A former St. Louis Cardinals minor league player drafted out of the University of Connecticut, George Greer has been through it all inside both collegiate and professional baseball over the last five decades.
Greer topped out at the Cardinals Triple-A affiliate Tulsa Oilers in 1971, managed by Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn. The outfielder and first baseman's minor league playing career was highlighted by a 21-homer season in 1970 for Modesto (Cardinals High-A Affiliate) and four years prior - Greer thrived in the Pan American Games to help the US National Team triumph over the Cuban National Team for the first time in the Games history.
After calling it a career as a player, Greer began his first of over 30 years of coaching at the college level - beginning with the University of Connecticut-Avery Point in 1972. Greer then had stints with Davidson College from 1981 to 1987 and his final collegiate stop, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, a program he led to a 608-382-4 record over 17 seasons.
Since 2005, Greer has worked in professional baseball, most recently for the New York Mets in a nine-year stint as a hitting coach, including one year managing. Last October, Greer rejoined the Cardinals in a new position as minor league offensive strategy coach and Johnson City Cardinals' hitting coach. This season, he crossed paths with several prominent Cardinals hitting prospects including Magneuris Sierra and Edmundo Sosa after an early-May re-assignment of Patrick Wisdom to extended spring training. Greer led the Johnson City squad to a .263 overall batting average, third-best in the Appalachian League.
In the following exclusive interview, the hitting coach discusses the aspects of baseball he enjoys most, his decision to join the Cardinals, and much more.
Derek Shore: With decades of baseball experience at both college and professional levels, what aspect of the game have you enjoyed most?
George Greer: "I think the aspect of the game I enjoy most is teaching. I went to college to be a teacher. I was trained very well at the University of Connecticut and had a degree in education. I was taught my whole life in baseball and academically; I just really enjoy the teaching aspect.”
DS: You were a popular figure in the New York Mets organization. What made you decide to join the Cardinals once again as a coach?
GG: "I was signed out of college by the Cardinals, played 3 1/2 to 4 years in the minor leagues up to Triple-A, and the Cardinals were kind enough to hire me in 1973 as a player/coach. I've really enjoyed my time with the Cardinals and if I was going to end my career professionally, I wanted to do it with the Cardinals if I could. If I couldn't, the New York Mets were wonderful to me, a great organization. They are doing well right now and I couldn't be happier for them."
DS: Has the Cardinals philosophy changed any, if at all, since you were last with them?
GG: "Of course there's always some changes, but if you look at the way they've done things over the years, the atmosphere that George Kissell created, the people that have carried on the tradition of George's like Mark DeJohn, who has carried it a long time, Pop Warner, Gaylen Pitts and big-leaguers who were touched by George.
"I think it's basically the same. Of course things have changed with the time; it's changed for the better when it had to."
DS: Aside from your hitting coach position with the Johnson City Cardinals, your official title is "minor league offensive strategy coach". What exactly is your responsibility in this role?
GG: "The responsibility is to work with the players from an offensive stance, not to be a play on words there. From an offensive aspect, we report to Derrick May (minor league hitting coordinator), Mark DeJohn (minor league field coordinator) and Gary LaRocque (player development director). Reporting to them what I see so that if there's something I need to do strategically, physically, mechanically, or philosophically we can do it with another set of eyes."
DS: Is your job more about fixing a hitting flaw or teaching about specific situations a hitter will encounter?
GG: "I think you could probably divide it in half. I think it's just like anything else if you flip both sides of a coin and you can say, 'Well you can do this,' or on the other side of the coin, 'Well we want you to do this'.
"You try to balance the act; you can be a biomechanical guy or a philosophical guy also. You can fix swings, maybe fix things strategically that could help us win games for a mindset of the players that would be beneficial for the organization and try to enhance everybody's perspective of the game."
DS: One of your first projects back in extended spring training was Springfield third baseman Patrick Wisdom, who returned to the Texas League and became Player of the Month for June. What did you see in him from day one until his departure?
GG: "I was not really familiar with him. I relied on what folks - the managers, coaches, and coordinators - had seen him before. Then we just sat down and developed a plan of attack. He was willing to do some of the things that I asked him to do, and he was able to do those things and he had success. That doesn't mean you have someone that comes along and doesn't, because you can't fix everybody.
