Ex-Sox Gedman likes role as coach; Former catcher instructing hitters

This story was published on July 29, 2003 on Page C4 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

ORONO – Richard Leo Gedman Jr. still visibly winces whenever anyone mentions the 1986 season in his presence.

To his credit, however, he doesn’t flee from the subject of Boston’s last dream season. He addresses it like it was a Roger Clemens fastball and takes a hearty cut.

“It’s probably more like a nightmare,” Gedman said wryly during a recent road trip to play the Bangor Lumberjacks at Mahaney Diamond. “I think the further I’m out of the game, the easier it is to comprehend it. The thing is, at least I was there in a game of that magnitude.”

It is experiences like that and his love for the game which kept Gedman in baseball even after his 13-year major league career ended in 1992. It’s why the Worcester, Mass., native went from big league player to high school coach and, after serving as an assistant coach at Belmont Hill Prep School in Massachusetts for seven years, it’s also why he answered the call back to pro ball.

Now 43, Rich Gedman is back in the minors for the first time since his rookie year at Boston in 1980. Instead of catching for the Pawtucket Red Sox in triple A ball, he’s now a hitting/bench coach for the North Shore Spirit of the independent Northeast League.

“I got a call out of the blue and the owner was telling me about his idea to bring a team to Lynn [Mass.],” Gedman explained. “It’s hard when you’ve been out 10 or 11 years. You don’t know as many people and it seems like the longer you’re away, the more you forget, but I wanted to get back in somehow and here was an open door.”

It may seem strange to some that the man who became known more for his unorthodox, one-handed “helicopter” batting stroke than his two big league All-Star seasons and pivotal role in Boston’s drive to the 1986 American League pennant would be working as a hitting coach.

“It does and it doesn’t. Most of them remember the ugly swings of when I was swinging one-handed … off way too early, but I don’t preach that,” said the 6-foot, 215-pound-plus Gedman who looks fit, but says he weighs “too much” and is “not even close to playing weight.”

The fact many fans still associate Gedman with that ugly, fly-away swing obviously still grates on him. The man who set an American League record for put-outs in 1986, caught Clemens’ 20-strikeout game that same year, and became the 16th Red Sox player to hit for the cycle would rather be known as a solid big league catcher with a .252 career batting average.

The student of former Sox hitting coach Walt Hriniak said the swing was never a result of the Charley Lau hitting philosophy preached by Hriniak.

“I had a bad back and for awhile, I couldn’t take five swings without pain,” Gedman explained. “The only way I could take 10 swings in the cage was to take my top hand off and sometimes it would get ugly, but I was doing what I had to do to survive.”

His back improved, but in 1987, Gedman tore a ligament off a bone in his hand and had to have it surgically reattached.

“For two years, I couldn’t hold [the bat] with the top hand. If I got beat back, it would tear my thumb off, or that’s what it felt like,” he said. “So rather than have it feel like there was a knife getting stuck in there, I’d take my hand off early and let it go.”

Gedman is keeping Lau’s philosophy alive as he breaks hitting down into six or seven components and stresses relaxation and keeping your weight back before striding.

“The philosophy’s like this: You have your stance, your trigger or launch position, your stride, swing, and follow-through,” he said. “That’s basically it, and you add the head in there. It’s basically developing a routine to help you relax.”

Gedman’s coaching approach is fairly simple: keep things basic.

“I try not to force things and not be overbearing unless I see some serious flaws,” he said.

There were plenty of flaws to keep even the most optimistic mortal tossing and turning for weeks on end after that ill-fated ’86 Series. Gedman has managed to get over the bad memories by concentrating on the good ones, the big picture and his family: wife Sherry, sons Mike (16) and Matt (14), and daughter Marissa (11).

His home life has helped him make the post-big league career transition a smooth one for Gedman, so much so that he can answer questions about 1986 with more reflection … Even ones concerning the pitch from Bob Stanley that got away from him in the ninth and was controversially scored a wild pitch rather than a passed ball.

“I can remember Dan Shaughnessy asking me the question. I’ve never tried to throw it on the pitcher. It got my glove. I should have had it, but I’m not the official scorer,” he said. “To this day, I still think I could have had it, but it’s one of those things that happened.”

Yes, one of many things culminating with a ground ball that got by a first baseman named Buckner.

“The nice thing is the guys who were on that team know it took everyone on it to get there and there wasn’t one guy who cost us the series,” Gedman said. “The guy I feel bad for is Bill Buckner because he takes the biggest hit of all. If there’s anything not fair, that’s it.”