By now, you are probably aware that the Dodgers fired bench coach Trey Hillman, probably the closest confidant of manager Don Mattingly, as well as advance scout Wade Taylor earlier today. The Hillman move was one most of us saw coming, and I suspect Trey may have seen it coming, as well. A series of perceived late-season strategic blunders by Mattingly — although I hate using the term “strategic blunders,” because they wouldn’t have been blunders at all if they had worked out — probably put a target on Trey’s back because the primary reason you have a bench coach is to assist the manager in making in-game decisions. In this day and age, when managers are expected to pay attention to so many minute details during a game, the bench coach is there to be the manager’s sounding board, and if the manager is about to make an ill-advised move — such as pinch running for Adrian Gonzalez in the eighth inning of a tied game in the National League Championship Series — it is the bench coach’s job to TELL him it’s ill-advised.
As for the Taylor move, that one is a little more mysterious. More on that later.
By the way, the Dodgers plan to retain the rest of their coaching staff. Hitting coach Mark McGwire already was under contract for next year, and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, first-base coach Davey Lopes and third-base coach Tim Wallach all had their options exercised for 2014. Bullpen coach Chuck Crim, assistant hitting coach John Valentin and assistant pitching coach Ken Howell aren’t signed for next year, but the Dodgers do intend to keep them on.
Now, Hillman. There is a chance he could remain with the organization in a different capacity, but as he told the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez after learning of his ouster as bench coach, he’d rather find a job on a major league coaching staff. Interestingly, Hillman also told Hernandez that before the meeting in which general manager Ned Colletti told him he was fired, he had dropped off Mattingly at the airport for his flight home to Evansville, Ind.
As I stated on Twitter earlier today, this was the right move for the Dodgers. Mattingly may be in his third year as a big league manager, but if he stays on in that role, a big if given his ultimatum-ish comments at yesterday’s news conference, he has proven that he needs a strong bench coach. What is a strong bench coach? Usually, it’s an older guy who has considerable experience as a big league manager. A guy who has been there, done that, seen everything. A guy who can save Mattingly from himself whenever he is tempted to make moves like the ones for which he drew so much criticism in the postseason.
It was the right move, but Hillman will be missed. He was as good a guy as I have ever met in this game, completely down to earth and humble. It was funny, when Hillman first joined the Dodgers staff in 2011 (the year Mattingly took over as manager), Hiroki Kuroda was still with the club, so there were always a lot of Japanese reporters around. Hillman had managed the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for five years, winning the Japan Series in his final two seasons, so the Japanese reporters would seek him out almost as often as they sought out Kuroda. Far as I could tell, he didn’t speak much Japanese, but they didn’t care, because to them, this lifelong Texan was one of theirs.
In spring training, you were apt to run into Hillman just about anywhere. I once saw him at the gas pump at the QT station down the street from Camelback Ranch. Another time, I saw him at WalMart.
“Gotta get some coffee creamer,” he said.
“Don’t they provide you with coffee creamer in the clubhouse?”
“Yeah, but I like that vanilla kind. That stuff is gooooood.”
Trey had a 2 1/2-year, mostly unsuccessful stint managing the Kansas City Royals, but in those days, any stint managing the Royals was going to mostly unsuccessful. I hope he gets another chance one day. I hope he finds a good job this winter, but only because I know that is what he wants. If he ends up back with the Dodgers in some capacity — I’m told he hasn’t been offered a specific job, but he HAS been offered the chance to stay on — I’ll be happy about that, too, because he is a great guy to have around.
As for Taylor, I’m not sure exactly what was going on there. Although the Dodgers employ dozens of scouts at the amateur, international and professional levels, like most teams, they employ only one advance scout, and that was Wade. Given the nature of that job, I don’t know how you would judge an advance scout’s performance on anything other than your team’s won-lost record, and the Dodgers had a pretty good one this year. And you can’t really factor the postseason into that because advance scouting for the playoffs is done differently, with two or three scouts assigned weeks in advance to each team you stand even the slightest chance of running into in October.
I didn’t know Wade well other than to say hello, but he seemed like a good guy. He had a brief (one-year) major league career, going 7-12 with a 6.23 ERA as a teammate of Mattingly with the Yankees in 1991. There was a night early this season, when this blog was nothing more than a concept I was tossing around in my brain, when I went out with a couple of scout buddies in Scottsdale, and Wade was part of the group. That was the longest conversation I ever had with him, and I enjoyed getting to know him to whatever extent that I could. I’m told Taylor’s role had been scaled back late in the season, signifying that this move might be coming.
Oh, by the way, despite Colletti’s statement in yesterday’s infamous press conference that Mattingly’s situation would be “resolved very quickly,” keep in mind, “very quickly” is a loosely defined term. The guess here, especially given that Mattingly left town today, is that we may not know the outcome of this for a while. The World Series begins tomorrow night, and while Major League Baseball doesn’t strictly prohibit non-World Series teams from making major news announcements during the World Series, MLB does frown heavily on it, and for the most part, teams do comply.
So settle in. We may be in this for the long haul.