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Registered: 02-2006
Location: hanging from the ceiling
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Henry Schulman, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, March 9, 2008

(03-09) 04:00 PDT Scottsdale, Ariz. -- An asterisk used to be a good thing in baseball. In some of the old reference books, an asterisk meant the owner of a particular stat led the league that season.

Find one of those books, look up Carney Lansford, and see his batting average from 1981 with the Boston Red Sox: .336 with an asterisk. Lansford won the American League batting title.

He darn well could have had another in 1989, the year his A's won an earthquake-asterisked World Series. Lansford hit .336 again, but Kirby Puckett hit .339.

Strange as it might sound, Lansford's 1981 batting title means something for the 2008 Giants, who hired him as batting coach in October. It gives him street cred.

Outfielder Rajai Davis was a year old in 1981. He knew nothing of the asterisk or the man until last week, when he Googled his new coach.

"It gives you a sense of credibility when you actually hit in the major leagues and hit well," Davis said. "You want to listen to him because of what he's already done. He's done it, and he obviously has the tools to do it."

Lansford is not merely a tall, 51-year-old man with a soft voice, a round face, a clipboard and an obsession with the batting cage. He has been where any hitter worth his Tony Gwynn T-shirt wants to go, and the Giants are hoping that a team that could not score runs last year, even with a great hitter like Barry Bonds at cleanup, will listen to Lansford and learn.

If the rest of the players Google Lansford, too, they will learn he was more than a .290 career hitter. He also was a three-sport star at Wilcox High in Santa Clara who, like any action-loving kid, enjoyed football and basketball more but gravitated to baseball because that was his best sport.

They will discover that Lansford came up with the California Angels in 1978 and hit well, but did not become a hitter until he was traded to Boston and worked with batting coach Walt Hriniak, the Charlie Lau disciple who evangelized the value of hitting to all fields and keeping one's head down through the swing, like a golfer. Well, a good golfer, anyway.

They will find out about a third baseman who excelled with the glove and quit the majors at 35 because he did not want to fumble toward his inevitable end, as boyhood idol Willie Mays did; a hitter who might have taken 100 soft-toss swings from a coach to ensure his mechanics were sound before stepping into the cage; a coach who genuinely believes the Giants will hit this year; a father who has a huge hole in his post-playing resume because he quit for seven years to shepherd the two boys whom he and wife Debbie raised into professional baseball.

Perfect for an unselfish team

If Lansford's hiring stunned Giants fans because he seemed to have fallen off the map, it did not surprise Tony La Russa, who managed Lansford in Oakland and employed him as a coach with the A's and Cardinals.

"It was just a matter of time before someone nailed him," La Russa said. "I compliment the Giants and Bruce Bochy for their wisdom. Carney had a passion and a work ethic that I'm sure he'll be able to instill on the guys in San Francisco."

Can Lansford turn water into wine and make the Giants score 800 runs this season? Of course he can't. But in their zeal to transform themselves, from Bonds and Company to a team of complementary, unselfish players who forsake their own glory for the better good, the Giants could not have found a more appropriate hitting mentor.

After all, on the A's championship teams, Lansford often batted second behind Rickey Henderson and ahead of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. Lansford was so anonymous, he could have been in the witness protection program.

"That was me," Lansford said. "I didn't want publicity. I didn't want to be in the limelight. I wanted to come in, work hard, do the job and win games. Do my part. That was it.

"Merv Rettenmund used to say, when he was our hitting coach, his favorite run was when Rickey led off the game with a walk, I took pitches to let him steal second base, then I moved him over with a groundball to second, and Jose drove him in with a sacrifice fly. So we had a run on the board without a base hit.

"That's the idea. You have to be an unselfish player. The winning teams do those things. Last year, (the Giants) lost how many one- or two-run games because we didn't execute late in the game? Everybody from Day 1, from Mr. (Peter) Magowan to Brian Sabean to Boch, have all said we've been terrible executing the game of baseball late in the game."

Rudi's endorsement

Listen to Joe Rudi, one of Lansford's oldest friends in baseball. They were teammates with the Angels and Red Sox. Rudi coached in Oakland when Lansford played there, and they are neighbors in Baker, Ore. In fact, when Rudi decided to sell his ranch, Lansford bought it.

"You could go out to dinner with him and never think that was a guy who could take somebody's head off on the field," Rudi said. "You'd see it so many times. He'd see something he didn't like, a takeout at second base or a guy throwing at a teammate, and he wanted to go out and kill the guy. The thing people don't realize is what a red-ass Carney was."

When Lansford emerged with the Angels, they were an older team. As a rookie, he practically had to grab a rope and lasso the coaches who were running to help Rudi, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, Reggie Jackson and others. When Rudi and Lansford were traded to Boston before the 1981 season in separate deals, Rudi suggested his 23-year-old teammate sit at Hriniak's feet and learn.

The results were dramatic. Lansford not only won the batting title in that strike-bifurcated season, his strikeouts, which totaled 115 in 1979 and 93 in 1980, plummeted to 28. Thereafter, he did not strike out more than 62 times in a season.

He was the perfect Hriniak acolyte, even if his open stance was slightly odd. As he awaited the pitch, he fidgeted with his hands, moving the bat up and down. Once he swung, those hands were quick.

