Imagine this description popping up on jobs.com:
"High-profile business seeks a supervisor to oversee a large staff of highly talented professionals, all of whom will need more individual time than there are actually hours in a day. Work days will last 10-12 hours and, over a 7 1/2 month period -- 8 1/2, if the company meets its goals -- there will be approximately 20 days off, most of which will be spent working and/or traveling anyway.
"Ideal candidate for this position understands that he's largely responsible for the successes and failures of his subordinates. He won't receive a lot of credit for the successes; however, if the board decides there has been too much failure, he's subject to termination.
"Ideal candidate must be prepared to fill the following roles as supervisor: psychologist, mechanic, big brother and teacher. He will also need to keep close track of the competition to ensure his employees are never underprepared. If employees appear ill-prepared, the responsibility will fall solely on the supervisor."
The title of this job? Major League hitting coach.
Judging from the description, who in his right mind would want such a gig? The answer is, of course, many.
The hiring of coaches often amounts to little more than a press release and a mention on the transaction page, especially if few outside of the industry have heard of the new coach. And while you'll find familiar names peppered in the coaching ranks throughout baseball, it's definitely not a requirement. Hitting coaches -- all coaches, for that matter -- come in all shapes and sizes, carrying pedigrees that range from having zero experience as a big league player to having appeared on multiple All-Star rosters.
But because the requirements of a successful hitting coach are so broad, evaluating one can be tricky.
"If you were a great player, that may get you recognition right off the bat," says Mariners hitting coach Howard Johnson. "But if you don't know how to help players, and if you don't help them, it doesn't mean a hill of beans."
Johnson's career numbers don't blow you away -- he was a career .249 hitter with 228 home runs -- but he was a relatively well-known figure in the baseball landscape in the 1980s, thanks mostly to playing for one of the game's most high-profile teams (the Mets) throughout his prime, while mixing in three 30-30 seasons. He acknowledges that gave him a certain level of credibility when he entered the coaching ranks, but insists any level of staying power he achieved after that has not been remotely tied to his playing career.
"It helps and gets your foot in the door, certainly," he says. "But players will go to anybody that they feel can help them."
How does Johnson help?
"I tell a lot of young coaches, it's important that the first time you say something to a guy, be right," he said. "You have to gain trust. Even if it requires holding your tongue and not say anything and watching. That's what you want to do -- watch, and try to understand what each guy is thinking.
"You can't fool players. They know if you're sincere. They also know if you really know what you're talking about."
No minor task
Expertise comes in many forms. In Houston, hitting coach John Mallee garners high praise from his players, many of whom have improved offensively from one year to the next while working to carve out a place on a rebuilding Astros club. Mallee has exactly zero years of Major League experience. He played in two Minor League seasons, getting as high as Class A in 1992. He had 327 professional at-bats and hit .208.
He's been coaching since 1996, working his way up through the minors before landing his first big league gig with the Marlins in 2010. Now in his second season as the Astros' hitting coach, Mallee's lack of big league experience doesn't come up in conversation.
In fact, there's an argument to be made that having not played in the big leagues may have helped Mallee in his coaching endeavors.
"A lot of players like myself who weren't very good minor league players, we tried to figure out why we weren't very good and wanted to learn the mechanics and learn the approaches and that type of thing," Mallee says. "We had to study it a lot more. A lot of times those guys naturally knew what worked for them. For us, it didn't naturally work and we had to figure out why and how we're going to teach them."
Having not actually done it himself matters little. Mallee, apparently, just gets it.
"I don't think being a good hitter necessarily correlates to being a good hitting coach," says Astros catcher Jason Castro. "That's not to say that wouldn't be the case. But I know that working with Mallee, he has such a deep understanding of how to hit, from a philosophical and physical standpoint. He gets when I'm trying to explain something to him -- how something feels, what I'm trying to do -- he immediately knows what I'm talking about."
Hitting coaches with no big league experience are exceptions, however. Of the 30 Major League teams, 24 employ hitting coaches who have at least some. The Astros, Rays, Brewers, Reds, Rockies and Yankees are the six clubs with hitting coaches who never played in the Majors.
Athletically, all have very different histories. But as today's teachers, they have one similar and essential quality.
"The most important attribute you have to have as a hitting coach is the ability to listen," says Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis. "If you listen to your hitters, they're going to tell you where they trying to get to. Sometimes I agree with it, sometimes I don't, but I allow the opportunity, the chance to try to get there."
