Howard Herman: Stanley is back in big leagues
BOSTON Bob Stanley made his coaching debut at Wahconah Park in 1997, and remembers a lot about that year vividly.
"We had a bunch of young kids and you could teach there," he said. "I remember Joey Pyrtle. All he threw was sliders. I said you have to use your fastball.
"I brought him into a game with the bases loaded and one out. I said ‘Remember that fastball? You work on that the next day. Throw those sliders. Get out of this inning,' and he did."
Stanley spent 13 years as a player with the Boston Red Sox and has now spent more years as a coach than he did as a player. Stanley was in Boston last week with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he is the team's bullpen coach.
"It's exciting" to be back in the big leagues, Stanley told me. "A lot of bus rides getting here. It's something I always wanted to do. I always wanted to be something like a bullpen coach. I made my living doing it, so I might as well coach there."
This past week marked Stanley's first time in Fenway Park since he retired as a player in 1989. It turned out to be a pretty good couple of days as the Blue Jays came in and swept a series from the Sox.
We all remember him for the ninth-inning wild pitch that brought in the tying run in game 6 against the Mets in the 1986 World Series -- a game lost one hitter later on Bill Buckner's error. The Mets went on to win game 7.
But Stanley's career was far more than that one mistake. His 132 career saves and is second on Boston's all-time list behind Jonathan Papelbon.
He began his minor-league coaching career in Pittsfield and was on a team that won a New York-Penn League title. He coached in the Mets and San Francisco Giants organizations before joining the Toronto organization in 2012.
Stanley replaced Pat Hentgen as the Jays' bullpen coach this past offseason.
It's kind of like an old Pittsfield Mets reunion when you look at the Blue Jays. In the visitor's clubhouse, the locker next to Stanley's belongs to pitching coach Pete Walker, who was a starting pitcher for the 1990 Pittsfield club after being drafted out of UConn.
Toronto's manager, John Gibbons, was a roving minor-league instructor with the Mets and visited Pittsfield frequently. Toronto's minor- league field coordinator is Doug Davis, who managed the NYP Champions.
"[Gibbons] was the Double A manager when I was in A ball," Stanley said. "He was the Triple- A manager when I was in Double A, so we never really coached together."
The 1997 Pittsfield Mets were 42-32 and beat the Batavia Muckdogs in three games. Batavia had former Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf on the roster. Other former major leaguers who played that year included David Eckstein of the Red Sox, Randy Choate of the Yankees, Vernon Wells of the Jays and Milton Bradley of the Expos.
And since I'm in Boston and you can't escape a member of the Drew family, Stephen and J.D.'s brother Tim played for the Watertown Indians.
That Mets team had five players make it to the majors, but none as successfully as A.J. Burnett. The right-handed pitcher started in the championship game and was outstanding. He gave up two runs on three hits and struck out four in 61 3 innings.
"We had a good staff," said Stanley. "That's how A.J. Burnett turned his career around.
"We battled a lot. We definitely did battle a lot [that year]. I saw him in Philly, and someone said ‘Did he help you with your career?' He goes, ‘Yeah, 51 percent.' It was more like 75 percent."
Burnett is in his 16th season, and Stanley said he knew this righty had something special, even back at Wahconah Park.
"He had three great pitches. He threw hard and had a good curveball. He just had a hard time finding the strike zone," said Stanley. "He found it. He still has a problem with it, but he's a lot more mature now."
Another reporter asked him if he's been attacking beach balls as a bullpen coach as he used to when he pitched for the Red Sox. He said no, the old beach ball epidemic has apparently passed.
"It's a different clubhouse and a different bullpen," said Stanley with a smile. "But it's still Fenway Park."
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