In observing Richie Sexson's new foot-in-the-bucket batting stance during the Seattle Mariners' 2-1 loss to the Red Sox in Boston Sunday, June 8, certain local scribes might've harked back to February 2006. 'Twas then, during the team's annual media-indoctrination morning that precedes spring training, when a featured questionee was new batting coach Jeff Pentland. The droll Arizonan was on stage with manager Mike Hargrove and, among others, Jeremy Reed, who at the time was the emerging star center-fielder of the organization.
Since that day, Reed has spent much of his career either injured or in Tacoma, possibly a redundancy. Pentland has piddled around with the batting (Dave Niehaus calls it "hitting," but there's a significant difference) approaches of a number of the M's. Through it all, for the series finale against the defending world champs, the M's sent out a lineup featuring the following: Adrian Beltre, hitting .234 to start the day, Reed (.243), Sexson (.209), Jamie Burke (.211), and Willie Bloomquist (.158). For the loss the day before, they'd used Jose Vidro (.220), Miguel Cairo (.218), Kenji Johjima (.218), and Vladimir Balentien (.194). That's nine of the team's 13 position players.
Anybody see a problem with any of the above? Could it be that Pentland, despite being affable (to say nothing of having been inducted — drum roll, please — into the Arizona State University Hall of Fame), isn't necessarily the greatest teacher of young men since Gabe ("Welcome Back") Kotter? Put another way: Wouldn't the simple arithmetic indicate maybe replacing Pentland with, say, a randomly picked t-ball coach? Pentland's annual pay is about what Sexson makes going one for 12 during a home stand. After a week when the team's remaining fans watched with horrified fascination as finger-pointing Mariner personnel reprised The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, didn't it occur to top management that Pentland is the most obvious fall guy since Scooter Libby?
For a decade, the big whoop about Pentland has been that he, more than anybody, took Sammy Sosa to another level after the batting mentor went to work for Sosa's Cubs during the 1997 campaign. Except wasn't it about then when the suddenly buff Sosa started to look from chin down like, uh, Mark McGwire? Did Sosa's equally inflated numbers indicate substantive coaching or poaching substances?
More to the point: Could any batting coach get worse results than the numbers noted above (oh yeah, Richie was merely 0 for 3 as his teammates put up three whole hits during the latest loss)? And what's the risk of keeping this guy? A month into the season, Jeff Clement came to Seattle after hitting everything but the lottery jackpot in Tacoma. Then the organization's top prospect went 8 for 48 in Seattle, striking out as though his idol were Richie Sexson. Beltre's average has been dropping like the Dow. He whiffed at a high one the other day that would have been out of Yao Ming's strike zone. Has Pentland had anything to do with this, or has he had everything to do with it?
It doesn't much matter when you're 22-41. Bounce this guy. To paraphrase Leo Durocher: Jeff Pentland is a nice guy and the Mariners are finishing last.