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May 19, 2011

Ross in Richmond

The following piece was written by John O’Connor and originally appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch on July 25, 2010. The Hall of Very Good would like to thank John for his continued support of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Ross Grimsley's Major League debut.

Richmond Flying Squirrels pitching coach Ross Grimsley made a memorable mound visit not long ago. The pitcher and catcher silently waited for Grimsley to arrive, and when he did, Grimsley said this:

“Does my (rear end) look big in this uniform?”

Grimsley sensed that his pitcher wasn’t relaxed and would benefit from comic relief.

Of pitching coaches’ visits, Grimsley said, “A lot of it is not what it seems to be.”

Grimsley, who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues with five clubs and is in his 12th season as a coach in the San Francisco Giants organization, may offer a quick tip - bend more, follow through, or keep your delivery tight. Grimsley knows that extensive, complicated advice is useless after the game has started.

“Some of the times (pitching coaches) came out and talked to me, I didn’t have any idea what they said,” said Grimsley, 60. “I promise you I didn’t have a clue what was said. I know that happens with some of these guys. So be it. If a guy is focused in on what he wants to do, he’s not going to hear a whole lot.”

Grimsley’s visits - he says he tries to minimize them so as not to interfere with the game’s flow - may be designed to hear what the pitcher and catcher have planned during a key point of the game. Sometimes he visits to give another pitcher time to warm up in the bullpen.

Occasionally, he just wants to give the pitcher a rest. In these cases, Grimsley might say nothing until the umpire arrives to dismiss him. Then, Grimsley has been known to ask the ump, “What are we going to do? What do you think he should throw here?”

Subsequent laughter extends the pitcher’s break.

Typically, Grimsley’s visits are short. Lefty Clayton Tanner says when he’s pitching and Grimsley comes calling, meetings usually go something like this:

Grimsley: “What do you feel like you’re doing wrong?”

Tanner: “I think I’m opening up too quickly.”

Grimsley: “Well, don’t do that.”

Grimsley then walks back to the dugout.

Hard-throwing righty Daniel Turpin says he receives the same advice from Grimsley during virtually every visit: “Throw strikes and keep the ball down in the zone.”

Pitchers appreciate brevity and simplicity. Very few ever want to be visited. None wants to be the subject of a lengthy lecture that includes a reinvention of his mechanics.

Said lefty Andy Sisco: “This is something the average person could relate to. If you’re playing a round of golf, and you’ve hit a couple of bad shots, you really want to hit that next shot and move past it. “And then someone comes up and tries to tell you how you should hit this shot.”

Grimsley gets annoyed when his pitchers fail to throw strikes.

“Sometimes, I’m frustrated on the way out there, and I’m frustrated going back,” he said.

Grimsley says he fears he’s turning “crusty.” But most of his communication on the mound is conversational encouragement, as if from a colleague, rather than stern instruction, as if from a boss, Sisco said.

“Treat people the way you want to be treated,” Grimsley said.

Sisco, who appeared in 151 major-league games before arm trouble, says Grimsley “has the wisdom of a master.” Grimsley went 124-99 in the big leagues. That experience plus his lengthy tenure as a pitching coach to Sisco means “He is someone who has seen all of the different situations, and he knows how to deal with them.”

Sometimes, Grimsley grasped long ago, the best way to deal with a struggling pitcher is to lighten the moment. George Bamberger worked as Baltimore’s pitching coach for manager Earl Weaver while Grimsley was an Oriole during the 1970s. Grimsley was getting hammered one day. Bamberger strolled out to the mound and delivered this message:

“Grims, Earl said if you don’t cheat, you better start now.”

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