Bench coaches: Next to the manager, but a bit ahead

From Stuart Miller at the New York Times on August 19, 2012, with mention of SABR member Gary Gillette:

With a profusion of pitching changes, pinch-hitting announcements and fielding realignments, a baseball game can slow interminably in the later innings. But to decision makers in the dugout — those who make strategic adjustments while looking ahead to the next pitch, the next batter, the next inning — it feels as if it is speeding up.

Through much of baseball history, the manager was seen as a solitary figure, making decisions without help. These days, though, many are pictured as attached at the hip to their bench coaches, who ponder every possible situation, evaluate statistics, time a pitcher’s speed to the plate, shift infielders, keep role players informed and offer tactical ideas.


No one knows exactly who the first major league bench coach was. New York Giants Manager John McGraw used his former pitching ace Christy Mathewson as assistant manager from 1919 to ’21, but the first modern “bench-riding coach,” as he called it, was very likely Pete Reiser, who served as Walter Alston’s deputy with the Dodgers in 1962. Gary Gillette, who edited the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, said Reiser told The Sporting News his duties included making suggestions about tactics, relaying signals and checking statistics — all part of the job today.

But baseball changes slowly, and Alston was not copied until 1969, when Ted Williams became the manager of the Washington Senators and asked his former teammate Johnny Pesky to be his right-hand man in the dugout. Pesky had broadcasting obligations in Boston, so Williams instead hired Joe Camacho, a former minor league infielder.

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Originally published: August 18, 2012. Last Updated: August 18, 2012.