Why are they so great as prospects, and then fail once they get to the majors? That's been one of the biggest questions surrounding the Seattle Mariners organization for years. Why can't the M's figure out the player development puzzle? The minor league coaches seem to get these guys going, but they just can't make the transition.
Well, the Mariners took a big step in attempting to alleviate that issue by building 2014's coaching staff from many of the minor league guys who helped players get to this level, with hitting coach Howard Johnson and pitching coach Rick Waits being the biggest examples.
I like this coaching staff, and I especially like Rick Waits. These guys are old-school, but in a good way. Waits first caught my attention when I was listening to 710 ESPN's Hot Stove League radio show during the off-season. Shannon Drayer asked Waits about his expectations for this year, and his response was perfect.
"We've got to win 90 or more games to get in the playoffs. That's the only goal we should have."
And then the second thing I liked about Rick Waits is that picture you see above. Waits turns 62 today. He looked like the quintessential 70s pitcher then, and he's rocking the mustache to this day.
In 1978, Rick Waits pitched 230.1 innings for the Cleveland Indians, notching a 2.7 fWAR season in today's terms. But the biggest impact he had on that season came in his last start, and it was bigger for the Boston Red Sox than it was for his Indians.
See, the Red Sox had won the last eight games of the 1978 season, but needed one more Yankees loss to tie them in the standings at get a crack at the Bronx Bombers in a one-game playoff.
This random Youtube video clipped from a documentary captures what happened that last week.
Waits would hurl a complete game. He allowed five hits, striking out three and yielding just two runs. As you can see in the video, they were happy at Fenway Park:
That, of course, led to this:
Waits would go on to pitch seven more years in the major leagues, wrapping up with the Milwaukee Brewers. His professional career, though, was not done there. From Milwaukee, it was on to Italy, where he'd pitch three years for the Rimini Pirates of the Italian Baseball League.
Here's the lede from an extensive Sports Illustrated piece on Waits' time playing baseball in Italy.
When Rick Waits arrived in Italy in March 1987 to join the Rimini Pirates baseball club, the team held a press conference to introduce its new American pitcher. With the help of a translator, local journalists asked questions they hoped would make Waits, a former major leaguer, feel welcome. Then a reporter from Bologna, the home of the Pirates' traditional rivals, rose from his seat. "I heard you came over here," the reporter said, "because your arm is bad and you are too old."
The 34-year-old Waits seemed startled by the question. He paused and said. "My arm is not hurt, and as for my age, well. I have heard that drinking the Sangiovese wine keeps you young."
I recommend at least paging through the SI profile, as it describes Waits playing in Italy in-depth. Though the piece does describe playing there as "like a vacation" for some, Waits was doing more than checking in and picking up a paycheck. Actually, the most an American player could earn was about $50,000.
That first year, he posted a 15-5 record and a 1.59 ERA, leading the Pirates to the league title. He signed on for another year, but halfway through the campaign, the manager resigned. Well, the owner of the Rimini Pirates convinced Waits to be player-manger, and Rick obliged. He led them to a second title.
"I started trying to stress the old 'We are family' thing, the way the Pittsburgh Pirates did, but I have always been that way," Waits told SI. "I never really had that sense of family when I played for Cleveland."
He'd manage the team another year after that second title, though not to an Italian Baseball League championship. He did, however, guide them to a European Cup Championship that last year.
Rick Waits, if you can't tell, is a baseball man. Most assistant coaches are, having been around the game this long. Regardless, he's a character, and I'm glad we have him.
Happy birthday, Rick.