"He just used the whole field," said former Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell, who played against Lansford for nearly 15 years. "But don't mistake that for the fact that if the pitcher fell behind 2-0, 3-1, he could jerk you, too. He's a good-sized guy. ... It was a beautiful approach."

The sons also rise

Lansford retired after the 1992 season, playing one more year than he originally planned because he wanted to go out on sturdy feet after an offseason snowmobile accident in Oregon wrecked one of his knees and his 1991 season. The day the A's lost the '92 ALCS to Toronto, Lansford gave reporters the old chestnut about wanting to spend more time with his family. And he had a plan to put his money where his mouth was.

He stayed in baseball until 2000, when his oldest son, Josh, started high school. Like many sons of La Russa players, Josh and Jared Lansford had carte blanche to roam the Oakland Coliseum. They had the baseball bug and wanted to become big-leaguers like their dad.

Lansford's father, Tony, had been Carney's primary coach. If Tony Lansford could make that sacrifice every day after he punched the time clock at the Libby's cannery in Sunnyvale, well, Carney, blessed with a big-leaguer's savings account, could do even better if he devoted all his days to teaching his sons. Lansford was on a fast track as manager of the Angels' Triple-A Edmonton team in 1999 when he gave it all up.

"When I was in eighth grade, I was excelling in basketball, football and baseball," said Josh Lansford, now 23. "Dad said, 'You go ahead and do what you want to do. If you choose baseball, I will give you the best chance you can get to be a professional baseball player.' That's exactly what he did. I chose baseball and he worked 'til I got where I was professional-caliber player."

Carney was a fixture at the batting cage at St. Francis High in Mountain View, helping his sons and their teammates with the gratitude of coach Chris Bradford. When Josh chose college over the minors upon graduation, Carney became a fixture on Highway 101 between Santa Clara and Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

Only when both sons were in pro ball - Josh is a third baseman in the Cubs' system, Jared a 21-year-old pitcher with the A's - did Carney seek gainful employment. In 2007, he became hitting coach for the Rockies' Triple-A team in Colorado Springs and drew raves for his tutelage of Sky Sox hitters.

Last edited by Monkey51, 3/9/2008, 8:13 pm

Hamels started toward the dugout after what he thought was a strike. Lincecum didn't get the call & buzzed ump Dana DeMuth w. a fastball that slammed off the backstop & then froze Hamels w. another 3rd strike. 4/28/10 Timmy the ump killer.
3/9/2008, 5:15 pm Link to this post
Monkey51 Profile
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Bullpen Catcher

Registered: 02-2006
Location: hanging from the ceiling
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A San Francisco challenge

The Giants, looking to replace the fired Joe Lefebvre, took notice. Lansford had been on their manager's radar. Bochy tried to hire Lansford as his bench coach in San Diego during his self-imposed exile. Lansford said no.

He traveled with the Rockies during the last postseason and interviewed with the Giants on the off day between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series. Three days later, after the Red Sox completed a four-game sweep, the Giants phoned Lansford to offer him the job.

The Giants' higher-ups had differing opinions on the kind of hitting coach they wanted. They ultimately chose Lansford because of his success with younger hitters in Colorado, his Bay Area roots and a belief that he was precisely the type of hitter they wanted the post-Bonds Giants to become.

Lansford has a tough task in his first year, molding younger hitters such as Kevin Frandsen, Daniel Ortmeier and Fred Lewis while trying to make Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia and other old-timers productive again.

"I can't sit here and say we're going to get Rich Aurilia back to hitting 30 home runs, That's not what we're trying to do," Lansford said. "What I'm trying to do is keep Richie's mechanics together and (create a) thought process at the plate that gives him the best chance.

"Ray got into some bad habits last year. We're going to get him back to using the entire field and being short and quick, where he got out on his front last year and rolled over a lot, and that's not his game."

People around baseball are laughing at the Giants' lineup, saying it might be the worst in the baseball now that No. 25, Mr. Asterisk, has been cast adrift. Lansford sounds as though he expects to have the last laugh.

"Barry is gone," he said. "We don't have somebody who's going to put three runs on the board all the time. We do have some guys who can hit the ball out of the park. We're going to score some runs. I think people are going to be surprised, because we are going to be in games with our pitching.

"I'm going to keep hammering these guys about executing the game of baseball."


Last edited by Monkey51, 3/9/2008, 8:14 pm

Hamels started toward the dugout after what he thought was a strike. Lincecum didn't get the call & buzzed ump Dana DeMuth w. a fastball that slammed off the backstop & then froze Hamels w. another 3rd strike. 4/28/10 Timmy the ump killer.
3/9/2008, 5:16 pm Link to this post
scottski51 Profile
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Registered: 02-2008
Posts: 141
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…chron article

great article. Thanks for posting. I will now ADD Richie as my do-everything utility guy in fantasy leagues!
3/9/2008, 8:09 pm Link to this post   
Acrosstic Profile
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Registered: 05-2006
Posts: 562
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Very good read. I hope we do surprise. I'd give anything to beat up on the Dodgers.


A competitor will find a way to win. Competitors take bad breaks and drive themselves just that much harder. Quitters take bad breaks and use them as excuses to give up. It’s all a matter of pride. - W. Churchill
3/9/2008, 11:25 pm Link to this post   


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