers savvy. He’s very, very good with numbers. For 22 years, he had to use numbers at the basest level; he was using the numbers that you get at the minor-league level. You have to be very creative, because in the minors you’re basically getting the stat pack and that’s about it. You have to create out of that when you can give a guy a day off, or when you can pinch hit for a certain guy and when you can’t. You have to figure out when you can run and when you can’t. You have to be very numbers-savvy to do that well, and he’s on top of all of that.
DL: Philosophically, is Trembley similar to Earl Weaver in what he wants his team to do?
DJ: That’s hard to answer. First of all, the day and time are different. I don’t think you can compare anybody today to an Earl Weaver or a Billy Martin. There’s such a distinct difference in the game of baseball that it’s hard to try to match that thing up. Second of all, I’ve known Dave Trembley for two years, and I know him very well, and Earl Weaver I only know from people telling me tons of stories and from listening to him in the background after spring training games.
DL: How important is the three-run homer to winning baseball games?
DJ: My response to that is that we don’t win with the three-run homer (in Baltimore), because our slugging percentage is one of the lowest in the league. So, we’re not waiting for that. And why don’t we steal? Well, look at the speed we have. We don’t have any.
DL: You also can’t hit three-run homers without runners on base.
DJ: Our on-base percentage isn’t as bad as our slugging percentage. Even though we don’t walk that much, our batting average is high enough that we get on base, but our slugging percentage is awful compared to last year. That’s not a philosophy of the manager, it’s something that’s just not there. In the American League, you need to hit the ball out of the park. You definitely need to hit the ball out of the park. You also need to walk. The Angels might be an exception to the rule, but they steal a little bit more and still hit the ball out of the park. So, I don’t think there are any managers in particular who say they are along the lines of Earl Weaver. I think that Earl Weaver formed the philosophy for Billy Beane. Billy Beane just doesn’t want to admit it, or maybe he doesn’t know it. No, he knows it. He’s very intelligent and very shrewd. But Earl Weaver, on a cocktail napkin, figured out that a couple of walks, stay out of the double play-a strikeout is better than hitting into a double play-and then get some big boppers to hit three-run homers, is a great offense. You don’t always have it, so you can’t do it, but it may well be the best offense. Actually, it is the best offense, no doubt about it.
DL: How valuable is a bench coach?
DJ: I see it as being as important as the role of an assistant football coach -the offensive and defensive coordinators. The third base coach is always out there and he has to make split-second decisions; it’s a position with a lot of responsibility. The pitching coach and hitting coach, these days, are finally getting their due, as assistant coaches in basketball and football have for a long time. But bench coaches do a lot of stuff. Major-league managers are so tied up these days with the media that the bench coaches have to do a whole lot. Bench coaches, even though they’re not out there publicly, media-wise or on the third-base coaching line, or making trips to the mound like pitching coaches, they’re right there. The coaching staff that major-league managers have-that whole coaching staff-is very important.
DL: Should bench coaches maybe help out with those media responsibilities?
DJ: There are a handful of managers that would love that. But if the organization is paying the manager so much more than the bench coach, they probably think he should be handling the media thing, because it’s a big part of the job in today’s game.
DL: Managers are often less open with the media than they could be. Should there be more guys who speak their mind, like Ozzie Guillen?
DJ: I love Ozzie, but your personality has to be your personality. You can’t fake it. Ozzie isn’t faking it, being that way, and certain other managers who aren’t overly open aren’t faking that way. Tito (Terry Francona) wasn’t as open four years ago, but he’s gotten more comfortable with his position, and with Boston, and now he’s a really good manager to interview. Before, there were always questions about whether he was hiding things. Your personality still has to come out, but as a general response to your question, yes, I think managers should tell more. That said, I also think that the media should be more responsible. Rather than sensationalizing, they need to tell the story. They should do their due diligence and report the whole story rather than sensationalizing or just taking part of it. They shouldn’t skew. If managers are going to tell more, tell the whole story, report the whole story. Be like my dad, a reporter of the whole story, not just a sensationalizer.
DL: Your father, Bill Jauss, was a reporter for 50 years. How much has the media changed since his days covering sports in Chicago?
DJ: A ton. He used to hang out with every manager, drinking up in the Bards Room at Comiskey Park, or down at Bernie’s, the saloon by Wrigley Field. He’d hang out with players-Randy Hundley and those guys. They’d just tell stories and talk, and you’d never see that now. Heck, I’m probably as close to those guys as anything. I’m close to a lot of media guys, but I can’t see major-league managers ever doing that again. Heck, they’d come over to the house and watch TV with my dad, or he’d go over to their place. Times have changed.
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