FORT MYERS, Fla. – How did a Quality Assurance Coach help to push the Tampa Bay Rays past the Red Sox into the World Series? For that matter, what is a Quality Assurance Coach? The answers to both questions require an introduction to new Red Sox first-base coach Tim Bogar.
The 42-year-old spent nine years in the majors for the Mets, Astros and Dodgers, during which time he was known as an outstanding defensive infielder. He retired following the 2001 season and returned to the field as a minor-league manager from 2004-07.
Last year, Bogar became Tampa Bay’s (and, in all likelihood, Major League Baseball’s) first-ever “Quality Assurance Coach” for the 2008 season. The idea for the position was hatched by bespectacled Rays skipper Joe Maddon.
“Quality control meant, more or less, knee-jerk: after something goes wrong, you try to fix it,” said Maddon. “Quality assurance means to stay ahead of your mistakes.”
Bogar contributed to that goal in several fashions. He coordinated spring training, liberating the bench coach from having to assume that substantial responsibility. He helped to coach, at various points during the spring and season, infield, outfield and baserunning.
During the season, he also served as a liaison on the major-league coaching staff with several departments. He was the point of contact for the scouting department and minor-league staffs, helping to relieve the other coaches of administrative duties.
Maddon is of a mind that scouting has become so much more detailed in recent years that the presence of an extra coach to serve as the point-person could be a huge help in allowing the rest of the staff to work with players.
Bogar was thus charged with getting the right information from scouts into the hands of the right coaches and players. Then, during games, he sat in the stands or pressbox to observe the Rays and look for anything that might need to be addressed.
“I would basically scout our own team,” said Bogar. “By doing that, I would be watching our catchers to see if he was catching correctly, watching our second baseman’s positioning, watching how our outfielders are doing things, seeing what the secondary leads of our baserunners were like.
“I would go to those individual coaches—our catching coach, and say I’m seeing this, what do you see?” he continued. “Instead of having something going wrong for two weeks before you noticed it, it was a day or day and a half. We’d fix it.”
Bogar was in regular dialogue not only with the coaches but also with Maddon. The Rays manager encourages all of his coaches to challenge his opinions and to engage in critical dialogue. Because of his above-the-field vantage point, Bogar was able to offer a perspective that the Rays skipper welcomed.
“I was also Joe’s second set of eyes. I’d sit in the stands, watch things, talk to him about it, basically challenge him sometimes to: why’d you make this move? We just had some open conversations.”
Both Maddon and Bogar identified the same conversation as an example of the kind of input offered by the Quality Assurance coach in Maddon’s in-game decision making. And that is where the issue of Bogar’s role in preventing the Sox from reaching the World Series comes into play.
“He really was pushing to get David in a game,” said Maddon. “He was very certain that he’d be fine, and could handle the situation.”
“David” was David Price, the Rays prodigy who had a whopping 14 innings of major-league experience – and none in the postseason – prior to the American League Championship Series.
Bogar advocated using the rookie in any situation. That included the winner-take-all Game 7 between the Red Sox and Rays in the American League Championship Series.
“One of the things that I remembered we talked about was Price pitching in the last game,” said Bogar. “All I did, and I don’t think I was the only one to do it, but I remember distinctly standing behind the batting cage and talking to him, (asking), ‘What do you think about throwing David Price out there?’
“They hadn’t seen (much of) him – new arm; he’s fresh,” said Bogar. “The kid’s bright, he’s going to be able to handle the moment. I don’t think he’s going to fold under pressure.”
Of course, there were potential pitfalls to such a decision. There are some players whose promising careers have derailed completely due to a particularly glaring failure in the postseason. One instance stands out above all others.
“The player that always comes to mind is Rich Ankiel,” Bogar said of the former Cardinals pitcher (now reincarnated as an outfielder) whose control meltdown in the 2000 playoffs ruined his pitching career. “To me, I don’t know Rich Ankiel. I don’t know his mental capacity. I do know David Price. He’s a smart kid. Nothing fazes him. He was going to be fine. It worked out.”
Indeed it did. Maddon summoned Price with the bases loaded and two outs, his team still clinging to a 3-1 lead. Price punched out J.D. Drew, shut down the Sox in the ninth inning and Tampa was on its way to the World Series.
“I’m not saying I had an influence on that,” said Bogar, “but that was one of the conversations that we had.”
In fairness, every Rays coach who had been around Price – including Maddon – was in favor of using Price as the situation dictated. The staff all viewed Price as a player who could make the sort of difference that Frankie Rodriguez did when he was introduced to the world for the Angels en route to the 2002 World Series.
All the same, the Rays and Bogar have little doubt that the Quality Assurance role was a useful one in that instance. The fact that there was a coach who had been part of the conversations with the player development system to figure out what a player could and could not handle offered a useful data point for a decision that ultimately helped propel the Rays to the Fall Classic.
The Red Sox did not hold it against Bogar that he was part of the decision-making process that helped sabotage their visions of a title repeat.
“We talked about it,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “We probably would have pitched (Price), too. He’s pretty good.”
Now, the Sox hope to benefit from the same insight and skills. In addition to coaching first, Bogar is also in charge of infield defense and positioning while helping to organize infield drills this spring.
All the same, while Bogar is now back on the field, he has not forgotten the benefits of having someone occupy the position that he served last year. While his role as a first-base coach is of a more traditional sort, the significance of assuring quality has not been lost.
“Is it surprising that it hadn’t happened till last year? Yeah, I think so,” said Bogar. “I think it’s one of those things that a lot of teams are going to start doing. Having an extra coach on the field to interact between all those departments is nothing but a bonus. It gives you an advantage. It really does.”
Alex Speier is a senior writer for WEEI.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.