How baseball wisdom is passed down every spring

The New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, left, talks with Ron Guidry during the team's first full-squad spring training baseball practice on Feb. 20, 2011, in Tampa. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
The New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, left, talks with Ron Guidry during the team's first full-squad spring training baseball practice on Feb. 20, 2011, in Tampa. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Published March 5
Updated March 5

TAMPA — In the bullpen under the bridge at Steinbrenner Field or in the clubhouse or a meeting room or wherever pitchers and pitching coaches talk shop, Ron Guidry will likely pass along a tip or a suggestion that he heard from Whitey Ford more than 40 years ago.

And who knows where Ford first learned what he passed along to Guidry.

"That's something when you think about," Brady Lail, a pitching prospect in Yankees camp. "Baseball is evolving over the years, but on a day-to-day basis, it's a similar game to what they played. The little adjustment that (Guidry) made with Whitey Ford, it all connects us somewhere down the line."

Look around the state during these next four weeks and you will see Bill Mazeroski working with Pirates infielders in Bradenton, Mike Schmidt working with Phillies hitters in Clearwater , Al Kaline working with Tigers outfielders in Lakeland while Alex Rodriguez and Bernie Williams lead a host of former Yankees working with the current Yankees in Tampa.

It is a unique to baseball as peanuts and Cracker Jack.

They are known as spring training instructors and they are what connects the generations.

"I hope it never stops," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said.

While with the Twins, Gardenhire invited what he called a "Hall of Fame staff" that included Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva.

"That was as good as it gets for me," Gardenhire said. "You have that history walking around with the young guys, I want them to know the history of the team and I want them to feed off that knowledge. You never know when one time they will say something that really clicks with a young player."

Now in his first spring with the Tigers, Gardenhire has Kaline, Alan Trammell, Willie Horton and Jack Morris working with his players.

Thanks for the tip

It wasn't always this way. Visits from former players were rare.
The Yankees trained in Fort Lauderdale when Guidry played, and Ford visited because he lived in the area.

Former Pirates pitcher Bruce Kison, who reached the big leagues in 1971, remembers Hall of Famer and former Pirate Pie Traynor hanging around Pirate City. Traynor, a former third baseman, offered this to Kison: "Keep it on the ground."

It was good advice.

"I've never seen a ground ball go over the fence," said Kison, an instructor with the Pirates this spring.

The concept of former players serving as spring training instructors came about in the latter part of the 20th century.

"I wish we had them," said former Pirate outfielder Omar Moreno, who is in his second year as the Pirates roving base running coach.

Instead, Moreno, a native of Panama, leaned on fellow countryman Manny Sanguillen, who reached the big leagues nine years earlier. Moreno also had veterans like Dave Parker and Willie Stargell to provide guidance.

"I learned everything about them from about baseball, inside and outside the game," Moreno said.

Adopt a Ray

Davey Martinez, an original Tampa Bay Devil Ray, took his first steps as a coach when he served as a spring instructor in 2006 during Joe Maddon's first camp with the Rays. Two years later he was Maddon's bench coach.

Maddon began "adopt a Ray" program, when the team moved its spring training to Port Charlotte. First up was former Cubs second baseman Glenn Beckert, who lives in Charlotte County.

Part of it was to bring in a big-leaguer with an impressive resume to work with young infielders, and part was a tip of the cap to Beckert, who attended Charlotte County commissioner meetings and spoke favorably of Port Charlotte being the spring training home for the Rays.

Not every former player is an ideal spring training instructor. Most had long careers that led some to Cooperstown or at least some postseason success.

Former Devil Rays closer Roberto Hernandez visits the relievers during the occasional homestand. But as far as someone to work with the team during the spring, the Rays might have to wait until James Shields or Ben Zobrist retires.

It worked for Lou Brock

Kison, who is in his 50th year of pro baseball, loves working with young players during the spring. He loves that big-league teams have recognized the benefits of meshing the past with the present.

"You had to learn the game on your own," Kison said, "so you absorb all these thoughts and theories (from veteran players), and how you take them and apply them to you, is up to you."

Guidry said that has not changed. But hearing those thoughts and theories from a Hall of Famer or former Cy Young Award winner can reinforce the message.

"It's not like I'm a rocket scientist and I have a different outlook," Guidry said. "I'm basically telling them the same things that were told to me to make them a better pitcher."

Moreno, whose strength was stealing bases, said Willie Stargell introduced him to Lou Brock and Maury Wills during Moreno's rookie season. Brock and Wills became Moreno's base stealing gurus.

Both shared the same tip. When in the dugout, look at the pitcher's move to first base through the eyelets in his cap so as to eliminate any distractions. Then when Moreno reached base, force the pitcher to throw over to see if he has changed his pickoff move because he is now dealing with a faster runner. Then add that intel to his speed when he decides to break for second.

"When I told those guys last year, they said, 'What?' They laugh," Moreno said. "I told them to look through their cap. It worked for Lou Brock. It worked for Maury Wills. That's what I'm here for, to teach those guys."

Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @rogermooney50