Jeff Datz is Dave Trembley’s new right-hand man in Baltimore. The 49-year-old Datz was named yesterday to replace bench coach Dave Jauss, who was let go by the Orioles following the regular season. One of a reported 40 candidates considered for the position, Datz has spent the last eight years on the Indians‘ coaching staff, serving as both a third-base coach and the bench coach under Charlie Manuel and Eric Wedge. Datz was fired along with Wedge and his entire coaching staff with a week to go in the season, and sat down with BP on the final weekend of the 2009 campaign.
David Laurila: You’ve been a bench coach for both Eric Wedge and Charlie Manuel. Were your responsibilities essentially the same under each manager?
Jeff Datz: With Charlie and with Eric, things were similar. There was obviously the paperwork part of it, like the lineups and the advance reports, and as far as the dugout goes, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference. I’d just try to manage the game along with them, thinking ahead, staying ahead. Both Charlie and the pitching coach at the time-they did most of the pitching changes, although I did have some input with that, as I did with Eric and Carl [Willis] in more recent years. Eric is a guy that relies a lot on Derek’s [Shelton] help, as his hitting coach, as far as the offensive side, guys’ swings, and lineups, and whatnot, whereas Charlie and I would basically put it together, deciding who was going to play and who was not. Eric has made it where it was myself, along with Derek and him, involved. So, every manager is different. They have their own things that they want to accomplish and get done, and they do things their own way, but once the game starts, it’s really pretty similar. You manage the game along with them, think ahead, stay ahead, and try to win a ballgame.
DL: Charlie was a hitting coach before becoming a manager, while Eric’s background is as a catcher.
JD: Yes, Charlie was an outfielder/first baseman, and he has always been a big hitting guy. He knew the hitter’s strokes, because, as you said, he had been the hitting coach, so he knew the guys’ swings and what their plusses and minuses were as far as their offensive approach was. With Eric… Eric is an offensive guy, too. Obviously, as a [former] catcher he knows a lot about the game, but he does talk with, and rely on, Derek a lot as far as seeing a guy’s stroke, or advising Derek. “Hey, Derek. This guy has to get shorter, shorten his stroke up,” or “This guy has got to look away.” He and Derek talk a lot during the game while we’re hitting, but I am right there with them. He’ll look over, maybe it’s 3-2, and should we run? Yeah, it’s 3-2, I feel we should run. But all I do is make suggestions and throw out what I would do. From there, it’s Eric’s call what the decision is.
DL: You briefly touched on pitching changes. Given their respective backgrounds, did Charlie and Eric utilize you any differently in that regard?
JD: I was somewhat involved with Charlie, and somewhat with Eric, but primarily it is the pitching coach. I’d say, at certain times, “Are we getting the lefty up for the seven-hitter here?” depending on the situation, and Eric might say, “No, we’re going to stay with this guy.” He’ll talk to Carl about it and maybe they’ll get so and so going in the bullpen, but it’s Eric’s call. Just like on 3-2, where it would be, “They’re running for me,” but Eric might be, “I can’t send this guy here.” It’s his final call, but I’ll be managing the game along with him, and throwing out things to him. First and second, because the first two guys got on, and maybe it’s, “We have to bunt here,” but he says “I don’t want to bunt; it’s only the sixth inning.” That’s his call. It’s totally up to him. We have a great relationship. He’s great to work for, as was Charlie. I have a great job… I had a great job working for them. It’s a good gig. You’re sitting here, essentially in the two-hole, and managing the game with him, but he’s the one who has to take responsibility for the decisions made, talk to the press, talk to the front office, and go from there.
DL: Bench coaches often follow managers when they move from one organization to another. With that in mind, how do you foresee your immediate future?
JD: You know what, it’s been a difficult couple of days; it’s been a difficult week. I’ve been in this organization for 18 years and have great friends here, and Mark Shapiro has been nothing but outstanding to me, as has the rest of the front office, and Eric Wedge. We’re playing here today, in Boston, and we’re playing tomorrow, in Boston, and even after that, I’m still going to be an Indian. I’m hoping that maybe there’s still a window open here, and depending on who the new manager is, maybe I can come back here and be on the major league staff, or have some position in this organization down the road. But, by the same token, if Eric goes somewhere, is there possibly a situation where I would go with him? Sure. Maybe there are some things that are going to happen with other big-league clubs, where there might be opportunities, and I’d be interested in interviewing for those positions. We’ll have to just wait and see how it plays out.
