East Carolina Hall of Fame member
and former baseball coach Keith
LeClair. (Photo: ECU Media Relations)
After being sidelined with
Lou Gehrigís disease the past two years, it feels great to be able to
finally get online and talk baseball with fans. I do not claim to be an
expert, but baseball has been part of my life for a long time.
Hopefully, we can make this a learning experience, as well as have some
fun. I am really looking forward to working with Denny as he and the
fans put me on the hot seat. But I can tell you from experience, the
seat is a lot hotter in the dugout when the decisions count. Thanks, and
I will be talking to you all soon. ó
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From The Dugout
[Editor's note: Introduction and
questions by Denny O'Brien]
The appearance of the fall foliage, with its
effervescent colors and picturesque backdrop, means two things for sports
enthusiasts in the southeast: College football is in full swing and
Fall Classic is quickly approaching.
There isn't a better time of year, especially when East Carolina and the Atlanta Braves are performing at their best.
Though the football Pirates are struggling a bit right now, optimism
abounds that things will turn around soon.
That said, there has always been
somewhat of a void
on Bonesville.net, which is the lack of a resident baseball expert. It
seems that every major online media outlet has a baseball braintrust, so why
And who more perfectly fits the
role than Pirate Hall-of-Fame
baseball coach Keith LeClair?
Sure, ESPN has Peter Gammons, but he's never
guided a program to three-consecutive NCAA No. 1 seeds.
Starting today, Coach LeClair will drop in on
a weekly basis for a little lively baseball banter. He'll provide
perspective on the pennant races, intermixed with player analysis, coaching
philosophies, and a little humor, too.
So, if you think you can get Coach in a
pickle, he more than welcomes the challenge. Feel free to fire an e-mail
he'll select a couple of questions each week to dissect.
From The Dugout with Coach LeClair [09.18.03]
Denny: I'm trying
to sort out this Wild Card mess. Who do you like, assuming Houston takes
the Central crown?
After looking at all three teamsí schedules down the stretch, I donít see an
advantage for either club in that department. The Marlins have six with Philly,
three with the Braves and three with the Mets. The Phillies have six with the
Marlins, three with the Braves and three with Cincy. The Dodgers have six with
the Giants, three with the Diamondbacks and four with the Padres.
I personally like the
Marlins down the stretch because they have nothing to lose. Regardless, everyone
will consider this a great year. I do think the loss of Brad Penny hurts down
the stretch, but I could see Jack McKeon throwing Dontrelle Willis on three days
rest if needed. Huge series with the Phillies this weekend could determine their
I donít like the
Phillies for one of a couple of reasons. One, they are one-dimensional
offensively. And if you control Thome, it really diminishes their chance of
scoring. Two, I donít like their bullpen of Williams and Mesa to close out tight
My dark horse, of
course, is the Dodgers. They are probably playing as well as anybody down the
stretch. If they continue to get hot offensively, they have the starting
pitching and closer to win this race. Any lead after eight with Gagne is near
Denny: A big Dontrelle Willis fan? What
is it about him... that herky-jerky motion? I remember Hideo Nomo was
tough to handle when he came up, but hitters adjusted after a year or two.
Coach LeClair: I think Dontrelle Willis is
having a great year for two reasons. One, guys havenít seen that much of him and
therefore are feeling their way around each at-bat. Two, he is left-handed and
has a lot of deception in his delivery. He will continue to win in the future if
he stays healthy and keeps working hard. This kid is legit.
Braves' blueprint in the past has been pitching. This year, it is hitting.
How do you like their makeup for an October run?
The Braves are a totally different team than the past few years, both
offensively and on the mound, which I believe is good from the mental aspect
because I thought, as a team, they just couldnít get over the hump in the
playoffs. In the past, I think the pitching staff felt like if they gave up
three or more runs, they couldnít win. Now, the staff knows with their offensive
club they are in every game no matter if they give up some runs in early
Offensively, this may
be the best club in baseball next to the Red Sox. They have no easy outs and
have power potential throughout the lineup. Itís not like in Philly where you
can pitch around Thome. That is why Sheffield is having such a tremendous year.
And when you have guys behind you like Chipper and Andrew JonesÖ watch out.
I like this team to play
in the World Series, but only time will tell. The big key will be the health of
John Smoltz. With an already suspect bullpen, the Braves wonít ever make
it to the Series without John Smoltz. This bullpen is by far Bobby Coxís
biggest concern, especially without Smoltz. The Braves needed to make a trade to
shore up the pen but never did.
been well-documented that Javy Lopez shed some pounds in the offseason.
However, that can't be the only thing that has propelled his turnaround.
Have you noticed anything different with his swing fundamentally?
Javy Lopez definitely came back this year in tremendous shape and with
something to prove. A lot of folks had been getting down on him over last
seasonsí performance. He came back and made a couple of changes to his swing
that has made a world of difference.
One, he moved his
hands back a little and began to hold his bat more upright. This allowed him to
be a little quicker and shortened his swing. Javy has always been known to be a
great breaking ball hitter, but now with these changes, he is handling the
fastball much better on the inner half. A lot of credit goes to his hitting
coach, Terry Pendleton, and his ability to get Lopez to be more patient at the
plate and trust his swing.
it just me, or has Randy Johnson fallen off a bit since he cut his hair?
Seriously, though, what has happened to the Big Unit?
The Big Unit is trying to overcome a difficult year-full of injuries. He is
still feared as one of the toughest pitchers in the league. This situation with
Johnson reminds me a lot like Clemmons a few years ago when people thought he
was washed up and came back to win a Cy Young award. I expect Randy Johnson to
have a couple more big years. I would love to see Johnson become a closer much
like Smoltz has to lengthen his career, but that wonít happen. If it did, he
would be awesome in that role.
Denny: Here's a
situation for you, Coach. It's the bottom of the ninth in game seven of
the World Series. The Yankees have 1st and 3rd with one out and Jorge
Posada at the plate. Do you pitch to him?
Without a doubt, you pitch to Posada and try to get a ground ball. You tell
your pitcher not to give in and make quality pitches. Itís your closer in the
game and thatís what he gets paid to do. I dont like walking the bases loaded,
because it puts a lot of pressure on pitcher and causes him to use too much of
In a first-and-third
situation, your middle guys have to make sure they play shallow enough to turn a
double play. What also comes into a managerís mind is how Pasada is swinging the
bat and what the guy behind him as done, as well as what pinch hitters are still
on the bench. That goes against
many expert opinions, but I would say all great managers make a decision based
on how the flow of the game is going and how their personnel matches up against
See, wouldnít you
like to be a coach? People may have forgotten, but if Jeter doesnít have to play
in against the D-Backs in World Series, Gonzalezís ball never drops in.
if you're Joe Torre in this situation?
You donít squeeze with Pasada at the plate in that situation. I think Torre
would let Pasada win the game by swinging the bat. You donít send the runner
because you would like to keep the hole on the right side open with the first
basemen holding the runner on and second baseman playing double-play depth.
Some managers would load the bases by walking Posada and creating a force at
every base. But again, I think that makes your pitcher become tentative and
puts tremendous pressure on him to use more of the plate.
02.23.07 10:27 AM