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T.R.'s Memoirs

T.R.’s Memoirs: The Bobby Valentine Era. Part II: Hope fades and ‘V Ball’ comes to an end

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

 

Editor’s note: T.R. Sullivan covered the Rangers for 32 years and is sharing his memoirs exclusively with readers of this newsletter. This week: a two-part history that examines manager Bobby Valentine’s impact in reversing the franchise’s fortunes.

Braves outfielder Hank Aaron made major-league history April 8, 1974, when he hit his 715th career home run, a majestic drive into the Atlanta night off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing.

A national television audience watched as Aaron circled the bases, having passed Babe Ruth to become the new all-time home-run king. The historic baseball landed in the Braves’ bullpen and was caught by left-handed reliever Tom House.

It was House’s one big moment in the national spotlight in an otherwise undistinguished eight-year career. But House, an exceptionally bright person, not only had a degree in marketing and an MBA, he was also working on his doctorate when he landed a job as Bobby Valentine’s pitching coach in 1985.

House was hired May 22, 1985, one week after Valentine had been hired as manager. The two would stay together to the end, the ultimate baseball Odd Couple, and it defied almost all logic that House would last that long.

On one level, it made sense. Valentine possessed a brilliant baseball mind and was more than willing to go beyond the standard baseball thinking in just about any area. In that regard, House was more than his match.

House was the ultimate revolutionary pitching coach. His ideas about conditioning, weight lifting and nutrition, now a daily part of any pitching staff, were unheard of in the 1980s. House didn’t invent the term “biomechanics,” but it became a big part of the Rangers’ program while he was their pitching coach.

Not everybody understood what House was talking about. Well, actually most people did not, although House was more than willing to attempt to explain it to anybody willing to listen.

But House did introduce one training exercise that everybody could understand. House encouraged his pitchers to throw a football in the outfield. House believed that the mechanics involved in throwing a football were similar to that of a baseball.

The baseball establishment, for the most part, didn’t understand House’s concepts of biomechanics. But they did know pitchers throwing a football was absurd. After Rangers pitcher Kevin Brown pitched a complete-game victory over the Yankees on July 21, 1989, opposing manager Dallas Green admitted that the rookie right-hander had a bright future.

“Unless he takes up football,” Green scoffed.

House’s theories might have been more acceptable except …

T.R. Sullivan

T.R. is a Military Brat and graduate of the University of San Francisco who retired in 2020 after a 40-year career with the Denison Herald, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and MLB.Com. He covered the Texas Rangers for 32 years.

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