One would think, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt recently wrote in a column for the Associated Press, that young players on the Kansas City Royals would find a use for the hitting wisdom of K.C.'s own Hall of Famer, George Brett. And yet they didn't listen when Brett was the team's hitting coach, Schmidt says.
He and other Hall of Famers of Schmidt's generation told each other stories at the recent Hall of Fame induction weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. Among the group was Brett, who told a fascinating and tragic tale about what it was like to coach the Royals players:
He said when he was hitting instructor last year, there were two indoor cages, and he would be in one flipping balls and the assistant coach in the other. The young Royals hitters were lined up to hit in the cage with the assistant, and none to hit in George's cage.
I find that hard to believe, but at the same time know why.
George, one of the greatest hitters ever, was there to coach, to offer his expertise, to suggest mechanics that might make a young hitter better. The other coach was there to coach as well, but not with a sense of urgency — rather, more by telling the hitters what they wanted to hear. George eventually quit because he felt he was wasting everyone's time in a failing effort to connect with them.
In Brett's defense, the Royals don't exactly have a roster full of great hitters. And they've gone through several—is it six?—hitting coaches over the past three years. Coaching only goes so far with the talent it's given. Schmidt acknowledges (or perhaps it's Brett acknowledging through Schmidt) that the communication breakdown might have been Brett's fault, at least in part. Not every great player makes for a great coach, and Schmidt used Ted Williams as a famous example.
But if the account with Brett and the unnamed young players is true, why has Brett been coaching during spring training with the Royals for years? Has he been just as "effective" in a similar way in the Cactus League? As far as Brett's fame preceding him, he might be GEORGE BRETT OMG! to us, but he's been around that organization longer than any current player, obviously. They all get a chance to meet with Brett, to get to know him a little. Would the reason that players like Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas "don't connect" with Brett be intimidation? Or just, like with Ted Williams, is it because Brett simply doesn't make for a good hitting coach?
It has seemed to be Brett's own first instinct that he doesn't. Otherwise, his role since he quit playing would be more like that of Paul Molitor with Minnesota, or other Hall of Fame types who get their hands dirty in the cage and on the field every day.
Schmidt's column on the whole is a good read, though the theme about "today's generation" not needing the help of Schmidt and his peers comes off as "Get of My Lawn" baloney and self pity. Schmidt is in a similar spot as Brett, only with the Phillies — an old-timer who helps during Grapefruit League time, but has never been a coach long term. Perhaps it's because Schmidt feels about communicating with young players the way he says Brett does — like he can't. The players of today want to get better just like those in Schmidt's day. But they also need the right coaches to help make that happen.
George Brett doesn't owe the Kansas City Royals a darned thing. But the team does owe its players the best possible coaching. Brett has to ask himself if it's even wise for him to coach during spring training anymore. After all, if the players aren't listening...
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