Dave Hollins Talks Coaching, Abreu and "Mikey"

Dave Hollins stands on a baseball field, concentrating completely and focusing his attention in the intense way that Phillies fans remember well. He is no longer looking for a pitch to hit, but studying his "students", on the Binghamton Mets. Hollins, now Binghamton's hitting coach, is certainly strange for a die hard Phillies fan. Especially considering, you know, he's working for the Mets. A guy's gotta work, and that guy has baseball running through his veins.

Spending time talking with Hollins, I felt all of his passion for the game and how well he knows and understands it. Hollins' toughness and intensity were legendary in Philadelphia when he played here, and people have not forgotten the guts he had showed during his Phillies career (1990 to 1995 and briefly in 2002). He garnered genuine respect from the guys who went to the bar after a long day at work at the shipyard, Pepsi plant or driving a truck. It meant something to those people, whose blue collar, you-do-what-you-gotta- do attitude leaves them with little patience for prima donna players. Dave Hollins was certainly no prima donna.

How intense of a player was he? Larry Bowa, who was both third base coach and manager during Hollins time in Philadelphia, once said of Hollins "He is the most intense player I've ever seen play the game." Not Pete Rose, not Steve Carlton, both of whom he won a World Series with, but Dave Hollins. Today Hollins cites Bowa as an influence "My two most important influences, were John Vukovich and Larry Bowa. They taught me how to play the game and the little things about the game that I didn't know; they were my first real teachings of the game." Said Hollins. "Darren Daulton, Krukie [John Kruk] and [Lenny] Dykstra who were the veteran players," were also huge influences.

Dave Hollins attended both the University of Buffalo and the University of South Carolina on a baseball scholarship, after graduating from Orchard Park High School where he was the quarterback on the football team. He insisted that he was, "a better football player than baseball player," and when I asked him if his background playing football influenced the way he played baseball, he said it may have. "I didn't have the same skills as some of the guys in baseball. I had to work harder and be more intense. Where as a guy like Bobby Abreu is so talented and is the best left-hander that I've seen, watching him for awhile. He just has so much talent and hand eye coordination, that the game almost seems easy even if it's not. I had to work hard just to keep my job every year. That's where the football mentality tied in."

Hollins was a seventh round draft pick by the San Diego Padres in 1987. The Phillies drafted him off the San Diego triple A roster in 1989, and he made his major league debut the following year. The switch-hitting Hollins was the first Phillie to get pinch-hit homeruns from both sides of the plate. In 1992 he improved his batting average to .298 and a slugging percentage of .510, the highest of his career. Hollins describes himself as "a line drive guy," and "a run producer, I scored runs, I drove in runs", and in 1992 he drove in 93 and got 158 hits, his career best at that point. When I mention how badly the Phillies finished that year he reminds me that, "Most people don't know we led the league in runs scored that year."

1992 was a year that, aside from the fact that I developed a crush on him as a teenager, I recall Hollins charging the mound during one late September game against the Chicago Cubs in which he had gotten plunked, knocked to the ground and rose like the Phoenix; he looked like the Tasmanian Devil as he ran with full-speed, at pitcher Bob Scanlan. Ran isn't even accurate...it was more like sprinted.

Pitcher Curt Schilling said of Hollins that year, "When he's 0-5 I don't go near him. He scares me." Hollins did have reason to go a bit nuts in that Cubs game, though. He'd been hit 19 times that year, which led sportswriters to give him their own nickname, "the human dartboard."

Make no mistake; Hollins passion and dedication to winning were what drove his tough as nails playing style, and his teammates respected him for that.

That playing style was fostered and cultivated early in life. Upon joining Little League, Hollins father told his coach, "If he gives you any trouble, you have my permission to smack him." He told me things are very different now. "I mean, today it's the complete opposite. These guys playing today, when they played in little league nobody was able to yell at them."

Hollins developed a steely reserve and temperament that eventually earned him a nickname, with his Phillies teammates. "Mikey", was the name given to Hollins so-called evil twin, "That was Krukie's doing," he explained. That other side of him led Darren Daulton to say, "You stay away from Mikey. He'll kill you, just as soon as look at you."

When I asked him about the nickname he heartily laughed and said, "It was just the way I played the game. It was the way I had to play to perform. It might have been overdone at times," he allowed but, "it was the way I needed to prepare and [it was also] to let people around me know how serious I was about winning." Hollins explained that he just "didn't like to blow things off, and say ‘We'll get ‘em tomorrow."

He adamantly stated, "If you start accepting losing, you will lose. And losing was so unenjoyable to me; I didn't want to be on a losing team. [I] kept everybody around me knowing if you're not playing hard and trying to win for the team, you were gonna have a problem with me."

"I was a better hitter than I was a fielder, but I think being aggressive...getting your pitch, looking for your pitch, getting a good swing at it and being ready to hit was the key. A lot of guys today, aren't ready when they get in the box."

