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Getting to know your M's coaches: Rich Donnelly

Today we'll be learning about the Mariners third base coach.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Other than the manager, the third base coach might be the most publicly visible of the men on a coaching staff. They're also one of the figures who is most likely to incur the public's ire. Gauging whether or not to send a runner home from third base requires a lot of information about the arm strength/accuracy & positioning of the outfielders, the speed/baserunning proficiency of your own runner, park factors, situational game factors, and the ability to make split-second decisions. And you better be good at all of these things because people have a tendency to get upset when runners are gunned down at the plate. Third base coaches will sometimes look comical, wind-milling their arms frantically in encouragement (of all the men on a baseball diamond, the third base coach is assuredly the most likely to get into a fight with Don Quixote), but their jobs are pretty important. For the Mariners, this position belongs to Mr. Rich Donnelly.

Donnelly played college ball at Xavier University and was drafted by the Yankees (twice - in the 15th round in '66 and the 9th round in '67). Donnelly didn't stick with New York, but signed with Minnesota and made his professional début in 1968 as a catcher for the St. Cloud Rox (the Twins short-season affiliate). He played in the minors for four seasons, making it as high as AAA in 1970 and 1971, but his meager offensive numbers (a career minor league SLG% of 0.278!) prevented him from ever making it to The Big Show as a player.

Donnelly hung up his catching gear at the tender age of 24 and immediately started coaching. As such, he currently has about 43 YEARS of coaching experience. That's a lot! He became skipper of the Rangers single-A affiliate (the Greenville Rangers) in 1972, making it to the league championship his first three years as the manager (and winning once in 1974). In 1976, Donnelly was promoted and became the manager of Texas' AAA club, a position he held until 1982 (although he did take a year off from managing in 1980, when he served as the Rangers bullpen coach). He was also the first base coach for the Rangers between 1983 and 1985. In 1986, he cut ties with Rangers organization and began what would be his first of 14 seasons as a member of Jim Leyland's staff (with the Pirates, Marlins, and Rockies) where he served as bullpen coach, bench coach, and third base coach. More recently, Donnelly was employed as the third base coach for the Brewers and the Dodgers and had another stint managing in minors (2011-2013 for the short-season Brooklyn Cyclones). At the beginning of 2014, he joined your Seattle Mariners.

Donnelly wasn't initially brought into the Mariners organization to be the third base coach for their big-league club. He was actually hired in January of 2014 to be the manager of the Tacoma Rainiers. However, John Stearns (who was initially tabbed to be the M's third base coach) stepped down from the position in early March, prompting Donnelly's reassignment. As third base coach for the M's, Donnelly has made some pretty aggressive calls when waving runners home from third. To his credit, Lloyd has continually supported his third base coach and seems to appreciate Donnelly's daring. Ryan Divish quoted McClendon as saying:

I’ve always said you show me a third-base coach that doesn’t get anybody thrown out and I’ll show you a very bad third-base coach. Rich is willing to take the right chances in the right situations, and that was just an unbelievable send. Too often third-base coaches don’t get the credit for those type of things. That was just tremendous.

In that interview, Lloyd was talking specifically about this play, where Donnelly sent Ackley home (from first) on a single to right field by Cano.

A few more things about Rich Donnelly:
  • While playing in the Twins minor league organization, Donnelly had the opportunity to be battery mates with Dave Goltz and the great Bert Blyleven. He also rubbed shoulders in the dugout with the likes of Rick Dempsey, Jeff Burroughs, and Charlie Manuel (Rich sure has been around for awhile).
  • In 1973, as the skipper of the Gastonia Rangers, Donnelly coached future Rookie of the Year and Mariners manager Mike Hargrove. During his 10 years managing in the Rangers organization, Donnelly also coached Jim Clancy, Danny Darwin, Pete O'Brien, and even 35-year-old Bobby Bonds.

  • In addition to being paid to gesticulate wildly while standing tens of feet outside of the third base coach's box, Donnelly is also an avid racquetball player. I'm not sure how much he still plays now that he's in Seattle, but while he was with the Rockies, Donnelly was a member of the Lakewood Athletic Club in Denver and participated in several pro-am tournaments. Apparently he was quite the force within his age group. He's even spent time training with Sudsy Monchik (a five-time world and 17-time national champion; someone akin to the Roger Federer of racquetball). There's a nice article here, talking a bit more about Donnelly's racquetball exploits.

    Many of Donnelly’s opponents are often puzzled by his unorthodox style. The No. 2 ranked female player in the world, Rhonda Rajsich, has even called Donnelly "The Freak."

  • There's also this story (which, depending on your level of cynicism, might give you an ample amount of the feels), detailing Donnelly's daughter and her battle with cancer and Craig Counsell and winning the '97 World Series and chickens running at midnight. This has been covered/picked up by a lot of people over the years, so I won't talk about it here. But just in case you haven't heard about it previously, it's almost certainly worth reading.
  • Finally, (because why not?) here is video of Rich Donnelly (back in '12, when he was manager of the Brooklyn Cyclones) giving a post-game interview in his office. While eating some ribs. With his shirt off.

Go M's!