Newberg Report: 1990 89ers, Coach Station
Oklahoma City club featured over a dozen future coaches
When the story is told of the final of the Oklahoma City franchise's 28 seasons as a Texas Rangers affiliate, the main characters will probably be Michael Kirkman and Mitch Moreland and Alexi Ogando, who starred on the way up; Chris Davis and Derek Holland and Pedro Strop, who made big contributions after coming back down; and Tanner Scheppers, whose first pro season ended just short of the big leagues. The RedHawks suited up 56 players in 2010, reaching the Pacific Coast League playoffs for the second time in three years.
The story of the Oklahoma City club that took the field at All Sports Stadium 20 years ago, when they were still called the 89ers, seemed far less compelling at the time, but in hindsight there was something staggering about that 1990 club, which posted a miserable 58-87 record, finishing 27.5 games back in the Western Division of the American Association.
Twenty-year-old Juan Gonzalez drove in 101 runs in just 128 games, prompting his big league debut that summer, but that wasn't the most remarkable thing about that club, nor was Dean Palmer's underwhelming Triple-A debut or the 14 losses that Mark Petkovsek managed to rack up or the roster spot devoted to right-hander Jeff Bronkey, the only former big leaguer born in Afghanistan.
On a club managed by Steve Smith - who would coach third base in Texas 12 years later -- the roster was full of future coaches.
The 89ers' pitching staff wasn't very good, but in its bullpen were future big league pitching coaches Brad Arnsberg, Randy St. Claire, and Wayne Rosenthal, each of whom served in that role for the Marlins, which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that Oklahoma City was then owned by current Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria (Arnsberg, in fact, was also the pitching coach in Montreal when Loria owned the Expos).
Three of Oklahoma City's catchers went on to coaching careers: John Russell, who now manages the Pirates; Chad Kreuter, who was USC's head coach until last month; and Mike Berger, who was an 89ers player/coach from 1991 through 1993 and managed Low A Charleston in 1995 before embarking on what's now been a 15-year run as a pro scout.
Infielders Steve Buechele, Scott Coolbaugh, Gary Green, and Dave Engle all went on to manage in the minor leagues. So did outfielder Nick Capra, who is now the minor league field coordinator for the White Sox. Fellow outfielder Darryl Motley never managed, but he did serve as batting coach for the Kansas City T-Bones of the independent Northern League until this season.
And then there was the utility infielder on that Oklahoma City club, who at age 38 was a year older than the team's manager and who had the fourth-most at-bats of anyone on the roster, even though he hit only .238 and drew just five walks in what would be the final 364 plate appearances of his 20-year pro career.
He might have been the least productive player on a bad minor league team, but on a club with an extraordinary number of future managers and coaches, Ron Washington has since risen to a level in this game as a coach that none of the others can claim.
Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, www.NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.