Davis is one of a small handful of hitting coaches who had All-Star careers. Davis played in four postseasons over a 19-year career, hitting 350 homers with a career .274 average. He is lauded in the industry as one of the game's best coaches, too, and given the extra challenges he faces with the A's -- he manages as many as four platoon situations on an everyday basis, nearly doubling the amount of "starters" he works with -- the respect is seemingly justified.
Maintaining a consistent dialogue with platooning players who see themselves as everyday starters and aren't terribly happy to be in any other role is no easy task. Davis knows this from experience, having been platooned as a player. He remembers being pretty ticked about it.
What the player does after his initial grousing, Davis said, is key.
"It's their responsibility to come in and get the work done," says Davis, who has helped the likes of Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt and John Jaso thrive in platoon roles. "This isn't A-ball. You can whine and cry about not playing if you think you should be playing. But if you go out there and you're not prepared to do the job, then chances are the next time that opportunity comes, there will be someone else playing."
Davis's success as both a player and a coach somewhat squashes one theory that suggests a coach who had a good playing career would not be able to relate to a slumping hitter.
"We all struggled at some point in our career," says Davis. "What I remember most about my struggles was how I got out of them. My thinking, my work habits, what I worked on. Mike Schmidt's been in slumps. Howard Johnson's been in slumps. Mark McGwire's been in slumps."
McGwire, incidentally, uses one of his longest slumps as a teaching point with his hitters. As the Dodgers' batting coach, McGwire doesn't talk at length about his decorated career. But he does point to his 1991 season as a reference when reminding his players that there's no such thing as a hitter who doesn't slump.
"I hit .201 with 500 [at-bats], which is hard to do," he says. "It never clicked in their minds that I've had severe failure. But I came back the next year and had an incredible season. Those are [experiences I use] when we talk, 'Hey, I know what you're going through. Let's get back to square one.'"
McGwire is a prime example of a coach who does this because he loves it. (He netted nearly $75 million in his career. Clearly, he doesn't need the money. )
There's nothing glamorous about the life of a hitting coach. He spends hours a day confined to indoor batting cages, watching swing after never-ending swing. He simply has a passion for hitting, and gets riled up when discussing the mechanical side of it.
"It's key that when hitting coaches talk hitting, there's so many words that mean the same thing," he said. "So not just one word is going to click with one hitter. When I talk and communicate with hitters I try to think of all different words and different sayings that mean the same thing that might click."
A certain kind of coach
The one thing that is missing among today's batting coaches is the Hall of Fame-caliber lifetime .300 hitter. Jeff Bagwell, who spent one-half of a season in 2010 as the Astros' interim hitting coach, seemed to fit in well with the hitters and saw some improvement among them during his short time as coach. Hall of Famer George Brett, however, didn't fare so well when he took over as the Royals' hitting coach a couple of years ago, finally stepping away from the interim job when he reportedly was having a difficult time connecting with the players.
That may be why McGwire and Davis are more relatable -- while they were highly respected as home run hitters, they never posted high batting averages, which is still the gold standard for pure hitting among players.
"I'm sorry, but when you hit .300, it's not a grind," says A's first baseman Brandon Moss. "You're not grinding. It's tough, but you don't have that long period where you're saying, 'Where do I stand in the box?' "
Another former star player who has been effective as a hitting coach is Anaheim's Don Baylor, a coaching and managing veteran with a no-nonsense approach that players have responded to favorably over time.
Baylor once told Andres Galarraga about his batting stance, "The way you're going about it now, you're going to get released."
While managing Howard Johnson and working with him specifically in Colorado toward the end of Johnson's career, Baylor noticed Johnson chatting with an opposing infielder, Jeff Kent, during a pitching change.
"I can't help you when a former teammate is trying to help you, your wife is trying to help you, your attorney's trying to help you, your agent," Baylor said to Johnson. "Now we have four or five different things. If we can narrow down to just one -- you and I, one on one, every day, we'll go from there."
Regardless of the level of success they had as players, hitting coaches have one universal task: make it about the players, and nothing else.
"You have to love it, right?" says Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "You have to love what you're doing. You're there for them. It can't be about you and your ego. It has to be about the players and helping them and I think they know that. That's the key. They know you're there to help them. You're not talking to them about your career."
The job description is clear. Those looking for an alternative route need not apply.