Magadan Knows Of What He Coaches

Is there a more difficult task in sports than wielding a clubbed instrument to strike the white laced projectile streaking towards you with varying degrees of velocity and trajectory? Considered among the elite when failing 70 per cent of the time, baseball hitting is the perfect domain for a coaching confidant able to soothe the mental angst and physical flails of a batter.

A hitting coach must befriend, cajole, guide, engage and earn a player's trust because nothing is more personal than instructing an individual on the nuances of improving his batting average.

Batting stances and individual swings outnumber stylish coiffures in a beauty salon catalogue, yet baseball players all seek to captivate the manager's attention by generating productive offensive numbers. So why would anyone think they have the qualifications required to cosmetically intervene with each individual to be effective in the fragile situation so described? Sounds like an audition call for someone who has a favorable history of facing down the game's best pitchers.

Enter David Magadan, the former University of Alabama's career all time highest batting average leader (.439, 1981-83) who believes he can impart enough knowledge to contribute to a team's batting success. Retiring after 15 productive seasons in the major leagues with a lifetime batting average of .289, Magadan talked with 'BAMA Magazine outside the clubhouse at Fenway Park where he is beginning his second year as the hitting coach of the Boston Red Sox.

Developing his batting skills at an early age, the Tampa native sang the praises of his most influential teacher, his father, Joe Magadan. David said, "I think the swing I had when I was 16 years old is the swing I had when I was 26 years old. You make adjustments here and there to whatever league you're in at the time. But for the most part my approach and my basic fundamentals in hitting were given to me by my dad."

Magadan's youth was spent in close proximity to the perfect hitter's laboratory studying some of the finest during spring training as he replied, "I was a big Cincinnati Reds fan since they trained there in Tampa where I'm from. I was a big fan of all those guys, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey, Sr., Dan Driessen and all those guys. I was a big fan of the "Big Red Machine". I skipped school to go see them play at Al Lopez Field in Tampa."

Jesuit High School Baseball Coach, Dave Kent, a 1968 sixth round draftee of the New York Yankees, took over the program Magadan's senior year. Kent had never heard of the tall slender Magadan and wondered about his ability. During the initial meeting with all the potential candidates, Kent threw batting practice and to his surprise Magadan littered the field with multiple line drives. After calling Magadan over to inquire about his name Kent said, "You may have the worst looking stance I have ever seen in my life but I'm not changing anything." Kent who runs a hitting school in the Tampa area professes, "He's still the most pure hitter I've ever worked with." After his career at Jesuit High School, the direction of Magadan's career was filled with uncertainty.

According to Kent, he had to beg and plead to attract the attention of major four year universities even though Magadan was drafted in the 12th round as the 310th overall pick by the Boston Red Sox in 1980. Magadan expressed interest in four schools so Kent devised a plan incorporating a bluff a Las Vegas poker shark would admire. "I called every one of them and told them I have this kid who I think will play in the big leagues one day," Kent said. Knowing Alabama's head baseball coach, Dr. Barry Shollenberger, from his tenure at Tampa Bay Tech High School, Kent called him first and said, "Florida State, Florida and Miami have offered him (Magadan) a scholarship. You haven't even talked to us about him. If you're interested let me know. And then I called Florida State and told them Alabama, Florida and Miami are interested." Spinning the deception like a casino roulette wheel to all four suitors proved to be a successful parlay as Kent explained, "Before we got through with the process, he had scholarship offers from his four choices of Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Miami. He proved me right."

Tuscaloosa proved to be a nurturing environment for the young 17-year-old infielder as Magadan recalled, "Back then, unless you were just a stud, four-year schools went after more junior college guys. I had opportunities to play junior college ball but I wanted to go to a four-year school. I didn't feel like I was ready to go into pro ball and I needed those two and three years to mature as a person and as a baseball player. They gave me the chance to play. I had to prove that I was ready to play."

Magadan's 1983 consensus All America season still represents the milestone year for the Alabama program as he presently holds single season records for batting average (.525), hits (114), doubles (31) and RBI's (95).

The 1983 College World Series in Omaha provided a stage loaded with future stars, notably Barry Bonds (Arizona State) and Roger Clemens (Texas) but the three time All-SEC player's brilliant performance resonated loudly amongst all in attendance.

