I will miss Larry Rothschild.
I will miss his slow trudge out to the mound, always looking as if he had just awoken from a dugout nap.
I will miss the way he would cross his arms, roll his eyes skyward and sigh deeply on the relatively rare occasions when he would get stopped in the clubhouse by a reporter seeking enlightenment on the brilliance, or more often, lack thereof, of a particular New York Yankees pitcher.
Most of all, I will miss the way the last two Yankees managers, Joe Girardi for seven seasons and Aaron Boone for the last two, would deflect just about any question regarding pitching with, “I’ll have to ask Larry.’’
That phrase was said so many times it became a running joke around the Yankees beat.
It also became an indication of how much the Yankees relied on Rothschild, who was fired on Monday, to keep their pitching staff in order. Luis Severino’s tipping? Ask Larry. Aroldis Chapman’s velo is down? Ask Larry. Sonny Gray can’t pitch in the Bronx?
Well, no one seemed to have the answer to that one. Just about everything else was referred to Larry.
There is an everyman quality about Larry Rothschild, who lived in Manhattan, took the subway virtually unrecognized — to and from work — and generally looked like a guy who just wanted to be left alone to do his job.
But the truth is, I have no idea what real effect Larry Rothschild, or any pitching or hitting coach, can have on the performance of a major league player, and I never have.
Given the chance, Larry Rothschild could no more have turned Kei Igawa into Sandy Koufax than my editors at Yahoo could turn me into F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Point out minor mistakes? Check. Try to nip a bad habit in the bud? Check. Perhaps identify a mechanical flaw that has crept into an otherwise finely honed delivery? Check.
But either the ability is there, or it isn’t. A coach can tweak it a bit, but he can’t provide it.
He also can’t prevent things like Dellin Betances tearing his Achilles tendon on a celebratory leap, or Domingo German allegedly assaulting the mother of his children at a team function in September.
The argument can be made that those two incidents doomed the Yankees’ postseason run almost as much as Jose Altuve’s walkoff home run.
By the way, Chapman and Gary Sanchez agreed that the correct 2-1 pitch to Altuve in that situation was a slider, Chapman’s second-best pitch. Was that Rothschild’s fault, too?
The point is not to say that Rothschild should have kept his job — sometimes, a staff just needs to hear a new voice, with a different philosophy — but that we all tend to over-credit managers and coaches when things go well, and over-blame them when things go wrong.
The Yankees won 103 games and the AL East this year, and then bombed out in the postseason, and someone has to take the fall. I get it. Coaches are hired, essentially, to take the blame when players fail to perform up to expectations.
I also get why it was Rothschild, and not, say, Marcus Thames, the hitting coach. After all, even beset by injuries, the Yankees’ offense led the AL in runs scored, was second in home runs and in the top three in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Tough to justify firing a guy whose unit did that.
And the truth is, the Yankees’ staff ERA was 4.31 in 2019, the highest it has been since Rothschild took over the pitching in 2011 after Dave Eiland got fired. It also allowed the highest number of home runs, 248, of Rothschild’s tenure.
But again, was that his fault? Or is it more easily attributed to the juiced baseball and the game’s obsession with launch angle, exit velo and all-or-nothing hitters?
And by the way, James Paxton, acquired last winter in a trade with Seattle, looked like Sonny Gray II for the first half of his first season in pinstripes. Then, he won his last 10 regular-season decisions, posted a 1.05 ERA in September and pitched a gem against the Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS.
Does Rothschild deserve any of the credit for turning his season around?
Calls to Rothschild’s cellphone went unanswered Monday, and GM Brian Cashman did not immediately return a call seeking a concrete reason for why it was determined that Larry had to pay for the Yankees’ failure to get to the World Series.
In its place, the team put out a statement, attributed to Cashman — “I want to personally thank Larry for his near decade of commitment to this organization. Larry cares deeply about his craft and the pitchers under his tutelage, and he played a significant role in our successes over the past nine seasons. There’s a reason why Larry has had the type of distinguished baseball career he’s had, and it starts with experience and dedication that is difficult to emulate” — which only made you wonder why the Yankees got rid of him in the first place.
The fact is, both Cashman and Boone downplayed the need to go all-in on starting pitching this winter, even with Gerrit Cole, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Wheeler and possibly Stephen Strasburg on the market.
Maybe Rothschild’s successor, whoever that turns out to be, will get the benefit of working with one of them. And of course, take the blame if the Yankees fail to get to the ever-more elusive promised land.
That is a pitching coach’s job. Really, is there anything more to it?
I’d have to ask Larry.
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