Late last week, the Chicago Cubs lost their hitting coach James Rowson when he left the organization for the same job with the New York Yankees. This departure likely will not cause fans to shed any tears as they have been calling for his departure for the better part of his time in Chicago. What his departure did do, however, is to get their brains working on possible replacements.
Some of the more popular names that fans have brought up would be Bill Buckner, Mark Grace and a few even mentioned Sammy Sosa. While there is a very good chance that none of those former players have much of a chance at getting named hitting coach under Rich Renteria, there is one name that seems to be gaining steam, and that is former batting champion, and former Cubs player Bill Mueller.
Even though he was only with the Cubs for a short time, in 2001 and a part of 2002, fans were looking at him as someone who might finally put an end to their seemingly never ending search for a third baseman. Unfortunately, in the midst of his first season with the Cubs in 2001, Mueller suffered a horrific freak injury during at game in St. Louis against the Cardinals. If you do not remember the game, allow me to refresh your memory briefly.
On May 13, on a foul ball attempt, Mueller was going all out to make a catch. Nearing the wall at Old Busch Stadium he slide all while attempting to reach the ball, but unfortunately a twist of fate got in the way. In what was called a one in a million chance, Mueller injured his leg sliding into the rotating billboard that was apart of that wall. He injured his knee and would miss three months of the season.
The day he left, he was hitting .317 five home runs and 16 RBI in only 36 games. He was on his way to having a year like he had in 2003. Unfortunately, when he came back from the disabled list, his great season did not come back with him. In his remaining 34 games, Mueller would only hit .262 with one home run, and seven RBI. He would be traded midway next year back to the San Fransisco Giants before electing free agency and signing with the Boston Red Sox in 2003 where he would pickup where he left off when he injured his knee by winning the batting title.
Now that Mueller is retired, Renteria is considering him to be one of two hitting coaches for the Cubs.
While I am of the belief that hitting coaches are relatively unimportant in the grander scheme of things, Mueller might be a good choice for the job. Not because he is a former Cub, (which like any other position the team is trying to fill should not matter at all) but because he has a good approach at the plate. If he gets the job, he can give advice to some of the younger players who are still trying to learn how to hit major league pitching. But like with every hitting coach, they can only do so much, because in the end the player is the one that is swinging the bat. They are the ones that need to actually implement the advice they are being given and find a way to make the proper adjustments.
Being a former batting champion though, Mueller might actually carry enough weight that players like Starlin Castro or Anthony Rizzo would be willing to listen. Perhaps, Mueller has enough credibility that they will be able to accept advice or criticism from without shrugging them off.
In the end though, no matter who the hitting coach is, all they are is a scapegoat. Anytime a team is struggling to score runs, get on base or even make contact, the very first person fans want fired is the hitting coach. When a team is struggling to win games, when they are going the wrong way in the standings, only one man gets fired. The hitting coach is the ultimate scapegoat with baseball teams. He gets all the blame when things are going poorly, and he is the one catapulted when the team needs a “spark” to get them heading in the right direction again.
Then again, under former Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, Castro did have one of his best years of his young career, and has not really been the same since his scapegoat firing. Jaramillo also worked wonders with another former Cub in Mark DeRosa, who is rumored to be under consideration for the vacated seat in the Cubs Radio Booth.
While I think Mueller would be an excellent choice for hitting coach, does their choice really matter in the long run? After all, all they can do is give advice. They cannot make the hitters follow their opinions.
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