FORT MYERS, FLA. – The 1986 Twins season ended at 71-91 on Oct. 6, with interim manager Tom Kelly going 12-11 after replacing the fired Ray Miller. It took seven weeks for owner Carl Pohlad to go along with Andy MacPhail’s lobbying to name Kelly the full-time manager.
MacPhail, 33, received his new title, general manager, on the same day — Nov. 24, 1986 — that Kelly, 36, received the appointment that would last for 15 seasons. The additions to the baseball department included Ralph (The Major) Houk, 67 and a much-respected veteran as a manager and general manager.
Houk’s title was special assistant to MacPhail, but he was in uniform in spring training and Kelly perceived the Major’s task thusly:
“Andy wanted him to keep an eye on us to make sure we knew what we were doing to get a team ready. Ralph was a lot of fun. When the coaches meetings were over, he’d sit back with his big cigar and tell stories … and we’d laugh for the next hour.”
Houk went on the bus rides when the Twins left Orlando for exhibitions, and after a few of those, he came to Kelly and said:
“You know why I’m here. I don’t need the bus rides and you don’t need me. You guys are fine.”
The Major would get in uniform for home exhibitions at Tinker Field. He would lean on the batting cage and observe. One observation he made was that an older security guard stationed near the visitors dugout was stealing baseballs during batting practice.
Houk turned this into a great game: He’d roll a baseball when the security guard wasn’t looking elsewhere, with the goal of seeing how far he could get him to come onto the grass to commit the thievery.
And thus were the duties of the Twins’ first bench coach.
OK, not really, since Ralph was a senior adviser who would drop in, but the concept was the same as what took place when bench coaches came in vogue a few season later: a wise old hand to assist the manager in strategy, matchups and player assessments.
Gene Mauch was one of the first when he signed on to be in the dugout with rookie manager Bob Boone for Kansas City in 1995. Don Zimmer became the most famous bench coach, sitting next to Joe Torre for six Yankees World Series and four championships from 1996 to 2003.
Rocco Baldelli’s first big-league season with Tampa Bay was 2003. John McLaren was the bench coach for Lou Piniella. Baldelli, 37, is now the Twins’ first-year manager and he has an official bench coach in Derek Shelton, a holdover from Paul Molitor’s staff, and Bill Evers, 65, a dugout consultant billed as “major league coach” and hired on Rocco’s recommendation.
It was mentioned to Baldelli that the appearance of bench coaches started roughly 25 years ago and now most teams have two — one with the title, a second with a different title.
“I assumed the bench coach predated the mid-’90s,” Baldelli said. “You learn something every day.”
Baldelli has less to learn about what’s happening in the dugout today than those of us who started covering baseball in the mid-’70s and for two decades didn’t hear the term “bench coach.”
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash had the now-traditional two last season, with Charlie Montoyo as bench coach and Baldelli titled as field coordinator. Baldelli says it would be a mistake to term him simply as a second bench coach:
“My role last year was a little different from what you would imagine. There are different responsibilities with different teams. There are bench coaches like [Shelton] who have a huge part in everything that’s going on — who plan spring training from top to bottom and have a lot of day-to-day responsibilities.
“Bill Evers has a ton of experience in the dugout, and he’s going to direct our catchers, which is pretty involved. He’s another guy I’m going to talk to a lot during a game.”
Cash lost two coaches from the dugout after last season — with Baldelli hired to manage the Twins and Montoyo, 53, to manage Toronto. Matt Quatraro was moved from third base coach to bench coach for 2019.
Then the Rays, the team that brought dramatic fielding shifts to the American League and the “opener” to pitching staffs, are going off the map for the backup bench coach:
Jonathan Erlichman, 28, after five-plus years in analytics, will be in uniform as the “analytics coach.” He never played baseball above T-ball. He entered the Rays’ analytics world with a mathematics degree from Princeton.
Three decades ago, the Twins had The Major. Now, the Rays have “J. Money,” a handle given to him by former Rays baseball boss Andrew Friedman for the manner in which Erlichman overdressed in the office.
“J. Money’s a bright young guy with a wealth of information to share,” Baldelli said. “As you know, the Rays are willing to try something new. And it usually works.”