Thursday, March 13, 2008

rich donnelly

rich donnelly
Rich Donnelly from MLB
Photo by Doug Beno of Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Pirates have added Rich Donnelly to their player development staff. Donnelly, 61, will serve as an consultant and teacher while evaluating the entire system.

He will be with the club during spring training, helping the catchers among others, and will spend the 2008 season as a roving coordinator among all the minor league affiliates.

Donnelly was born in Steubenville on August 3, 1946. After playing baseball and basketball at Steubenville (Ohio) Catholic Central High, he received a bachelor’s degree in education from Xavier University, a Jesuit school in Cincinnati. So he's a teacher in every sense of the word.

A left-handed hitting catcher, Donnelly signed with the Minnesota Twins in 1967. After four minor league seasons as a player, hitting .230 with 2 HRs & 115 RBIs, he began a decade long career as a manager in 1972, winning the Western Carolina League crown with Gastonia in 1974. His last managerial stop was with Texas' AAA affiliate, Denver, in 1982.

Donnelly was a coach with Texas in 1980 and again from 1983-85. He returns to the Pirates for the first time since coaching with the club for 11 seasons. He joined Jim Leyland’s Pirate staff in 1986 as the bullpen coach until 1991 and then took over as the third base coach from 1992-96.

After leaving Pittsburgh, Donnelly went to Florida with Leyland and was the third base coach when the Marlins won the World Series in 1997. Two years later, he and Leyland joined the Colorado Rockies, where Donnelly remained until 2003 when he accepted a coaching job with the Milwaukee Brewers.

He spent 2006 and 2007 as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ third base coach but was sent job hunting when Grady Little was replaced by Joe Torre, who brought veteran Larry Bowa with him to take over the third base box.

It was there that Donnelly became infamous as the coach that waved Jeff Kent and JD Drew around for LA - and having them both tagged out at home. He sent Kent in, and Drew was right on his tail and thought he was being waved home, too.

Donnelly never did get to raise his arms for him to stop, and as a result, both of them were nailed at the plate by Met catcher Paul DeLoca. "If I hold (Kent), I've got two of them (trapped) at third," Donnelly said. "So I said, 'Send (Kent), one's going to be out, and (Drew's) going to be at third.' That was my thought process in a split second."

After sending Kent home, Donnelly turned toward the plate, expecting to see one out recorded. He then saw Drew make the turn out of the corner of his eye and that was all she wrote. Ah, the life of a third base coach, with film at 11.

He was also featured on Lifetime TV for the "Chicken Runs At Midnight", a touching tale of his daughter Amy, as told by Wikipedia:

In 1993 Donnelly's daughter Amy passed away of brain cancer at age 17. Before she died she attended a Pirate playoff game Donnelly was coaching at third base. Amy noticed her dad would cup his hands and talk to the players on base, a habit he picked up to help counter the stuttering that had bedeviled him as a youth.

After the game Amy inquired "Dad , what were you saying to the players on base? The chicken runs at midnight or something like that?" That became the family rallying cry during Amy's illness.

We fast forward four years or so, to Florida, where he's coaching third base for the Marlins. Fish infielder Craig Counsell was nicknamed "the chicken" by Donnelly's 10 year old son Tim because of the way his left arm flapped around when he was up at bat, ala Joe Morgan and the chicken wing.

When Edgar Renteria's hit won the 1997 World Series for the Marlins, Counsell was on third and crossed home with the clincher. Tim, an honorary batboy and Florida good luck charm, rushed out to hug his dad.

He then exclaimed to Donnelly "Dad, look up at the clock, its 12 o'clock midnight - the Chicken runs at Midnight". Donnelly's eyes welled up. He took it as a message from Amy.

To this day he and Counsell get goosebumps every time they return to Miami and see the clock. In fact, Amy's tombstone inscription reads "the chicken runs at midnight." Donnelly, a devout Catholic (he considered taking a vocation as a youth), uses this story often on his speaking circuit.

Donnelly has spent a total of 26 seasons as a coach in the major leagues and a total of 41 years in baseball. His name had been bandied about in the media as a possible replacement for Jim Tracy, and he has bloodlines dating back to the Pirate's glory days of the early nineties. Donnelly knows Pittsburgh and is well aware of the frustration of 15 straight losing seasons.

He told the The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register ‘‘Everyone’s goal in the organization is to make things better, which it obviously hasn’t been for a while. What happened in the past is behind us. We are looking to the future with a lot of optimism.’’

Being on the field for camp will give Donnelly an early look at many of the minor league players he will be paid to evaluate during the year. ‘‘When the team breaks camp and heads north, I’ll be coming back home briefly and then hit the road to visit all our teams in the organization,’’ he said.

Donnelly will spend his time going back and forth observing the talent on the Bucs’ minor league affiliates in Indianapolis, Altoona, Lynchburg, Hickory, and the rookie teams in State College and Bradenton.

He'll also be doing some chalkwork for the youngsters. ‘‘We are very concerned that our young players learn how to play the game the way it should be played,’’ Donnelly said. ‘‘In the classroom session, we will be doing a lot of teaching and going over game situations.’’

He'll help implement a couple of Pirate philosophical changes in they way they treat their pitching prospects, too.

The organization plans to begin many of its top arms as starters. Whether they become starters or relievers in the long run, it's a way to develop a pitcher's mechanics and arm strength along with picking up an extra pitch or two for their bag of tricks. The Tommy John bills must be getting too much for the Bucco bean counters.

The Bucs are also planning on slotting players in minor league levels where they've had success before. Even if a player is slated for a higher level, they may start that player one tier lower in order to build up confidence and success instead rushing them through the system.

That'll keep Donnelly logging miles on his car and gigabytes on his PC evaluating the Pirate's far flung minor league kingdom. He doesn't mind. As he said, ‘‘When I’m not on the road, I’ll be driving to PNC Park and watching the Pirates play.’’ We can only hope he gets mileage as an expense.

Donnelly will be reporting to his immediate boss Kyle Stark, the Pirate's director of development, and to GM Neal Huntington on his young charge's progress.

‘‘The Pirates are my hometown team,’’ said Donnelly, who maintains a year-round residence in Hopedale, near his native Steubenville. For the first time in many years, he will be able to spend time during the season on the farm with his wife Roberta.

Donnelly and Bert have eight children (told you he was a good Catholic!) They are Bubba, Amy, John, Tiffany, Mike, Leigh Anne, Tim and Adam.

Tim was a batboy for Donnelly's teams from 1992 to 2002. He was an assistant coach at Malone College in 2005, Kent State University in 2006, and in 2007 joined the coaching staff at Marshall University. It seems like the family tradition is in good hands.

Donnelly himself is an avid racquetball player who has won several top flight tournaments. He is ranked among the top 50-and-over players in the country, and trains with a pair of world champions.

And hopefully Donnelly, in kind, will be able to identify and train some World Champion baseball players, too.

(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 - Sid Bream)

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