One of the most scrutinized spots on a baseball team is the third-base coach. He is the one person who is directly responsible for whether or not the team can score a run, based solely on the decision-making process that he has to make in an instant. That alone would be tough enough for any coach, but the new Detroit Tigers' third-base coach, Tom Brookens, has to deal with a few additional challenges—his predecessor still being on the team and analyzing his every move, along with his manager giving him a lackluster endorsement.
In December, the Tigers announced that their third-base coach for the last seven years, Gene Lamont, would be moving to the bench and that their first-base coach, Brookens, would be replacing him. Tony Paul of the Detroit News reported of Leyland, "He regards Lamont as the best third-base coach in the American League."
Fans speculated that Lamont was removed from his role and asked to be bench coach due to a play in the World Series where Lamont sent Prince Fielder home and he got thrown out. Leyland shot that theory down again this week by telling James Schmehl of Mlive.com that, "It had nothing to do with the Prince Fielder thing—I can assure you that. Trust me."
Leyland then expanded on his thoughts and put a ton of pressure on Brookens by saying:
I'm concerned about it because I think Gene Lamont is the best third-base coach in the American League. I'm worried about it, Leyland said. Gene and I, we have that repertoire, and I think Tom will do fine, but I, personally, felt like Gene was the best.
I was quite surprised when I read Leyland's comments. He firmly placed himself as a Lamont fan and I know they go way back, but by stating his feelings publicly he put a lot of unneeded pressure on Brookens. Now every time Brookens makes a call and it backfires there will be constant speculation that Leyland is unhappy with Brookens, and fans and media will start to second-guess him.
Part of me keeps thinking that Lamont wanted to become bench coach because he feels it gives him a better chance to be hired as manager. Last offseason, the Boston Red Sox interviewed Lamont for their vacant manager's position. He was a finalist before the Red Sox ultimately hired Bobby Valentine.
Personally, I always thought Lamont did a decent job at third base. I appreciated his aggressive style. It seemed to help the Tigers more often than not. I would rather gamble and be aggressive on the base path—putting pressure on the defense—than sit back and be conservative, leaving runs on the bases.
Even Brookens has expressed hesitation with Leyland's pick and sounds like someone that knows they have very little job security. As he told Hugh Bernreuter of Mlive.com
What does that say about me? Brookens said. It probably says I'm the most expendable. I remember one year (1985) I was playing for Sparky (Anderson), and the game went into extra innings, and Sparky needed a catcher.
He looked down the dugout and picked me. I had never caught before, but I figured Sparky thought I was expendable. This kind of feels the same way.
Now that Brookens knows Leyland's feelings, I'm afraid that he will be too gun-shy to send runners and will cost the Tigers runs by worrying about making mistakes. Now a small coaching change has become a bigger situation that will be worth monitoring early on in the season.
Do you think Brookens will be more timid now?