"He (Wisdom) was willing to do some things and I think the people who make assessments and told me what to expect. His willingness to work hard really, really helped his chance of becoming a better player.
"Speaking of fixing swings, Patrick Wisdom can speak to his success and also Travis d'Arnaud of the Mets and perhaps Matt den Dekker of the Nationals can testify to their success also."
DS: How would you describe your season in whole as an offensive strategy coach and hitting coach for Johnson City?
GG: "We had three young men who were really young people: Mags Sierra, Eliezer Alvarez, Edmundo Sosa, along with Chris Rivera who had been a third baseman we were converting over to a catcher and another young man who had signed with other people moving on to extended spring training. With him involved we had to get him into a routine and get him acclimated into professional baseball so that they can move forward with their career development.
"The first three I mentioned: Sierra, Alvarez, and Sosa were all-stars in the Appalachian League which is very, very good here. I don't think you can measure someone's success because they made an all-star team, but you can see the potential they all have and hopefully that will help them move on to reach their potential eventually."
DS: First-year minor league manager Chris Swauger recently told me that sitting next you was a rare opportunity to learn the game from a truly brilliant mind. What was your impression of Swauger's managing over the course of the Appalachian League season?
GG: "He is in the transition of learning the game through a coach's eye rather than a player’s eye. Since I've already done that, I think I was able to help him through those kinds of things, also to try to be a step ahead if he can be, be as proactive as he can, try to nurture, correct, educate as much as possible and a teacher of the philosophy the Cardinals have in their minor league that they want their players to do. He was able to start them do that and he's well on his way, I think."
DS: Obviously the lower levels are more for the development of a prospect than production. How do you approach a teenage kid compared to a Triple-A hitter with several more years of professional experience?
GG: "That's a fine line also. One of the things you do to an amateur player that just signed is you just let them play, sit and watch, and see what they can do because obviously you haven't seen them in a professional organization. The amateur scouts have seen them play, signed them, they have seen the potential. They have seen what they can do and you want to sit back, stand back, you want to watch. Let them have their own style, find out what makes them tick, what buttons to push, those kinds of things you have to be careful with.
"With the older player, he wants to get to the big leagues and will ask you questions, usually. They'll ask you, ‘What do you see? In your experience, what can I do to become a little bit better?’ And that's when you step in and say, ‘Well, you may want to try this, you may want to do this, and you ever tried this before?’ It's a little more dialogue, but the younger players’ dialogue is you certainly sit back and watch and hopefully you don't say something to hurt their development."
DS: Could you give me an impression on a couple of your hitters: Magneuris Sierra (the Cardinals 2014 Minors Player of the Year), second baseman Eliezer Alvarez (led the team in extra-base hits), Edmundo Sosa (flashed power and was a top international signing), Chris Rivera (struggled with average but did make a position change) and Ricardo Bautista (an outfielder from Puerto Rico).
On Sierra: "He's got tremendous potential, he's got all the tools, and he's what we look for in a five-tool player. Sierra is young, he just needed experience and at-bats. He's got such a tremendous attitude and was a joy to be around."
On Alvarez: "Again, he is a five-tool player, really progressed as far as hitting the off-speed pitch better, used the whole field better, and has just really, really progressed. It was just a joy to watch him play this summer and prove. He flashed all the tools that are needed to play. He just needed experience and the more he plays, the better he's going to get."
On Sosa: "Tremendous potential, again a five-tool player, has a chance to move on and have a nice career. He's getting better and better every year. He showed the ability to be coachable. All three showed the ability to be coachable and developed a dialogue to ask questions. They adapted very well and adjusted very well. We call it the three A's which is kind of a play on words, because it's Adapted, Adjusted and Improvise.
"I know that improvise is not an A, but we create it as an 'A' so the guys' remember. They were able to do all those kind of things in situations, they improved, and they were able to do all those kind of improvements in instructional leagues."
On Rivera: "He showed the ability to make the transition from third base to the catching position, and now he just needs the experience to go along with things defensively while still maintaining a level of competency going forward at the plate."
On Bautista: "He's got a lot of tools, a lot of ability. Bautista just needs to play, get at-bats, and experience. He showed it at times, but again when you have players going through the Appy League and playing almost a daily basis then you just need the experience to be able to recognize pitches, to recognize situations, and go to the right base. Defensively he's got all the tools, but again he just needs experience along with other players his age."
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.