The Twins were so financially strapped in 1974 and 1975 that owner Calvin Griffith limited manager Frank Quilici to three coaches: pitching coach Bob Rodgers, first base coach Vern Morgan and third base/hitting coach Ralph Rowe in 1974, and pitching coach Lee Stange, Morgan and Rowe in 1975.
Gene Mauch replaced Quilici as manager after the 1976 season. Mauch insisted on four coaches, in order to bring in his right-hand man, Jerry Zimmerman, as the bullpen coach. He joined player-hitting coach Tony Oliva, pitching coach Don McMahon, and Eddie Lyons as the third base coach.
Lyons had been a scout for 18 years, thus far removed from being in uniform. He was a pal of the Griffiths from many visits to Met Stadium as a scout, and Mauch was convinced to give Eddie a shot at third base.
I was the beat writer for the St. Paul newspapers and had shared enough postgame beverages in the Twins hospitality room with Lyons to consider him a great guy.
Unfortunately, the gaffes at third base in exhibition games occurred with enough regularity that Lyons’ coaching already was being questioned by the middle of March. We would attach a few notes at the end of the daily Twins features and “Lyons’ latest’’ became a regular item in the afternoon Dispatch.
One day in Orlando, Eddie was almost KO’d by a line drive and severely twisted a knee in getting out of the way. He was determined to do this, though, and hobbled through the rest of spring training and into the regular season.
On April 19, in the ninth game of the season, the Twins lost 2-0 in Boston. The Red Sox were playing back with Rod Carew at second and Jerry Terrell at third in the sixth inning. A ground ball was hit to shortstop and Terrell didn’t break for home.
Lyons was seen solemnly leaving Mauch’s office after a postgame meeting. Four days later, Mauch announced that Lyons was being moved off third and the manager himself would coach third base.
In early May, Joe Nossek was hired to replace Lyons. Poor Eddie had knee surgery that month and then returned to scouting.
There is nothing to compare with third base coaching in North America’s four major sports. You can call an offensive play in football and hope that it works. You can bellow out instructions from a basketball sideline, and hope that the target of said instruction is listening. Bob Motzko can draw up his power play for the weakside opening, but it’s still going to be 25 percent at best.
Only in baseball can you put a coach basically on the field, and with waving or halting arms, decide during a key fraction of time whether to win a game, or lose a game, or to put the outcome on hold for the next batter.
Third base coaches are baseball’s version of the offensive coordinator, in this sense: Once you have erred badly in the view of the public (and/or media) and deemed unworthy of trust, there is very little chance for redemption.
You can become more than a punch line. You can become a verb.
In Minnesota, three decades ago, the Vikings offense wasn’t snookered — it was Schnelkered. In Boston and on the North Side of Chicago, the Red Sox and Cubs scoring chances weren’t waylaid — they were Wendell-ed.
Those are my two favorite fan bases in baseball: Red Sox and Cubs. Not because they care more than fans of the Cardinals, Dodgers or Yankees, but because they don’t forget. Even with recent championships, they are haunted by past failures.
In honor of the rocky weekend for the Twins’ Tony Diaz, I texted ball-writing friends in Boston and Chicago and asked if there was a third base coach of legend that still draws head shakes from Red Sox and Cubs fans.
I received answers from both. And both answers were, “Wendell Kim.’’
Kim coached third for the Red Sox from 1997 to 2000 and third for the Cubs in 2003 and 2004. That was his last big-league job. Sadly, Wendell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years later and he died in 2015 at age 64.
Still, he lives at both Fenway Park and Wrigley Field as Wavin’ Wendell (also, Wave-'em-in Wendell and Windmill Wendell) — both for the exuberance of his waving arms on that 5-foot-5 frame, but also for decisions gone bad.
The Twins’ Diaz is in his first season coaching third base in the big leagues. He had tried to send slow C.J. Cron a while back and got him thrown out by 15 feet. There had been a few other mystifying “sends,’’ and then came this past weekend:
Diaz had Cron thrown out at the plate on Saturday night, when the only chance for C.J. to score would have been a small meteor landing on Yasiel Puig in right field as he was preparing to throw home. And then on Sunday, Diaz had Ehire Adrianza thrown out easily in the bottom of the ninth — and a 7-3 loss to Cleveland followed.
These were Two Days in August that earned Diaz a place in Twins’ infamy, and also a nickname. As proven by Wavin’ Wendell, alliteration and the idea of movement are very important in creating a third base coaching legend.
My nomination is Turbo Tony. I’ve also seen Turnstile Tony, which is a contender. Further nominations will be accepted.