Former Mets duo frame Rays' success
Hunsicker, Bogar bring innovative mindset to World Series club
Cameras in the clubhouses sent images to the televisions tuned to the Rays' postseason games, images familiar to eyes with an awareness of the Mets. Cliff Floyd's shiny head and brighter smile made appearances. Viewers with longer Mets memories might have recognized the face of Steve Henderson, once a Shea Stadium hero and now the Rays hitting coach. Chad Bradford and Dan Wheeler left the Mets bullpen behind. And of course, the presence of Scott Kazmir would strike the not-so-funny bone of anyone who wishes the Mets' 2006, 2007 and 2008 seasons had lasted longer.
Now, 23 days after Marlins 4, Mets 2 closed Shea, at least some Mets are in the World Series.
The National League champion Phillies have few connections to the Mets. Reliever Rudy Seanez had a cup of Spring Training coffee with the Mets in 1997, and Dallas Green, now a senior advisor to Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, pushed, prodded and bellowed as the Mets manager for the better part of four seasons in the '90s.
The Rays have the five men in uniform and two others who operate mostly outside the public view. Gerry Hunsicker, the Mets' assistant and later interim general manager in the '90s, is the Rays' senior vice president of baseball operations. And the Mets' regular shortstop in the summer of 1993 has a hybrid position with a work-in-progress job description and fancy-schmancy title with the Rays.
Hitting coaches and pitching coaches are abound in the big leagues. Teams have infield coaches, outfield coaches and bullpen coaches, first- and third-base coaches, bench coaches and catching coaches. The Cubs had the College of Coaches. When he managed the Mets, Joe Torre had Bob Gibson as his "attitude coach." Jimmie Reese was, essentially, the Angels' fungo coach. And when Willie Horton was on the staff of the 1985 Yankees, his job was to protect Billy Martin from others and from himself and generally maintain law and order. Horton was therefore the tranquility coach.
The Rays this year added to the baseball nomenclature with an unusual title for a coach. They gussied it up with compound phrasing that allows for an acronym. Tim Bogar is their quality assurance coach. Call him the QAC, pronounced quack.
Bogar's responsibility is, generally, to make sure things go right as opposed to correcting something after it has gone wrong. He also coordinates Spring Training, coaches players before games, scouts the Rays as if they were the enemy and plays devils advocate for manager Joe Maddon.
That makes Bogar what else? -- a QAC of all trades.
"It's not quality control," he says emphasizing the distinction. "I'm quality assurance. Joe doesn't want things to go wrong first. He wants it to be fixed right beforehand."
Though Bogar was appointed in January, the specifics of his job description are only partially established mostly because he is creating them as he goes.
Whatever the responsibilities, he must have handled them quite well. The Rays are American League champions. And, as you might be aware, they never were before his arrival.
Cause and effect? Perhaps, to some degree.
The idea for the position came from Maddon, who we have learned, is a font of smart stuff and sometimes outside-the-Trop thinking. The objective of one aspect of the job is to leave no stone unturned, or as another Tampa Bay baseball persona once suggested, "no stern untoned."
It was ship builder/baseball owner George Steinbrenner, who 32 years ago, wanted an eye in the sky -- it was Gene Michael -- when the Yankees played the Reds in the World Series.
Bogar handles some of what Steinbrenner wanted from his proposed surveillance coach, but his in-game viewing from the stands or the pressbox is only a small portion of his assignment. He is on the field before games and in the clubhouse afterwards and involved in almost anything that requires monitoring. He calls himself the Sixth Coach, in much the same way the NBA recognizes the Sixth Man. Except Bogar's words constitute a numerical misnomer.
|"As they say in the game, 'You need a sponsor.' Gerry's been my sponsor. But I consider him more of a friend and a mentor."|
|-- Tim Bogar, talking about Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Gerry Hunsicker|
Once Maddon proposed the position and the concept was approved, Hunsicker immediately thought Bogar was well-suited to fill it.
"Tim is versatile and well-rounded with a scope of knowledge greater than most field people," Hunsicker said, referring to Bogar as a super utility coach. "He can do a lot of different things well, just like when he was a player."
