Sunday, February 14, 1999
Gullett resurrects arms
Once a star pitcher, Gullett now a star coach
BY CHRIS HAFT
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Reds are counting on Gullett as much as Barry Larkin, Greg Vaughn or any of their key players as they approach spring training, which opens Tuesday when pitchers and catchers report to camp in Sarasota, Fla.
Typically, Gullett is quieter than a catcher's signals. My dad always told me you learn more if you keep your mouth shut, he said recently.
But the results he has generated as the Reds' pitching coach since 1993 loudly proclaim his value to the organization.
Gullett will address numerous issues this spring. Steve Avery's slashing deliveries must be recaptured. Jason Bere's resurgence must be sustained. A bullpen ace's identity, between Danny Graves and Gabe White, must be claimed or shared.
The Reds believe in Gullett's potential to turn one or more of these projects into a success.
In all my years in baseball, there's no doubt in my mind he's the finest pitching coach I've been around, said Reds manager Jack McKeon, who's entering his 50th year in the professional ranks. He has the right temperament.
One of the reasons (General Manager) Jim Bowden feels he can go out and take chances on pitchers is that Gully will help them get over the hump with whatever problems they've been having, said former Reds manager Davey Johnson, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And he learned more about what worked with people after suffering a heart attack in 1986 and having triple bypass surgery in 1990.
I used to have a tough temper, where I'd let it all hang out, said Gullett, 48. But since I had the problem with my heart, I think I've calmed down to a great extent. I think the worst thing you can do (in dealing with pitchers) is show too much emotion or urgency.
Gullett uses words as if they were pitches, issuing as few as possible yet striving for maximum effect with each.
The biggest thing about Gully is that he's a tremendous communicator, said Brantley, now with Philadelphia, who set a Reds record with 44 saves in 1996. He's not a talkative guy. But for a guy like me, interested in talking pitching every day, that was right down his alley. He helped me stay focused on all the things I wanted to do. With my Type A personality, his calm presence kept me on an even keel.
Though Gullett is fluent in the pitching coach's language of release points and arm angles, he can convey ideas that even a baseball novice would comprehend.
Shaw, now with Los Angeles, remembered a spring-training throwing session in 1996 when he struggled to finish his slider make it slice across the strike zone and out of it at the proper time. Gullett advised Shaw to throw his slider as if he wanted it to break through the catcher instead of around home plate. It'll actually break before (it reaches the catcher), but if you have that mentality, it'll be a lot sharper and quicker, said Shaw, whose career ERA before that season was 4.50. Since then, it's 2.34.
Because much of Gullett's gospel involves challenging hitters I try to teach as much aggressiveness as possible, he said his message to a pitcher may simply be a verbal pat on the back to strengthen his resolve.
Harnisch, who pitched only 10 games in the majors in 1997 while wrestling with attacks of insomnia and anxiety, recalled meeting Gullett last spring before workouts began. Gullett expressed his admiration for Harnisch's daring style of testing hitters with high fastballs and urged him to continue throwing that way.
He could have said, "Well, you don't quite have the same fastball anymore; let's try to keep it down,' Harnisch said. But he was totally positive. That was a big thing mentally. If he said, "Let's go in a different direction,' then your frame of mind is, maybe I've been wrong.
Wrong is a word Gullett probably would avoid. He prefers to refine instead of revamp his pitchers, believing that enhancing their existing assets will accomplish more.
You have what you have, Gullett said. I think a lot of people don't realize that you learn to throw a baseball when your mom and dad roll that first one to you when you're big enough to pick it up and toss it. That's the time to change them drastically to throw the ball picture-perfect.
Understanding that each pitcher is unique enables Gullett to avoid shaping them in his own image. Though he was known for his searing fastball, he said, You don't necessarily have to throw 95 miles an hour to get people out.
One pupil who heeded this advice was Schourek. I didn't throw as hard as he (Gullett) used to, but I thought I did, the lefthander said with a laugh. I wanted to give maximum effort all the time and he taught me that really wasn't the best thing to do.
Gullett does draw upon the shoulder problems that worsened in his final two seasons to counsel pitchers through the pain they inevitably endure.
I benefit from that a lot in regards to identifying with what pitchers are going through, not only from the physical aspect but also the mental aspect of what an injury can do, he said. You really find out some things about yourself if you can pitch and have success when you're hurting.
Gullett believes pitchers can't excel until they've achieved self-knowledge.
To Gullett, though pitching isn't a constant process, studying its art should be.
I try to tell my guys that every ballgame they should learn two or three things, Gullett said.
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THE GULLETT FILE
Born: Lynn, Ky.
Resides: South Shore, Ky.
Family: He and wife Cathy have three children, Don Jr. (8-11-71), Tracey (11-17-74) and Angela (2-12-80).
Early career: Three-sport star at McDell High where he threw a perfect game, striking out 20 of 21 batters; scored 72 points in a football game; scored 47 points in a basketball game.
Private business: Was out of baseball from his retirement in 1978 to 1990.
Yr Team W-L ERA 70 Reds 5-2 2.42 71 Reds 16-6 2.64 72 Reds 9-10 3.94 73 Reds 18-8 3.51 74 Reds 17-11 3.04 75 Reds 15-4 2.42 76 Reds 11-3 3.00 77 Yanks 14-4 3.59 78 Yanks 4-2 3.63 Total 109-50 3.11THE COACH
In his seventh season as member of Reds coaching staff.
Named pitching coach on May 24, 1993; began that season as bullpen coach.
Coached in Reds' minor league system previous three seasons.
Was pitching coach at Class AA Chattanooga in 1990 and Class AAA Nashville in 1991.
Was roving minor league pitching instructor in 1992.