An often overlooked role in baseball is that of the bench coach, and few do the job better than Ron Roenicke. Mike Scioscia‘s right-hand man for each of the past four seasons, the 53-year-old Roenicke assumed his current duties after having served as the Angels‘ third-base coach for six years, stepping in when Joe Maddon left to become the manager in Tampa Bay. Roenicke himself is a candidate for a managerial position, as the former minor league skipper is reportedly among those being considered to fill the vacancy in Cleveland. Roenicke talked about his responsibilities as a bench coach and shared some of his philosophies on the game when the Angels visited Fenway Park in mid-September.
David Laurila: What are your duties as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach?
Ron Roenicke: Before the game, I do the lineups, so whatever Mike gives me for his lineup that day, I make sure that I have the umpire cards done. I make sure that I have the schedule for the day-which guys are playing and what the hitting groups are. I also do the dugout card, which is the big card that we use in the dugout so guys can kind of see where we’re at. After that, I’m the outfield coach too, so I have a sheet that I print up that I use to tell our outfielders where I think they should play that day.
DL: How about once the game starts?
RR: During the game, I’m giving Mike ideas on some things. Most of the time he doesn’t need a lot of that, because he’s pretty on top of the game, so it’s maybe trying to pick up signs from the other side, or trying to look at what’s going on, and seeing what they’re going to do, to try to give him ideas. And then it’s to make sure that our guys are going to be ready. I was basically a bench player in the big leagues, and I never liked to be caught off guard, so I don’t want our guys to be caught off guard. If they’re used to going into the game in the eighth or ninth inning, and all of a sudden, in the fifth inning, he asks them to do something, I want to make sure that they’re ready and loose. Then it’s basically what I see out there. If there are things I see that need to be corrected, I talk to the players. Maybe as they’re going to the plate, I’ll talk about what the pitcher has been doing. Things like that.
DL: How does that differ from what a manager other than Mike Scioscia might require from his bench coach?
RR: The difference would be, from what I gather from other people, and from people I played for, is that sometimes there is a lot of discussion between the bench coach and the manager; it’s constant chatter back and forth on what’s going on. But then you look at, maybe a [Jim] Leyland, for Detroit; he’s another guy who’s on top of everything and doesn’t really need a lot of suggestions and a lot coming at him. Mike Scioscia gives the signs to the catchers, so you can’t really disturb that part, because it’s a job that requires you to really get involved in what’s going on. So you have to just be careful about when you talk to them, and when you give them suggestions. You have to make sure that it’s a time when they’re really free to think, and to answer.
DL: Can you give an example of what you might suggest to Mike during a game?
RR: It may be something like, “Hey, what do you think if we run here?” It’s a 3-2 count, with a runner on first base and one out, so are we more apt to swing through it and get him thrown out, or is the double play going to come on a ground ball when we’re not running? So maybe it’s a suggestion there. Maybe it’s suggestions on first and second and a double steal. “Hey, Mike, I think we can probably get the guy from first easier than we can get the guy from second.” Just little things like that.
DL: Do most of those suggestions come from feel, or through data?
RR: Both. We have data on some things, but a lot of it is what you see and what you feel. So it’s both.
DL: How similar are you and Mike in how you view the game?
RR: Pretty similar. There are some differences, and that comes from… like, say the baserunning part. I was a basestealer. and he obviously wasn’t. Some things differ with the outfield, because I was an outfielder and he wasn’t. The catching part, I don’t say much about because he was a catcher and I wasn’t. I don’t really get into that too much, unless he wants to ask me what I saw, or what I think about what we have back behind the plate, and maybe who should play that day, or something like that.
DL: As a catcher, Mike played a big role in stopping the running game. Is there any disconnect in how the two of you view that aspect of the game?
RR: Yeah, we have some differences there, but you know, his end of it was just trying to… most of the time when he was there, [Joey] Amalfitano was the coach, and when Amalfitano told him to throw over, or to pitch out, or whatever, he put down the sign, and that’s what he did. So even though he was involved in trying to stop the base running, he wasn’t really involved in when they were going to go, or not, because that’s handled by a coach.
