Willie James: I WASN’T READY TO COACH

The first time I signed on for a minor league coaching job, I don’t think I was really ready to be a coach because I still thought I could play. But I was trying to get this business started in Toronto, and the only thing that was happening was money going out for the business. I had met some of the Blue Jays people when I was up in Toronto with Dave Stewart, and they asked me if I wanted to coach in the minors. It was a way I could get some money coming in, so I decided to try it. I was living in Kansas City at the time, and I had to go to Tampa for the interview. I had never really had a job interview before, and I wasn’t used to getting up early. I had to catch an 8 a.m. flight to go down and meet Gord Ash, the Blue Jays general manager. I got caught in traffic, and I called and said I can’t make it. They got me on another flight, but already I knew that wasn’t a good thing because I had missed the flight. I didn’t really know what the deal was about coaching. I had always been a player. You show up, go through your preparation, play and leave. I didn’t even think about it that as a coach you had to be there earlier than the players and then stay later than the players because you had to write up reports for the team. When I finally got to Tampa, I met with several of the coaches and went to dinner that night. I met Gord Ash the next day while we are watching a game in the Instructional League. We talk, and he goes, You sure you want this job. I said, Yeah. So, we did our thing, then I flew back and got my stuff together.

During the interview Gord is just sitting there like he was top dog with his arms crossed across his chest. He was a big guy, and I’m giving him a lot of respect. I was dealing with another organization that I wasn’t familiar with, I didn’t know his background was that he had worked his way up through the organization from the grounds crew all the way up to being the GM. I was coaching at AAA, in Syracuse. That’s across the lake from Toronto. When I had a day off I was going back to Toronto to try and make a go of the business I’m working on. Then, I’d drive back to Syracuse to be there for a night game. I was going back and forth. I was worried about the business because all I could see was money going out. I was the hitting coach and first base coach. I taught hitting the way Charley Lau had taught hitting. The whole thing was that you had to lead with your hands. I didn’t teach that everybody had to hit a certain way – and if you look at Frank or George or Hal or me we all got to the set point in a different way. You had to get your hands to the right place when the ball was being pitched. Garth Iorg was the manager, and I don’t think he really liked me being there. He always kept mentioning – almost every day – that we had beaten them in the playoffs one year. After a few weeks, I had started to get what it meant to be a coach, and I was getting there earlier and staying later. Then, it came to a head one day when I was dealing with the fourth outfielder on that team We had a really good team with Roy Halliday and Chris Carpenter. But we didn’t have that good record. Anyway, this outfielder Lonell Roberts was called to be in as a pinch runner. He didn’t have his spikes on while the game was going on. So he had to go inside and get them, and the whole game is being delayed.

He finally comes out, and the umpire says something to him. I said something to him, like, Man, you are utility. You have to have your spikes and glove with you all the time. He gets mad about that, shouting at me, I am not utility. I’m thinking in my brain, OK, you’re the fourth outfielder. You haven’t started for seven years. You’ve always been a fourth outfielder. So how is that not being utility. Well, the next day I was getting on him in the locker room, and I finally left. He followed me out, running and just jumped on my back. I flipped him over and had him on the ground and was like, What the hell is wrong with you, man? Just then the brass walks out of the door and I have this kid lying on the ground. He apologizes, but they send me down from Syracuse to Bradenton or wherever it was in Florida -down to A ball. I don’t know if it was punishment or not, must have been. The next year I didn’t get a contract. That’s when I knew I wasn’t ready to be a coach. I was treating him like it was the big leagues where we would get on each other all the time. I guess it embarrassed him in front of everybody else. I kept telling him, youre utility, man. If you don’t accept being a utility player what are you doing. These other guys are starting every day.

Willie James: I WASN’T READY TO COACH Photo Gallery




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Coach Don Haskins' yearbook shot for 1961-62, his first year at Texas

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