Fifty-year baseball vet lends experience to Rockies
Veteran Lachemann should be perfect fit in manager Weiss' first-year staff
As a kid, Rene Lachemann always had his sights set on a career in professional baseball.
At the age of 67, nothing has changed.
Oh, the body parts don't work quite the way they used to, and the reality of life has been driven home, but the desire is still there for Lachemann, who will be making a living wearing a professional baseball uniform for the 50th consecutive season in 2013.
The argument could be made that it's a streak nobody else has ever reached.
Connie Mack did manage the Philadelphia A's for 50 consecutive seasons, but he also owned at least a share of the team for the final 49 years of his managerial career, and he never wore a uniform, opting for a suit and tie in the dugout.
While there are others who have spent more than half a century cashing checks from professional baseball, Lachemann has never been a scout, or an adviser, or a roving instructor. He began his career as a bonus baby with the Kansas City A's in 1964 and has been a player, coach or manager every year since. He has been around so long that he was a teammate of Satchel Paige with the '65 A's.
"That and a quarter can get you a phone call," Lachemann said. "At least I think you can still make a phone call for a quarter. But I am proud of the fact I've been able to stay with it this long. It's really the only thing I never wanted to do."
Lachemann returns to the big leagues as the first-base coach of the Colorado Rockies this spring. His love for the game is underscored by the fact he spent the past five years as the hitting coach for the Rockies' Triple-A Colorado Springs affiliate, the only time he spent out of the big leagues since May 5, 1981.
"I wanted to stay in the game and that was the opportunity I had," said Lachemann. "It was enjoyable. I got to work with a lot of young players and feel like I helped them on their way. I wasn't down there, waiting for a big league opportunity.
"I had my time in the big leagues, 28 as a coach and manager, and two as a player, and if I wasn't going to get any more, it wasn't a big deal. I felt there were things I could still contribute to the game. I didn't mind it at all, except those early morning flights, but that's part of the job."
He is back in the big leagues now, and it's more than merely a reward from the Rockies. He's a perfect fit on the coaching staff of first-year manager Walt Weiss. The two have a strong bond formed when Lachemann was a coach in Oakland during Weiss' first six big league seasons and the manager in Florida in 1993, when Weiss signed with the expansion Marlins as a free agent.
Before computers and spread sheets, Lachemann was a slave to stats and tendencies. He developed thick notebooks filled with spray charts for hitters that included where they hit each pitch, what pitches they hit and what pitches they missed, the count of each at-bat and situations.
"You always want to look for an edge," he said. "You hope you find something you can exploit with the other team, but you also are looking for things that you can use to make your players better players."
That hasn't change with Lachemann, although this year he has a challenge different than any he faced the last 49 years. The former catcher is going to work with the outfielders in addition to coaching first base.
"I've been talking to guys I've managed, coached or played with, looking for ideas," he said. "I've called up guys like Robin [Yount], David [Henderson], even my old roomie, Jim Landis, talking to them about outfield play. I am not here for eye wash. I'm looking to help guys improve. I am excited about the challenge."
Lachemann certainly knows plenty about challenges. He grew up with the A's of Charlie Finley.
He played in the organization for eight years, with the only full big league season coming in 1965, when he had to spend a year on the Major League roster as a 20-year-old because of the bonus baby rule of that era. And then, after never fully regaining his ability at the plate following a beaning in the Minor Leagues, Lachemann managed in Oakland's Minor League system from 1973-77.
He became the first Triple-A manager in the history of the expansion Seattle Mariners in 1978, and then got his first big league managerial shot when he replaced Maury Wills as Seattle's manager on May 6, 1981, two days after his 36th birthday.
It was a tumultuous time with the Mariners, owned by George Argyros, whom Lachemann approached about a new contract after earning his promotion to the big league club.
"You signed a contract last winter to manage in the organization," Argyros told him. "This is part of the organization."
Fired by Seattle midway in the 1983 season, Lachemann got a second managerial opportunity in Milwaukee the next year, and then, after coaching third base in Boston from '85-86 and with the A's from '87-92, he was given a third managerial opportunity, running the expansion Marlins in their '93 debut.
After being let go by the Marlins, he rejoined manager Tony La Russa, a Minor League teammate in the A's system, as a coach in St. Louis from 1997-99, and was on the staff of manager Don Baylor with the Chicago Cubs from 2000-02. He also coached with Seattle ('03-04) and Oakland ('05-07) before joining the Rockies as the Triple-A hitting coach in '08.
There have been challenges.
"I think managing Seattle and Florida, trying to help franchises become established and competitive was a challenge, but an enjoyable one," he said.
And there have been rewards.
"Nothing compares to [Oakland winning] the 1989 World Series," he said. "When you are a kid, playing in the backyard, that's what you dream about. I was a coach, not a player, on that team, but it was still a thrill."
Most of all, there has been that annual opportunity to put on a baseball uniform and make a living.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.