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For Red Sox, a Ray(s) of Inspiration

11.24.09 at 3:04 am ET
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For the most part, the Red Sox‘ announcement of their 2010 coaching staff featured few surprises. The hiring of former Sox bench coach Brad Mills as the manager of the Astros created the opportunity to give some loyal members of the organization well-deserved promotions, as DeMarlo Hale was promoted from third base coach to bench coach, Tim Bogar went from first to third base coach and Ron Johnson — the man who, as the manager of Triple-A Pawtucket, has delivered word to dozens of Sox prospects in recent years of their promotions to the majors — got his own call-up, getting appointed to the Sox’ big league coaching staff as a first base coach.

But buried at the bottom of the press release was one unusual position. Rob Leary, the longtime field coordinator of the Red Sox minor league system, was named Major League coaching staff assistant. The job is a new one on the Sox staff, and requires some explanation.

Leary’s duties include the organization of spring training workouts, assistance with pregame on-field activities, assistance in advance scouting and in-game assignments from Sox manager Terry Francona. In many ways, Leary will play something of a hybrid role: He will be a coach who works with players prior to games, and he will be an organizer who handles planning and administrative activities so that the rest of the dugout coaching staff can continue to work more directly with the players.

“We wanted to keep our coaches as coaches as much as possible,” Francona explained. “[Leary] is somebody we’re trying to find a way to get him to the major leagues and this seemed like a perfect time to do it. We could use his organizational skills and also get him acclimated to the big leagues. While he doesn’t know the American League yet, that won’t get in the way because he’s not getting asked to sit in the dugout during the game. He’ll get a chance to learn the league and learn our team and we can use his strengths in the meantime, which are plenty. He’ll help us prepare our scouting, he’ll run our spring training and he has a chance to really help our staff round into shape.”

During games, Leary will be either in the clubhouse or in the stands. In that fashion, his role will be unusual though not unprecedented. Leary’s job was created in part based on the experience of Bogar while he was the “quality assurance coach” for Tampa Bay in 2008.

Bogar was a sort of eye-in-the-sky for the Rays during games, primarily sitting in the stands to observe his own club from the perspective of a scout. He would then take what he had seen back into the clubhouse after games and communicate with Rays skipper Joe Maddon and the rest of the Tampa coaching staff about matters such as defensive positioning and baserunning. Bogar also acted as a point of contact between a number of departments for the Rays, including the advance scouting, player development and major league coaching staffs.

Bogar had no doubts about the merits of his role with the Rays.

“Is it surprising that it hadn’t happened till [2008]? Yeah, I think so,” Bogar said in spring training. “I think it’s one of those things that a lot of teams are going to start doing. Having an extra coach on the field to interact between all those departments is nothing but a bonus. It gives you an advantage. It really does.”

Francona acknowledged that Leary’s role was “very much” based on the one that Bogar served with the Rays — offering a reminder that the Sox, despite being a big-market club, are constantly examining other teams’ best practices regardless of market size in an effort to improve their operations.

Leary, thanks to his years of work across the Red Sox organization with virtually every minor leaguer currently in the farm system, is perfectly positioned to communicate with several different departments. The Sox view the highly regarded instructor as someone who can make an impact as a big league coach while he trains for what could become a larger role in the future.

“Lear is a guy who has had a big impact on our organization,” Francona said. “It’s a great way to get him in a major league atmosphere. The lack of experience doesn’t hurt our staff because he doesn’t have to know the league right now because he’s not going to be in the dugout during the game. But it’s a great way for him to get to know the league and use his strengths to help us and while he’s doing that, he can use the experience of being with our major league team.”

As for Hale, who has been interviewed for managerial vacancies in the past, including the Red Sox job that was ultimately filled by Francona following the 2003 season and the Mariners vacancy after the 2008 campaign, the Sox’ only hesitation to make him the bench coach was concern that they would be losing a very fine third base coach.

Hale managed to avoid the infamy associated with the thankless job of Red Sox third base coach (Dale Sveum and Wendell Kim both became punchlines at various points in Boston) because he was quite good at the job and thus rarely the subject of controversy. Nonetheless, while Francona hesitated to remove Hale from a role in which he performed well, he ultimately decided that he wanted someone who would approach the bench coach position with the same meticulousness.

“It’s the toughest market to be at third base and the toughest field and you never heard people talk about him so that was a huge compliment to him,” Francona said. “Part of the reason, a big reason you never heard about him, was because he did such a good job. He will take that and do the same thing as a bench coach.”

“It is rewarding,” Hale added. “This is a great opportunity for me, no question.”

Johnson, who has known Francona since the two were with the Expos in 1984 — in large part because a devastating knee injury to Francona created a roster spot for Johnson to play five games — was thrilled at the prospect of becoming an official part of the big league coaching staff. He and Francona have been in regular contact in recent years thanks to the steady flow of prospects from Triple A to the majors, and so Johnson already described himself as the sort of “sixth man” of the Boston coaching staff.

All the same, the idea that he was getting a big league call-up on a full-time basis reflected a milestone for Johnson’s career. He did not make any effort to conceal his glee.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am about it,” he said. “I think it means more to me because it is the Boston Red Sox. To have an opportunity after all these years, to get an opportunity to go to the big leagues with one of the premier clubs in all of baseball, to me makes me even more proud.”

Read More: demarlo hale, quality assurance coach, Rays, rob leary
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