Tuesday, March 11, 2008

gary varsho

Gary Varsho
Gary Varsho from Baseball Almanac

Gary Varsho returned to the Pirate organization when he was named bench coach on November 20, 2007. He’s a 1979 graduate of Marshfield (WI) High School and played his college ball at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, by gosh, and earned a bachelor's degree in phys ed.

Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 5th round of the 1982 amateur draft as a second sacker, Varsho made his MLB debut with the Cubs in 1988 and appeared in his final game in 1995 for the Phils. His first major league hit came off former Bucco Ed Whitson in 1988 at San Diego.

An outfielder by trade during his playing career, Varsho played 14 years of professional baseball, including 8 seasons in the majors with the Cubs (1988-90), Pirates, Reds (1993) and Phillies (1995). He played for Pittsburgh in 1991-92 and again in 1994.

During his time with the Pirates, Varsho appeared in the NLCS in 1991 and 1992 and went 2-for-3 in four playoff games. In 1992 he had what old time Cub fans recall sadly as the Varsho Game.

He came back to Wrigley to torment Chicago, his original team. In 13-4 romp, Varsho did his best Hack Wilson impression and hit two balls over the ivy covered walls, added a triple, and drove in six runs. They were the first two homers of his career.

Varsho once replaced Barry Bonds as the team's cleanup hitter, and he hit an inside-the-park home run. So he did have a couple of Pirate moments.

Here’s another: according to Baseball Reference, he ate four peanut butter and lima bean sandwiches before each game. Yum! I guess protein bars just weren't filling enough.

In 571 games over 8 seasons in the show, Varsho batted .244 with 204 hits, 10 home runs, 84 RBIs and 101 runs scored.

According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the tidbits of the game Varsho picked up from Jim Leyland on Pittsburgh's bench whetted his appetite for a coaching career. There was something about Varsho's old school baseball mentality that connected him to Leyland.

"We'd get on the plane and (Leyland) would rib him" 'Varsh, come here. Get in the back of the plane, before the GM finds out you're on the team,' " said Rich Donnelly, the former Pirate's third base coach. "(Leyland) messed with him so much because he liked him.”

Varsho told the Post Gazette's Paul Meyer a story of the time he put on a fake steal sign from the bench to be cute (he rode it so often he would sometimes flash Leyland’s signs to the players or be used as a decoy.) The runner took off instead. A bad throw saved the day, but Leyland gave him a talking to he never forgot.

Varsho recalled: "Leyland says, 'Come here.' We go down into the tunnel and he says to me, 'You're going to manage in the minor leagues some day and probably in the big leagues. Let me tell you something -- quit trying to trick the [dang] players, all right? Make it [really] simple. Make it fundamental. Keep the [dang] game simple so there are no [dumb] mistakes.'"

"I said OK. He said, 'Did you put the [ding-dang] sign on?' I said yes. He said, 'Well [gee whiz] don't do it again.'" Except Leyland didn’t exactly say [dang, ding or gee whiz]. The words from the master were absorbed and stored forever in his memory banks.

But Varsho's return to Pittsburgh has more to do with cashing in on his connections to field manager John Russell and GM Neal Huntington than with Leyland and the old Bucs. They both knew him from prior stops and saw him as the perfect lieutenant to teach their concept of back to basics baseball.

Varsho was the Phillies' bench coach from 2002-2006, when Russell was in the Philadelphia organization. He was the Cleveland Indians' outfield and baserunning coordinator last year when Huntington was with the Tribe.

He made his managerial debut with Class A Wisconsin in 1997 and led his club to a first place finish in the Central Division during the first half of the season. Varsho spent one more season with Wisconsin before joining Reading, where he was named the Eastern League's Manager of the Year in 2000.

In his three seasons with AA Reading, he rang up 235 victories, good for fourth on the club's all time win list. Varsho led Reading to the Southern Division Championship in 2001 and a share of the Eastern League title.

He was also a coach for the USA Team during the 2000 All Star Futures Game in Atlanta. At the conclusion of both the 2000 and 2001 campaigns, Baseball America recognized Varsho as the "Best Managing Prospect" in the Eastern League. He spent five seasons as a minor league field general, compiling an overall record of 383-319.

Gary Varsho learned the fundamentals from Jim Leyland and has the confidence of the Buc’s new management team. Let’s hope that parley turns into a winning combo for the Pirates.

(Our contribution to spring training will be highlighting the careers of the old Bucs in camp who are trying to pass on the torch to today's squad. Up next - Rich Donnelly.)


Anonymous said...

He was a substitute teacher a few times when I was in grade school back in the 80's during the offseason. I enjoyed when he came to teach. Best of luck to him:)

Ron Ieraci said...

Yah, anon, and he's still teaching, just a different subject. We've heard he's a pretty popular guy, and think he's got a manager's hat waiting for him down the road.