Los Angeles — In terms of improving and evaluating their minor league talent, the seven-week-long baseball strike was not a total loss for a majority of big league owners.
Most parent franchises (according to a Monitor telephone survey) sent their managers and coaches for at least part of the time to specific minor league teams, where their expertise in certain areas could be used to speed the development of young players.
In every case, managers were assigned to their organization's No. 1farm club, the coaches (depending on whether their specialty is hitting, pitching, or fielding) to the minor league team most in need of those talents. Player instruction ranged anywhere from a few days up to three weeks.
For example, the Milwaukee Brewers sent infield coach Ron Hansen for two weeks to their Butte, Mont., franchise in the Pioneer League -- a club that made 30 errors in its first three games this season. This is an all-rookie team whose players are mostly just out of high school.
Hansen, a former big league shortstop at Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, New York, and Kansas City, had a stabilizing effect right away. Through individual instruction, Ron helped cut errors to a more livable two a game. Shortly after that Butte won 14 of its next 19 games to challenge for the league lead.
Meanwhile, Brewer manager Buck Rodgers, who scouted Milwaukee's Vancouver franchise for two weeks, now has a full set of personal notes on his team's top minor league affiliate. Rodgers will later refer to those notes when it comes time to decide what minor-leaguers the Brewers will take to spring training next year.
"Of all the major league teams that made use of their manager and coaches in a teaching capacity at the minor league level, I think we were probably the most active," said the New York Yankees' media relations director, David Szen."Our manager [Gene Michael] and all of our coaches spent at least three weeks looking over what we are doing down on the farm."
"The general pattern was to have them come out three or four hours before every game and give individual instruction," Szen continued. "Then, once the game started, they went into the stands with their charts, graphs, and stopwatches and evaluated what they saw."
Szen said this was an expensive way to go because of transportation, lodging, and food costs, and not something a team would want to do too often, but that it was expected to pay dividends in the long run.
"Although the people who run our minor league franchises are among the best in the business, it has to be a plus when members of the parent organization can see firsthand what kind of future talent we can put on the field," Szen added.
One major league franchise that didn't ask its manager and coaching staff to go into the minors was California. Asked to explain general manager Buzzie Bavasi's thoughts on this subject, Angel public relations director Tom Seeberg said:
"Since the managers and coaches we pick to work in our minor league system are selected chiefly for their teaching ability with young players, I don't think Bavasi felt it was necessary to bother anyone with the parent club.
"Our front office gets daily reports on these teams, which are available to manager Gene Mauch, and I think Buzzie was concerned that we'd be butting in and maybe creating a morale problem. It's also expensive anytime you send that many people on the road."
During the early days of the player strike, the Los Angeles Dodgers ordered general manager Al Campanis and manager Tom Lasorda out of town scout several of the team's top minor league clubs.
Campanis also flew the Dodgers' major league pitching coach, Ron Perranoski, to Lethbridge, Alberta, home of the team's rookie entry in the Northwest League, where Perranoski worked individually with all of the club's pitchers.
"The Dodgers probably would have done more of this if they didn't already employ one of the largest minor league coaching staffs in the country," explained spokesman Toby Zwikel. "In addition to our regular staff of managers and coaches, we also have a special group of instructors on hitting, pitching, and fielding, which also works with our minor league teams."