By Tracy Ringolsby
December 7, 2005
DALLAS–If you want to know what makes Rudy Jaramillo a great coach, you don’t go to Rudy Jaramillo; you go to his students.
Or better yet, go to the record book and look up his students’ accomplishments.
Since Jaramillo took over as the Rangers batting coach for the 1995 season, Rangers hitters have accounted for four of the American League’s 11 MVP award winners. They have 16 Silver Slugger awards, three home run titles, two RBI championships and a batting title. In 2005, the Rangers came within four homers of the all-time team record for a season.
Since Jaramillo took over, the Rangers are one of three teams in baseball to rank in the top five in the three major offensive categories: They are first in homers, fifth in runs and fifth in average.
The numbers speak for themselves. What the numbers say with blunt, raw data, the hitters say in much more eloquent terms.
“Whenever I do something at the plate, I don’t feel so much that I did it, but that ‘we’ did it,” said shortstop Michael Young, the 2005 AL batting champ. “He is the best and most loyal coach I’ve ever been around. He has an innate ability to know what makes players go.”
The long line of accomplishments by his players–and his players’ steadfast belief in his approach–is what makes Jaramillo Baseball America’s first Major League Coach of the Year. The accomplishments aren’t what make him a great coach, though. It’s his methods, which are simple, plain and genuine as the man preaching them.
“It’s a big honor to be recognized this way,” Jaramillo said. “But the most important part is the players. I’ve been blessed to be around great athletes and I just try to help them get the most out of themselves.”
In many ways, Jaramillo’s philosophy on coaching is the same as his philosophy on life.
Work hard. Speak clearly and in plain language (and he can speak clearly in two languages). Be loyal. Believe in others as much as you would in yourself. Be willing to take chances on the underdogs.
It helped propel Jaramillo, now 55, out of Dallas’ tough Oak Cliff neighborhood and onto the University of Texas baseball team. The work ethic, more than pure talent, got him a four-year minor league stint in the Rangers organization.
His belief in himself–and the underdog–led him to talk his way into a coaching job at the very bottom rung of the Rangers’ farm system, where the pay was miniscule. In 1983, it didn’t matter: Rudy Jaramillo was coaching hitting. He’s never stopped.
He’s about to begin his 12th consecutive season guiding Rangers hitters, tying him for fourth among all major league coaches for consecutive service to one team. He’s survived an ownership change, two GM switches and, amazingly, he’s now working for his third different manager with the Rangers.
The reason he’s stuck through all that change is that he loves hitting, lives to teach it and he gets results.
Even now, during the winter, the highest-paid hitting instructor in the game takes private lessons with Dallas-area kids. He produced a DVD on his approach to hitting. He’s willing to talk about it to anyone at anytime. And the amazing thing is he talks it in such simple terms anybody can understand it.
“He doesn’t try to cookie-cut your swing,” said Rangers first baseman Mark Teixeira, who has seen his season home run totals progress from 26 to 38 to 43 in his three seasons with Jaramillo. “He learns your swing and adapts his philosophies to your swing. At this point, Rudy knows my swing better than I do.
“Whenever something is not right, he’s able to adjust me mentally and physically very quickly because everything is so easy to understand.”
There is truth to that statement. Jaramillo’s career is full of success projects who have anything but a textbook swing.
He was squatty Jeff Bagwell’s first major league hitting instructor in Houston and Bagwell often says Jaramillo paved the way for him to become a major power threat. When he left Houston after four seasons and returned to the Rangers, he inherited Mickey Tettleton’s quirky close-to-the-body swing and the mystery that was the unlocked power in Lee Stevens’ bat. Both resurrected their careers with the Rangers.
He also got moody Juan Gonzalez to produce numbers like he never produced before or after. And Ivan Rodriguez morphed from a catcher with lightning in his arm to a hitter with thunder in his bat.
And there are plenty of other more recent success stories, including Gary Matthews Jr., Rod Barajas and David Dellucci. All three were considered marginal offensive players at best with other clubs, but have risen to new heights with Jaramillo.
Jaramillo has developed five keys to help hitters, whether they are 9 or 25: rhythm; see the ball; separate your hands; stay square; shift weight. Essentially it comes down to two key components: Separation and recognition. Or in even simpler terms: See the ball, hit the ball.
“All it is about is timing and improving your odds,” Jaramillo said. “If you put the work in and develop the muscle memory, you don’t have to think up there. You are in a good position to hit whatever is thrown. You work hard and when the game begins, it’s there for you.”
By preaching proper separation of the upper and lower body, Jaramillo gets hitters in a better hitting position earlier. It keeps them from lunging for balls and it gives them a fraction of a second more to recognize the pitch. An extra fraction of a second in the big leagues can make all the difference between fouling a ball off or driving it into the gaps.
Perhaps the best example of how well the approach works is Young. In 2001, he was coming off a rookie year in which he dazzled with his glove at second base, but otherwise didn’t impress incoming GM John Hart. He hit just .249 and struck out every 4.24 at-bats.
While manager Jerry Narron and Jaramillo insisted Young would develop into an adequate or better hitter, Hart was unimpressed. But the manager and coach won the battle and Young has been improving ever since. He jumped to .262 in 2002, to .306 in 2003 and to .313 in 2004. Last season, he became the first Ranger since Julio Franco in 1991 to capture the batting title. He hit .331 with a league best (and Ranger record) 221 hits. It was his third consecutive 200-hit season.
“Having Rudy in my corner was huge,” Young said. “As much as I believed in myself and thought I had confidence, knowing that he believed in me too really helped. He always told me what I could do.
“Now it’s to the point of being second nature. But he’s still the first guy I see in the clubhouse every day and we go over my approach. We’re so much on the same page; it’s a lot of help.”
It’s not just that they are on the same page philosophically. The philosophy, combined with the talent, has turned Michael Young into one of the most complete hitters in the AL.
He’s the just the latest example of a player who has maximized his talent while working with Jaramillo. But the list is pages long.
Those successes, more than any honors, are what make Jaramillo the best coach in the major leagues.