03/04/12 8:42 PM EST
Third watch: Teufel steps into the box
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
Larry Bowa coached third for three years (1997-99), with the Angels; he has a similar "push it" pedigree. The Angels' manager during that period was an aggressive fellow named Terry Collins, who still smiles when he speaks of Bowa's run-run regimen.
"I'm not kidding when I say Larry could get us five extra runs in a week," Collins says.
Moreover, Collins is the one who describes Jim Leyland, who served as the White Sox third-base coach in the early 1980s, as "a man with no stop sign," and he endorses that approach.
Tim Teufel is the Mets' third-base coach this year, the successor to Chip Hale, who has taken his pedal-to-the-metal approach to the A's.
Collins, Bowa, Hale and Leyland, among others, wore their aggressiveness on their sleeves, and that's what Teufel is up against in his return to the big leagues; third-base coaches with gunslinger mentalities, and the predatory arms of National League outfielders.
Though assignments as a Minor League manager have afforded him significant experience as a third-base coach, Teufel has neither a philosophy nor big league stripes on his sleeve. His canvas is blank.
Collins had two options when Hale departed, both good ones -- Teufel or Teufel's one-time second-base partner with the Mets, Wally Backman, who is to manage the club's Triple-A Buffalo affiliate this year. Teufel, who was the Buffalo manager in 2011, moves to Citi Field. Both positions -- Triple A manager and big league third-base coach -- are, generally speaking, considered stepping stones to a managerial role in a Major League dugout, but that's a scenario for another time.
The scenario playing out in the Mets' camp has Teufel, 53 and in the Mets' Minor League employ for 10 of the last 11 years, studying his own players and the tendencies of opposing players in preparation for a more demanding assignment and, possibly, pumping up his aggression.
Teufel doesn't come across as a Collins, Bowa or Hale -- no growling, snarling and chomping. But neither did Willie Randolph during his years as the Yankees' third-base coach, nor did Gene Lamont, Leyland's trusted third-base coach with the Tigers and elsewhere, or the Cardinals' Jose Oquendo.
"I think I'm pretty aggressive," Teufel says. Then he pauses and qualifies his statement: "You want to be sensible and aggressive. ... It's not a good feeling to get a guy thrown out."
At the same time, he knows that having a runner thrown out is often the price of being aggressive at third.
Says Collins: "I want some guys thrown out. If no one gets thrown out, that means you're not pushing it. You've got to push it."
Collins scoffed when told that Lance Johnson, the Mets' triple threat before Jose Reyes, occasionally bragged about never being thrown out a third on an attempted three-base hit.
"If that's true," he said, "that means he didn't take chances, and you have to sometimes."
And the other side of it is what Randolph said during his run with the Yankees: "Sometimes it's a no-win situation. You're condemned if a guy gets thrown out, or you go unnoticed if he makes it."
Teufel is familiar with that concept; so, too, is Collins, who says he doesn't micromanage his coaches.
"They're out there," says Collins. "They see a play developing. They've got a decision to make very quickly."
He knows; he's been there.
Preparation matters, of course, so Teufel familiarizes himself with opposing personnel, mostly the outfielders. He studies film in the same way an NFL defensive coordinator does.
"You can't know too much," he says, knowing that the best place to learn is in that lime-marked rectangle near third base.
It was there that Mike Cubbage, the Mets' third-base coach from 1991-96, learned to take chances against the powerful and feared arm of Dodgers' right fielder Raul Mondesi.
"We know he's got as good an arm as anyone in the league," Cubbage said one night in Los Angeles in 1993. "But you watch. His throws don't bounce, they don't come up, they stay down and handcuff the catcher."
The Mets scored runs in consecutive games in that series despite unfavorable circumstances when Mondesi retrieved the ball.
No matter. Teufel must become knowledgeable about all the arms -- pedestrian and powerful -- and which outfielders get good jumps, have quick releases, make accurate and well-conceived throws. He already has a list of which opposing outfielders play keep-away with the cutoff men.
And Teufel must be aware of game situations, as do his baserunners. Balls hit from the left-field line to the gap in right-center must be read by the runner, not only his third-base coach.
"You want get a reputation for being aggressive," Teufel says, "so that you get outfielders rushing to get the ball or to get rid of it. That's when mistakes happen and you might get the hitter an extra base."
The job isn't as easy as it looks. Moreover, danger is involved. Teufel knows the potential peril of a line drive hit by David Wright or Jason Bay -- "heat-seeking missiles," he calls them. And then there's the left-handed hitter's slice.
"[Josh] Thole is going to get me. He's out to get me," Teufel says, adding, "But it's the ones that hook and chase you. Jason hit those. I hate hooks." With that, Teufel flipped a batting helmet in the air, caught it and put it on his noggin.
"Protection," he said.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.