In the off-season of 1992 the Phillies went to work to improve their ball club, and a major part of that was improving pitching. Hollins pointed to the fact that, "They made Curt Schilling a starter," as well as "acquired Danny Jackson, we got a couple veteran bullpen pitchers, and we kept our offense in tact. We had the pitching to go with that kind of offense, and that was it. We knew if we had pitching we'd be able to win, because we were scoring a lot of runs every night."

The Phillies 1993 season started strong, with Tommy Greene going 10-0 and Curt Schilling becoming what Hollins called, "the best big-game pitcher I saw in a long time." The Phillies knew they had given themselves a chance to dominate the National League. That team would be in first place of the NL East, all but one day the entire season.

"[1993] was the best year in baseball I ever had, period; beating Atlanta at home to win the NLCS...hitting a homerun off [Greg] Maddux, for me personally [were highlights]. Clinching the NLCS in front of 60,000 people [at home] is the fondest memory." He also gave credit to the coaching staff and manager Jim Fregosi who he said, "was the perfect guy to manage that team." Overall he said, "It was something that went by too quickly."

My favorite story from that year involves Hollins and catcher and captain of the team Darren Daulton; Daulton pulled Hollins aside once and confronted him after what he felt was poor playing that embarrassed him. Daulton infamously told Hollins, "I couldn't sleep last night just dreaming about fighting you." The reason it is my favorite, is Hollins response. He told "Dutch" to hit him, and that he deserved it. To me, it is the perfect example to sum up the kind of man Hollins was as a player. "That's how much [Daulton] cared about the team," Hollins once said of the incident.

Hollins and that team also understood fans of the Phillies, who loved the 1993 team perhaps even more than the World Series winning team 13 years before. "You have to win to get the fans to feel that way about you, and we all knew that playing. We weren't as talented as the ‘80 team that won the whole thing, but we were more down to earth guys. You're talking about a bunch of Hall of Famers on that [1980] team, and we weren't that kind of team."

He said they embraced the fans, and that made them special to the people of Philadelphia. "We would go in the city, have beers after the game, hang out with the fans, and talk to them after the games, during games. And then got out there and played." Appearances may have added to their "everyman" image also. "We were an unruly group. We had long hair and beards, I think the hardworking people of Philadelphia related to us. And by winning and combining that with a winning team, you have a team that drew the most fans in Phillies history, which I'm proud of."

The Phillies season ended with joy, then disappointment. The fans, however, have never forgotten how hard that team worked; they inspired hope in cynical, dejected Phillies fans for the first time in so long.

Hollins played for three more years in a Phillies uniform, before being traded to Boston. There is a story I was afraid to ask him about, I was told happened just before he was traded. It has added to the legend, shall we say. The story goes that Scott Rolen, the Phillies golden, homegrown boy groomed to take over third base from Hollins had the audacity to bring his family on the field before a game, to give them the "tour" of what would become his home. Hollins was said to have taken it as an example of disrespect, and so the tale goes told Rolen to "get out of here," with a vulgar word included. Phillies fans just love that story, true or not.

Hollins bounced around quite a bit over the next several years, with stints in Anaheim and Cleveland. He had two productive seasons with the Anaheim Angels, and in 1997 he notched 165 hits, scored 101 runs and drove in 85 runs. Hollins spent the 2000 and 2001 seasons in the minor league system, before returning to the major leagues with Cleveland; then it was back to Philadelphia for the 2002 season as a reserve infielder, after Cleveland granted him free agency. That would turn out to be a season of hard knocks for the Philly favorite, but hard knocks were certainly no stranger to Hollins. He'd battled through the 1994 and ‘95 seasons with the Phillies, after being diagnosed with diabetes and several wrist injuries. He got the diabetes under control, and came back to have that excellent ‘97 season with the Angels.

In spring of 2002 he suffered what turned out to be a life changing injury, a spider bite in his left knee that would aggravate his diabetes and turn the season into a grueling struggle. Not one to give up, Hollins battled on splitting playing time between Scranton and Philadelphia to try and get on track. In May of that year, then Phillies manager Larry Bowa did not sound hopeful. "His blood pressure was real high, and his healing process is slowed by the diabetes. I'm sure this could threaten his career."

Hollins finally retired at the age of 37, with the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in 2003. Hollins finished his career with a .260 batting average, 870 hits, 482 RBI and a .420 mark in the all-important slugging percentage, in a storied, blood, sweat and tears (okay, maybe not tears)12 year career.

Of his minor league coaching career so far, Hollins said, "I enjoy it. You try to toughen them up a little bit, but realize the game has changed. You have to tweak it a little, and know who you're working with." As for whether or not he is as tough a coach as he was a player, he told me, "I pick my spots when I need to turn it up a notch. You're trying to prepare them. And part of that is the mental part of the game, the mental toughness so they can handle the pressure."

He said the goal he is working toward is to be a, "major league coach, so this is the training you need."

Dave Hollins is an example of a true, heart and soul baseball player who pushed himself to the limit to be the best he could be, and gave everything he had to the sport. In the end, maybe the twin wasn't so "evil." Maybe he was just damn smart.

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