Orioles' pick of Wallace came as surprise

Orioles' pick of Wallace came as surprise
October 30, 2013, 8:00 am
Share This Post

As the search for the Orioles’ newest pitching coach dragged on, there weren’t any clues that led to Dave Wallace.

Wallace had no history with either Dan Duquette or Buck Showalter. Two of the other candidates did.

At 66, he was older than the other three who interviewed and six years removed from his last big league job.

Now that Wallace has been given the task of turning a contending staff into one that plays well into October, there’s something that stands out.

It’s not only that Wallace has a World Series ring. He won one in 2004 with the Boston Red Sox. Two of the other candidates have them, too. Rich Dubee won one as a pitching coach and Carl Willis has one as a pitcher for Minnesota in 1991.

It’s the hunger that comes from Wallace being on the outside.

For the last four seasons, Wallace had worked as Atlanta’s minor league pitching coordinator and for two years before had been in Seattle’s front office.

But, his greatest success had come on the field.

Wallace’s impressive presentation in Tuesday night’s conference call came without a recitation of some of the pitchers he helped. When asked about the Orioles’ staff, Wallace emphasized that he knew their abilities, but not their personalities.

Chris Tillman has become a star, but needs someone to push him even farther. Wei-Yin Chen needs to become a clear winner, not just someone who can get through five innings.

Under Wallace’s tutelage, the Los Angeles Dodgers went to the Division Series twice in his three years from. Perhaps his most impressive work came with Hideo Nomo.

At the time, Nomo was a veritable pioneer. There wasn’t the path for Japanese pitchers, but Nomo adapted well to the U.S. with Wallace’s help, winning 43 games in 1995-7, his first three big league seasons.

Ramon Martinez went 42-18 in Wallace’s three years in Los Angeles.

Ismael Valdez, who had a long big league career, had his three best seasons under Wallace.

And, Wallace was Chan Ho Park’s first American pitching coach. (Park later pitched for Showalter in Texas.)

With the Dodgers, Wallace had a successful bullpen, too. Todd Worrell had 111 saves in his three years, including a league-leading 44 in 1997.

In Wallace’s two years in New York, the Mets made it to the NLCS in 1999 and the World Series in 2000. That’s the only time in franchise history the team has made the postseason in successive years.

One of his pitchers in 1999 was a former Showalter pitching coach, Orel Hershiser. Wallace took a staff that included a 40-year-old Hershiser, 34-year-old Masato Yoshii, Rick Reed and Al Leiter, who were 34 and 33 and somehow combined for 49 wins.

Wallace also coaxed a career-high 10 wins out of Dennis Cook, who spent 15 years bouncing around the majors.

If Wallace can have five pitchers with 10 or more wins out of that group, he certainly should be able to improve Tillman, Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman.

In the Mets’ last World Series team, all five starters, Leiter, Reed, Bobby Jones, Mike Hampton and Glendon Rusch won at least 10.

By the way, his closer in New York was none other than Armando Benitez, who saved 41 games in 2000.

In Boston Wallace’s teams, which included far better talent than he had in New York, made the postseason in all three of his complete seasons. Due to health reasons, he missed much of the 2006 season.

Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, Derek Lowe, Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo and David Wells were some of his starters. He also had Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon early in their careers.

Both Duquette and Showalter spent considerable time on the periphery of the game before the Orioles hired them, and they saw the hunger in Wallace. He said he missed being in the dugout.

Besides his outstanding work with pitchers from different backgrounds, he was able to work with managers with strong personalities. It couldn’t have been easy being Tom Lasorda’s final pitching coach. Bobby Valentine was probably not very easy to work for, either.

Both Lasorda and Valentine had Wallace walk to the mound to make pitching changes. That won’t be the case with Showalter.

Showalter’s personality should mesh well with Wallace. On Tuesday, Showalter said Wallace reminded him a lot of Mark Connor, who worked with him in New York, Arizona and Texas.

Duquette said that Wallace helps both young and veteran pitchers. His track record proves that.

This isn’t a sexy hire. Maybe Dubee with his great Phillies staffs or Willis and his three Cy Young winners would have seemed more impressive, but the more you look at this pick, the better it looks.