Red Sox Notebook: Questions Abound as Rich Gedman Named Hitting Coach at Lowell

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst IJanuary 13, 2011

Rich Gedman, the new hitting coach for the Red Sox short-season affiliate in Lowell, MA, was the Sox' starting catcher in the 1986 World Series... here, he is shown applying a tag to his counterpart, NY Mets catcher Gary Carter, during the Fall Classic.
Rich Gedman, the new hitting coach for the Red Sox short-season affiliate in Lowell, MA, was the Sox' starting catcher in the 1986 World Series... here, he is shown applying a tag to his counterpart, NY Mets catcher Gary Carter, during the Fall Classic.

Former Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman, a native of Worcester, has been named the hitting coach for the (Single-A, Short-Season) Lowell Spinners of the New York–Penn League.

Gedman, widely considered to be one of the real good guys in baseball during his playing days, was once an All-Star with the Red Sox; but, his offensive skills disappeared soon after Walt Hriniak was hired as hitting coach by the Red Sox in 1986.

And many observers who observed Gedman’s lackluster mechanics during the last few years of his career believe his devotion to the Charlie Lau philosophy of hitting, as it was taught by Hriniak, served to cut short a burgeoning All-Star career.

And we wonder with tremendous anxiety what he will impart to prospects like Bryce Brentz, Garin Cecchini and Sean Coyle.

I mean no disrespect to Gedman. He is the friend of a friend, and although I have never met him, I understand he is a heckuva nice guy.

He debuted with the Red Sox in 1980 at the age of 21 and a year later, finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting after batting .288 (Dave Righetti, NYY).

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He eventually assumed responsibility as the team’s starting catcher in 1984, when he hit 24 HR. He made the American League All-Star team in both 1985 and 1986, but at some point in ’86, things seemed to change for Geddy.

A lot of people mistakenly believe things started heading downhill for Gedman after he started working with Hriniak, but the truth of the matter is Gedman started working with Hriniak a couple of years earlier, and he had produced a pair of All-Star campaigns while working with Hriniak. So, what happened?

Gedman was hitting .269 when he left for the All-Star Game in July 1986. The Red Sox began the second half of the season on a prolonged (12-game) road trip that brought them through Seattle, Oakland, Anaheim and Chicago.

The ballclub went 3-9 on the trip, and although Geddy started the trip by going 5-for-17 in Seattle, his performance suffered as the team’s performance wilted.

After arriving in California, he went 4-for-26, with a pair of home runs. He started tinkering with his swing.

For the rest of the year, he seemed to lack confidence. He was searching for a comfort level and consistency with a swing.

He was swinging down at the ball, letting go of the bat with his left hand and finishing many swings with his right arm raised in the air in a sign of futility.

(NOTE: The Lau-Hriniak approach preached keeping weight on the back foot, swinging down on the ball, going back through the middle (or to the opposite field) and releasing the upper hand from the bat to allow for greater extension)

Gedman was a free agent during the winter of 1986-87. He was dogged by suggestions that Bob Stanley’s wild pitch in Game 6 of the World Series was actually a passed ball that should have been attributed to him (I am one of those who believe this).

When Mookie Wilson’s ground ball subsequently found a hole between Bill Buckner’s legs, his mistake was compounded. The Red Sox were reticent to sign him to the kind of deal he wanted after he became a free agent.

When baseball owners colluded that winter, he was unable to secure a contract with another team. He eventually re-signed with the Red Sox, but under the rules of free agency was unable to join the team until May 1.

His season got underway late, and he struggled mightily after having missed spring training. Still dealing with the confidence issues that plagued him throughout the second-half of the ’86 season and now haunted by the passed ball, his self-doubt was consuming.

He garnered only one base hit in his first dozen games of the year. He grasped for a solution to his offensive problems. The finish to his swing became more exaggerated.

His approach at the plate seemed impotent. His injury-shortened campaign came to an end on July 27 in Toronto. He was hitting just .205 at the time.

He never hit higher than .231 again. He was traded to Houston in 1990 and was retired by the time he was 34-years-old.

Red Sox legend Ted Williams, considered by many pundits to be the greatest hitter who ever played the game, despised the Lau-Hriniak approach to hitting. Teddy Ballgame believed that approach sapped players of their ability to hit for power.

Of course, KC Royals 3B George Brett, Chicago White Sox 1B Frank Thomas and Red Sox OF Dwight Evans were all devotees of the Lau-Hriniak approach to hitting, and they all hit for power, so to an extent the Williams criticism was misplaced.

Likewise, Red Sox 3B Wade Boggs was a disciple of Hriniak, and while he didn’t hit for power, he was an extraordinary hitter.

In defending his coaching, Hriniak said he didn't teach a level swing or downward swing or upward swing (of which Williams was a devotee), he simply said that each hitter is an individual and should choose the swing they were most comfortable with.

But the problem with his defense is that nearly all of his students had THE SAME swing… and while it worked for Brett and Thomas and Evans and Boggs, it did NOT work for Gedman and many others.

And in the opinion of many, it ruined Gedman’s promising career.

I read an article by Joe Posnanski many years ago in which he discussed his contention that Hriniak ruined Geddy’s career. It was a view held by many (myself included).

He was one of the first writers who discussed bad coaching in baseball. He put words to what many of us were thinking at the time.

In the wake of the announcement, the Red Sox have hired Geddy to coach at Lowell, where he’ll be entrusted with the careers of some of the best and brightest (and youngest) of the Red Sox prospects, I started to wonder what they will be taught in Lowell.

And I started to wonder whether Gedman is the right guy for the job.

For this and more articles written by Jeffrey Brown, you can visit his website here.