DL: A criticism in recent years is that your team has gotten somewhat older and slower, yet it remains just as aggressive on the basepaths. Is that something you and Mike have discussed?
RR: I’ve never heard that criticism. What we hear from other teams is, “Boy, we like the way you guys are aggressive running the bases, and that’s what we’d like to do.” That’s what we hear more of, so I don’t know what the criticism would be. You know more than I do, obviously.
DL: I wouldn’t say that; I just know what I’ve read.
RR: Well, what you read sometimes isn’t the way it is.
DL: You don’t feel that you’ve ever been too aggressive for the team you’ve had on the field?
RR: No, I don’t. I think that at times it’s easy to say that somebody is too aggressive when they’re thrown out in a situation where you don’t want somebody to get thrown out. That’s easy to see. But what you don’t see is the 20 times when we’re safe, when other people would have stopped and not gone to that extra base. Obviously, I’d rather have more guys in scoring position and on third base, rather than them having stopped on second base or having never even got to second.
DL: Chone Figgins has been an excellent leadoff hitter this season, combining both speed and a high on-base percentage. If you had to replace him at the top of the order, which of those two skills would you value more highly?
RR: I think that if it’s a guy who runs decent and gets on base, I’d rather have the guy who runs decent and gets on base. If it’s a guy who is a great runner, but gets on base at .330 or .340, I don’t want him leading off. Unless it’s, you know, some of these teams have leadoff guys who hit 20 homers. That’s a little different. Now you’ve got a guy who is kind of scary at the top of your lineup. That would make a difference.
DL: Your team is second in the league in OBP, whereas last year you were tenth. Just how much has that impacted the offense?
RR: Oh, it’s a huge difference. There’s no doubt about it. Our offense is the reason that we are where we are right now. We’ve always depended on our pitching. Our pitching is coming around-they’re throwing really well right now-but there was a spell where they hadn’t pitched as well as we have in the past, and our offense definitely won a lot of ball games.
DL: Your brother, Gary, played on an Earl Weaver-managed Orioles team that featured a number of successful platoons. What are your views on platooning?
RR: Well, I think it just depends on what you have. Sometimes I think it is necessary. When you see a guy, maybe a left-handed hitter who, over the course of his career, is a .230 hitter against left-handers, and against righties he’s .300, and you’ve got a guy who hits lefties, I think yeah, why not do it? But I think for a young guy, when he comes up to the big leagues, you have to give him that chance to see if he’s a good hitter. You’ve got to let him see if he can hit that left-hander, or vice versa.
DL: When you went from being a third-base coach to a bench coach, did your relationship with the players change?
RR: No, that didn’t change. I think the only time you really change that is when you go to manager. Then those relationships change. But when you’re still a coach, there’s still a lot of openness there, and I really like that, because that’s when a coach really helps a player-when the player knows that a coach really wants to help him with his career, and he is able to open up and listen, and also give some feedback. Torii Hunter, as great a player as he is… you know, when we have discussions, there’s a lot of going back and forth, and I like it, because he’s obviously a great center fielder and he puts a lot of effort into it. But he doesn’t want to just be told, “Hey, you do this.” And I tell him that. Like when I’m positioning him, I’ll say, “Torii, I’d like you on this side,” and he’ll say, “You know something, I feel better on the other side against this guy, and these are the reasons.” We talk about it, and if it sounds good, we’ll go with it. I like a player to be able to respond back.
DL: You replaced Joe Maddon as the Angels’ bench coach. How similar are you and Joe?
RR: There are some similar things. There are some things that I also try to do the same way Joe did them. Joe is the best coach that I’ve been with in the big leagues-the best coach I’ve ever seen. A guy who has that kind of baseball intelligence and those kinds of baseball instincts, and great common sense, and a great sense of humor-he’s got all of the traits you want in a coach. So there are a lot of things that he does that I like, and that we’re similar at. Maybe I would have done it a little differently, but I saw him, and I said, “You know something, I like the way Joe did it and I’m going to do it that way.”