"Believe me, the talk of the College World Series was David Magadan, Shollenberger said. It wasn't the other guys."

Batting a phenomenal .550 (11 for 20) in five games, Magadan achieved a CWS record by hitting safely in his first eight appearances at bat passing the total of seven consecutive hits achieved by the present day manager of the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona (Arizona 1980). Named the Golden Spikes Award winner which usually recognizes the top collegiate player and the Baseball America Player of the Year in 1983, Magadan led the Crimson Tide to the runner up spot to Texas where he went 2 for 4 with a double and a run scored against the future major league hall of famer, Clemens.

Shollenberger, a former pitcher in the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds organizations raves about Magadan's exploits. "His hitting records that he had especially his junior year (1983) haven't even been approached by anybody. I remember people saying, ‘.525. Come on, what did he have; eight at bats?' It was over two hundred at bats (217). When people see that number, they probably dismiss it out of hand because it's too incredible to comprehend."

Great hitters show supreme reverence for each plate appearance. Shollenberger describes Magadan's last supper mentality. "What I always remember about David and this is true and unusual for a college hitter, is how he approached every at bat. It was precious to him. If we were ten runs ahead or ten runs behind, his at bats were special to him. It didn't really matter what time of the game it was. If he already had three hits in the game, he approached each one the same. He would not give in and he wouldn't chase pitches out of the zone no matter what the situation in the game. That's rare in a college player. I saw those qualities in pro hitters and that's why they were good hitters. Each one was a special occurrence and independent of anything that happened the week before, the day before or even any at bats in that same game. That's really a special quality in a hitter. That's a professional hitter."

Magadan retired as a player at the end of the 2001 season after spending parts of 16 seasons with the New York Mets (1986-92), Florida Marlins (1993-94), Seattle Mariners (1993), Houston Astros (1995), Chicago Cubs (1996), Oakland A's (1997-98) and Padres (1999-2001). In 1,582 career games, he hit .288 (1197-for-4159) with 218 doubles, 13 triples, 42 home runs and 495 RBIs.

Upon retirement from major league baseball, the quintessential line drive hitter had not envisioned his next career move when he was afforded an opportunity in the game he loves. "I got done playing in 2001 and I was approached by the (San Diego) Padres at the time to be a roving minor league hitting instructor (2002). You more or less oversea the hitting programs in the minor leagues. They asked me if I would be interested in doing it and I said why not. I didn't have anything else on my plate. I tried it and I liked it right away. That gave me the bug." He served as the major league hitting coach of the San Diego Padres from the start of the 2003 season until June 15, 2006. Upon his release, he had a new opportunity that reunited him with a friend.

Former Alabama teammate and presently the Vice President of International Scouting for the Boston Red Sox, Craig Shipley, was a significant voice instrumental in the hiring process according to Magadan. "I originally spoke to Theo Epstein, the general manager of the Red Sox. They were on a trip down in Tampa to play the Devil Rays and I met with him there. It opened the door to get me in the organization and expand my role from there. I originally came on as a special assistant to Theo doing double duty with looking at minor league players and getting some experience scouting guys. When the major league season ended in September, they didn't bring back the hitting coach. They approached me about the position and I interviewed for it and the next thing you know I got the job. I'm sure Craig had some good things to say about me and it helped me get the job."

Magadan described the evolution of the present day hitting coach and the strict devotion to one aspect of the game. "When I first arrived in major league baseball, I think the hitting coach was more of a casual position on the coaching staff. Sometimes it was the third base coach and sometimes it was the first base coach. Now there is more attention to detail and it's a year round job. Now you are specifically hired to deal with only the hitters and you have the responsibility to get them going."

Hitting coaches are changed more than a newborn baby's diaper nowadays. Similar to the accountability bestowed on an offensive coordinator in football, the pressures and expectations are part of the territory according to Magadan, "There is a lot more responsibility and you have to answer more to the offense and why guys aren't hitting. You're getting a lot of the blame. When I first came into the league, very few guys were fired because guys were not hitting. They had other responsibilities on the coaching staff."

Editor's Note: This is the 25th anniversary of that 1983 David Magadan-led team that finished second in the nation. The team is having a reunion this weekend in Tuscaloosa, although Magadan will not be able to attend.

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