When Don Mattingly took his managerial talents to South Beach two winters ago, preferring a long-term contract with the Miami Marlins to a short-term deal to stay in Los Angeles, the Dodgers cleared out the coaching staff.
The bench coach, first base coach, third base coach, bullpen coach? All gone.
Not Rick Honeycutt, the Dodgers’ highly regarded pitching coach. The Dodgers signed Honeycutt to a two-year contract, with the understanding he would move into a front-office role thereafter.
When the World Series ends, those two seasons will be up. For now, the Dodgers say they have not decided whether the team will have a new pitching coach next season.
“I’m just worrying about this year right now,” Honeycutt said. “I’m extremely proud of the time I’ve been here.
“I’m enjoying it as much this year as I ever have. I still enjoy what I do.”
The Dodgers led the major leagues in earned-run average this season. They have ranked among the top five in the National League in all but two of Honeycutt’s 12 seasons.
He is particularly close with Clayton Kershaw, who was the Dodgers’ first-round draft pick in 2006, Honeycutt’s first year as the pitching coach. Kershaw arrived in the majors in 2008.
“I've known Honey for a long time,” Kershaw said. “He's the best in the game for a reason. I'm thankful that I haven't had to have any other pitching coach.”
When Farhan Zaidi joined the Dodgers as general manager two years ago, he never had worked with Honeycutt.
“He’s been better and more impactful than I could have anticipated,” Zaidi said.
“We just want to leverage his expertise and experience however we can, with whatever makes the most sense — whether that’s with the big league team, whether that’s in the minors, whether that’s in the draft. Whether he’s back in the same role or he’s back in a different role, that’s a conversation for after the season.
“If there’s mutual interest in him continuing in this role, I wouldn’t rule it out.”
The Dodgers have not demonstrated any urgency in finding a possible replacement for Honeycutt. Two prominent pitching coaches came off the market Thursday, with the St. Louis Cardinals hiring Mike Maddux and the Chicago Cubs hiring Jim Hickey, who had worked with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman with the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Dodgers also afforded Matt Herges, their triple-A pitching coach, the opportunity to accept the job of bullpen coach with the San Francisco Giants.
Honeycutt, 63, has worked under four Dodgers managers. The only major league pitching coaches with longer tenure: Don Cooper, with the Chicago White Sox since 2002, and Darren Balsley, with the San Diego Padres since 2003.
Honeycutt is the answer to this trivia question: When the Dodgers beat the Oakland Athletics in the 1988 World Series — the last time the Dodgers won the World Series — who was the winning pitcher in the only game the A’s won?
“We had a great ballclub,” Honeycutt said. “I just think that we ran into a buzz saw. Orel [Hershiser] and that staff pitched us extremely well. It was a struggle just to get a run. That’s what the postseason can be. Pitching can dominate a series and, obviously, they dominated that series.”
The A’s had won 104 games that season, most in the major leagues, with Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire as the “Bash Brothers.” But, after Canseco hit a grand slam in the second inning of Game 1, the A’s did not score for the rest of that game and did not score at all in the next game.
In all — grand slam included — the A’s scored 11 runs in the five-game series.
“It wasn’t just Orel,” Honeycutt said. “It was really the whole staff: [Tim] Leary and [Tim] Belcher, and the bullpen did an extremely good job also. That’s why you play the game. You can always look on paper and say it should be this or that, but that’s why you play the game. The team that sometimes is the most motivated ends up being the winner.
“I’m sure both teams were motivated, without a doubt. And it’s not that the A’s weren’t trying. In a small way, our guys were a little bit — you almost felt like overconfident.”
At least, that is, until Kirk Gibson hit the hobble-off home run in Game 1, off the supposedly invincible Dennis Eckersley.
“I have to say, that first game, Gibson’s home run did take a lot of steam out of our club,” Honeycutt said. “We felt like we were in control of that ballgame. Then something happened to Eckersley that had basically not happened all year. To lose a game when you’re ahead, late in the game, was obviously very hard to take.”