Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lamont Went Yard Early, And Is Still Doing So

He had the most auspicious of major league debuts, the kind that is storybook, even if the book isn't as compelling as you'd like it to be.

Gene Lamont hit a homerun in his very first at bat in the big leagues, on September 2, 1970. It turned out to be the Tigers' lone run in a 10-1 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Lamont has come full circle, now in his second season as the Tigers' third base coach. He's manager Jim Leyland's right hand man so to speak, a former big league manager himself who knows the game as well as anyone.

Lamont's playing career, unfortunately, failed to live up to his first at bat. A catcher, Lamont spread 159 big league AB among five seasons as a Tiger, hitting .233 with three homeruns.

But isn't it so often the poor big leaguer who makes the best brain in the dugout?

Lamont had some success as a major league manager, leading the White Sox to the 1993 and 1994 divisional titles. With the Pirates, Lamont's teams never finished above .500, but he didn't have the talent he had in Chicago, either. The man he followed in Pittsburgh? None other than Jim Leyland, who first met Lamont when the former was a young minor league manager and Lamont was a catching prospect.

Being a third base coach isn't for anyone who's seeking praise and pats on the back. Often, you only get mentioned when something goes wrong, like a runner being gunned down at the plate. But Lamont, I'm telling you, is one of the game's best, mainly because you don't see Tigers runners making many mistakes as they round third, or second.

Believe me, there's more to Lamont's job than this.

Lamont has no eyes on Leyland's job that I'm aware of, but the skipper told a funny story last April about a blown tire he experienced on an Ohio highway.

"I called the team to let them know what happened," Leyland told us reporters gathered around his desk during an informal pregame press conference. "Lamont said, 'He's not OK, is he?'"

It broke up the room.

Lamont hit a homerun in his first at bat in the bigs, and he's still hitting them for the Tigers as a competent third base coach and de facto manager.


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