Hunsicker and Bogar came to know each other in 1989 when Hunsikcer became the Mets Minor League director, and Bogar was one of their high-profile Minor League players. He has become Bogar's godfather.
"Or as they say in the game," Bogar said, "'You need a sponsor.' Gerry's been my sponsor. But I consider him more of a friend and a mentor."
Bogar, 42 next week, played in nine big league seasons -- 1993-1996 with the Mets, 1997-2000 with the Astros and 2001 with the Dodgers -- mostly as a shortstop. But he played the three other infield positions and made cameo appearances as a left fielder and a pitcher. And he wasn't unfamiliar with chest protectors, masks and shinguards.
"They can't make up their mind which is my best position," he said with a smile while he was with the Mets.
He started 60 games at shortstop in 1993, most of them after Green had replaced Jeff Torborg as manager and grown weary of Tony Fernandez's odd behavior and uneven performance. Bogar's most productive game in the big leagues came Aug. 14 that year. He hit two doubles and a home run in what became a 9-4 Mets' victory in Philadelphia.
His fifth at-bat produced an inside-the-park home run that altered the course of his career. While Eddie Murray, the on-deck batter watched, giving the "stand up" signal, Bogar slid hands-first into the plate and rolled his wrist, ending his season. Before he played another game -- in 1994, the Mets had acquired Jose Vizcaino to play shortstop.
Forced to watch more than play for most of the remainder of his career, Bogar developed his powers of observation, reinforced his baseball acumen and refined his people skills. His sense of people served him well when he managed in the Minor Leagues for the Astros (2004 and 2005) and Indians (2006-07). His four teams produced a composite .591 winning percentage and played in the postseason three times.
All along, Hunsicker was watching.
"I'd always kept an eye on Bogey," he says. "When I joined the Mets, all I knew about him what that he was one of the top kids we had. But one month into that first season, he was in Double-A, and we'd hired Steve Swisher to be the Double-A manager. I get a call from Tim. He says, 'I can't play for this guy. I want to be traded.'
|"I know he'd like to manage in the big leagues some day, and he might. They sky's the limit with Bogey. The position he's in now stretches his [experience] and exposes him to a new sector of the industry."|
|-- Gerry Hunsicker, talking about Rays quality assurance coach, Tim Bogar|
"Swish was very intense, and Bogey was a sensitive, caring guy. So they clashed. But I got to know Tim starting then, and that crisis kind of fast-tracked my relationship with him."
The Astros traded for Bogar and appointed him as a Minor League manager during Hunsicker's tenure as general manager.
"He does a lot of things well. His success hasn't come as a surprise," Hunsicker says. "I know he'd like to manage in the big leagues some day, and he might. They sky's the limit with Bogey. The position he's in now stretches his [experience] and exposes him to a new sector of the industry.
"The job wasn't fully developed, so we gave him a blank canvas, so to speak, and trusted him to develop the profile and bring new ideas to the organization."
"I've given him some ideas [about the position]," Maddon said in January. "We'll let him define the role. I want him to run with it intellectually."
"If I'm doing it right," Bogar said. "We might be re-shaping the game a little."
His internship has introduced him to parts of the game he hadn't experienced, including scouting.
"I'll sit in the pressbox where I can see replays on TV. Because they have so many [camera] angles, I can pick up pitchers' moves," said Bogar. "That's important because we run so much. And I scout us to make sure we're not giving things away and to make sure we're set up the way Joe wants it.
"Early on after we'd moved Akinori Iwamura from third to second, we were able to change things -- like where he was aligned for double plays -- a lot quicker because we had another set of eyes watching from another vantage point."
Bogar has no in-game communication. (Steinbrenner wanted Michael equipped with a walkie-talkie), but his postgame moments are spent with Maddon and other staff members.
"Joe has been very respectful of my baseball knowledge," Bogar said. "He told me, 'I want you to tell me when I'm doing something wrong.' I'm not going to say that I found anything. But a few things we've seen differently, and I'll ask him why."
Manager and quality assurance coach speak before games as well, of course. And at least one of the recent pregame conversations had a most beneficial effect.
"Before the last game [Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox], we talked about getting David Price into the game," Bogar said. "We had to utilize him. Boston hadn't seen him much. ... That worked out pretty good."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.