DL: You managed in the minor leagues before becoming the Angels third-base coach. How differently might you manage now, given the experiences you’ve gained since that time?
RR: I don’t think there’s a lot of difference. I’ve certainly learned a lot more, but I’ve also forgotten some little things that you need to stay on top of as a manager. You know, a guy who hasn’t managed for a long time, if he goes to manage, he has to retrain his thinking again. My thinking had been six years as a third-base coach, and really trying to lock in what I was doing, to all of a sudden being the bench coach and trying to figure out what Mike wants, but it’s not thinking the same way as a manager. I don’t have to sit here and think about our bullpen-I don’t have to sit here and think about the signs I’m giving to the catcher-unless Mike is kicked out of the game and all of a sudden I have to jump in there. So the thinking has got to be retrained.
DL: As did Mike, you played with the Los Angeles Dodgers. From your perspective, how differently was that organization run than the Angels are now?
RR: Well, I think the running part is more Mike. Mike really believes in, not just the basestealing, but taking the extra base when you have that chance. That is strictly from Mike. The Dodgers organization was really good on the fundamentals; they were really good at staying on top of the little details, which we try to do here. There are a lot of things we do the same way, like the way they treated people. We try to treat all of our guys fairly, and like grown men, which they are. Those things are similar.
DL: You played for both Tommy Lasorda and Pete Rose. How different were they?
RR: Well, Tommy had the energy, the enthusiasm; he was very emotional. Pete wasn’t like that. Pete was way different than how he played. Pete was more kicked back and quiet. But I didn’t play for Pete for very long; I played for Tommy for a few years. But that’s what I saw different in those two.
DL: You played for the 1986 Phillies, along with a number of players now managing and coaching in pro ball, like John Russell, Mike Maddux, Juan Samuel, Greg Gross, and Von Hayes.
RR: Yes, that was a very smart team. It was also a very good team. If it wasn’t for the Mets that year… we had a great team. The Mets were just so good that year. We had guys who knew how to play, and really put a lot of effort into it. Nobody put more effort into it than Mike Schmidt. I mean, thinking about the game, and the pitcher the next day-he helped me out tremendously. There was a short time there, a couple of months, where I got to play every day, and he’d say, “Ron, do you know this guy?” If I didn’t, he’d say, “Well, this is how he throws.” He knew everybody. He put a lot of effort into it, as did a lot of other guys. Greg Gross, who is a real smart baseball man, and I were the pinch-hitters, and we’d sit and talk baseball all the time; I learned a ton from him. I’m not surprised that so many of them are coaching, because there were some good minds over there.
DL: You and Mickey Hatcher were teammates in Rookie-ball. Had someone told you, at that time, that he would someday coach in the big leagues, what would your reaction have been?
RR: Coaching would have been fine. Managing… I don’t know about that. But coaching, yeah. He’s got a passion for the game, he’s a very hard worker, and yes, he’s crazy. He’s still crazy, but that’s good. You need guys like that on your coaching staff. You need some guys that are emotional, you need some guys who are fiery, and you need some guys who make you laugh, and Mickey makes me laugh every day.
DL: Who was the better player: Pedro Guerrero or Vladimir Guerrero?
RR: They’re different. Vladi is such a free swinger, and any pitch that’s thrown up there isn’t safe. Pedro was a more disciplined hitter, and probably the best hitter I’ve ever seen when the game was on the line. He had a good at bat almost every time. He obviously didn’t get hits every time, but with the game on the line, he’s the best I’ve ever played with.
DL: What kind of player were you?
RR: I was more of a scrappy player. I tried to do all of the little things right so I could stay in the big leagues.
DL: Does that make you an ideal coach?
RR: Well, it certainly helps. I know what it takes to do all of the little things. I never got to play on a regular basis, except for a couple of months here and there, so I know the thinking of those guys who are trying to come up and stay in the big leagues. I know the bench players who are trying to stay there, and trying to contribute. I know the little things that you have to do to help your team win. I enjoy what I’m doing. It’s a great job, and hopefully I’ll do it for a few more years. Right now, I’m just hoping to be part of the team that wins the World Series.
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