DL: Different organizations are better fits for some managers than others. I assume the same goes for who gets hired as the bench coach in a given situation?
JD: Yes, same thing. As Mark Shapiro and I have talked, and Eric and I have talked, it depends on the situation, where you go. If the new manager comes in here, and Jeff Datz is a fit as a bench coach, or third-base coach, or a catching or outfield guy, then it fits and it works. A new manager might come in and say, “I want to have this bench coach with me, and I want this guy as the catching coach.” Then Jeff Datz is not a fit. So, it all depends on who’s where. Yes, it does matter. Eric Wedge could go somewhere, and they dictate to him that this guy is going to have to be your bench coach if you take this job, and this guy is going to have to be your hitting coach, and this guy is going to have to be your pitching coach. Well, then there’s not a whole lot of room for Jeff Datz, Carl Willis, or Derek Shelton. So sure, things dictate that way, at times.
DL: According to the Indians’ media guide, Eric Wedge is a big Johnny Cash fan. A lot of people used to view Cash as being old-fashioned, but in reality, he was a pretty progressive thinker. Is Eric similar to Cash in that regard?
JD: Yeah, Eric is a bright, intelligent guy. He’s old-school at heart, but he’s very intelligent and knows what’s going on in this game in many areas. He’s going to be fine, we’re going to be fine. Like I said, it’s been a frustrating week, but it is what it is. We were sitting here two years ago, at Fenway, one game away from going to the World Series, but we didn’t get it done. Then we struggled the past two years, and that’s just the way it worked, but we’ve been fortunate. It’s a great organization.
DL: The Indians organization is pretty data-savvy. Are you?
JD: I’m more of an old-school guy. I’m not a big numbers guy, no. I look at the player-this guy’s a player, and this one’s not. I’m not too into the numbers and data. I know that it’s important. There is some value to it, but you still have to go out and play the game, so I’m more old-school when it comes to those things.
DL: Essentially, you haven’t played a big role in supplying the manager with data?
JD: No, I’m not saying that I don’t do that. We have the lineups, and that’s what I was just doing for the past hour, getting our cards ready, and our lineups ready, so that Eric has his late-inning cards with versus right, versus left, what is his average this year versus his three-year, our late-inning bullpen matchups, like this guy is 0-for-3, this guy is 1-for-5. Oh, yeah. I have all of those numbers available. We have those numbers ready, and when game time comes, and the late innings come, boom, we have that right there in our pockets. So, I’m aware and updated, as far as that goes. I’m daily with each guy versus our guys, but as far as sitting there and saying, “Well, I know Rocco Baldelli‘s OPS,” and this that and the other, no, I’m not studying that kind of stuff. I look at stats, yes. I look and know that this guy can steal some bases, and I know that this guy is tough to hit off of and whatever, but do I think that just because I can pull up a computer and look at a guy’s numbers, and he has great numbers… is he going to be a great fit, or a great ballplayer? I’m not going to say yes to that, no. I want to see the ballplayer; I want to see the guy.
DL: With so much statistical information now available to the public, it’s become pretty common for fans to cite numbers when questioning managerial decisions. Is it safe to say that more than just statistics come into play when decisions are made?
JD: Yes, there’s definitely more to it. We might be sitting here with a guy who is 4-for-8 against the reliever who is coming in, but we do not use him. Well, the fans are hollering, and there’s second guessing in the paper about why we didn’t use him, but it might be that the guy is struggling; he’s not swinging well right now. Or he might be hurt and we’re trying to not let that leak out. Maybe it’s earlier in the game and we don’t want to empty our bench. There are a lot of factors that come into play. It’s easy to sit in the stands and ask, “Why didn’t you do this?” or “Why didn’t you do that?”, but a manager like Eric or Charlie, has his reasons for what he does and why he does it.
DL: You mentioned earlier that you still look at yourself as a Cleveland Indian. How about in regards to your playing career?
JD: Well, I was basically just a minor league player. I started with the Houston Astros and spent the most time with them, but I was fortunate enough to get my big league time with the Detroit Tigers. But I didn’t have that good of a career. It’s not like I have to think about which club I’m going into the Hall of Fame with, for gosh sakes. But no, I had great years with Houston, then got to the big leagues with Detroit. I was only there for one year, then finished up with the Yankees, and ever since then I’ve been an Indian. Like I said, let’s see how it plays out. I’d like to stay an Indian, but we’ll have to see what this month brings. If my future is with another organization, then so be it. I’ll move on.