Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

The years pass along, but my turkey photo lives on.
I've been thinking as this Thanksgiving approached of the zero-sum aspects of baseball. Somebody wins, somebody loses. A manager gets fired, another one gets hired. One player gets released, another gets a chance.

Thinking about Neil Allen, the Twins new pitching coach, a recovering alcoholic who had 11 years in the majors and almost 20 years of being a pitching coach in the minors. I saw a quote from him in the days before his selection became known, something along the lines of It's time for me to get off the buses and back on the airplanes.

The comments from others in the game, including other candidates, when Allen got the job almost always included a variation of He's been through a lot. Yes he has, notably the death (from an aneurysm) in September 2012 of his wife Lisa. Besides being a pitching coach, he's a single father to a 15-year-old son, and in terms of the travel involved in Allen's occupation, it may not matter if he''s on a bus or a jet. It can't be easy.

Thinking, too, of Scott Ullger, who has spent almost his entire adult life in the employ of the Minnesota Twins. Signed as a player out of college in 1977, he got 85 big league plate appearances back in 1983 and hit .190. While the Kent Hrbeks and Gary Gaettis and Frank Violas and Tim Laudners were laying the foundation of 1987's World Series team, Ullger was hitting his ceiling as a player.

He went back to the buses, first to continue playing, then as a manager -- seven years managing farm teams in the Twins system, never with a losing record. He worked his way back to the big leagues as a coach. And he stuck for 20 years in a variety of assignments: Hitting coach, first base coach, third base coach, bench coach.

And now he's 59 and looking for another job. I don't quarrel with the decision to replace Ullger; I have been known to question the value he brought the team, although I recognize that I'm too distant to know what he brought to the table. He's been fortunate to have such a long-term job in such a transient occupation. But now that job is gone, and as a fellow 50-something, I can identify with that.

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