Kevin Gray's On Baseball: Allenson always learning
As a pull-happy, right-handed hitter, Gary Allenson had trouble with the slider.
The former Red Sox catcher would hunt fastballs, occasionally driving them toward the Green Monster, but those nasty sliders kept pecking away at his batting average.
"That pitch from a right-hander was too tough on me. I didn't recognize it until it was right around the plate," said Allenson, a career .221 hitter with 19 homers, who was named the seventh Fisher Cats manager in team history this week.
In 1980, while serving as backup to Carlton Fisk, Allenson began taking a notebook to the bullpen and charting every pitcher and hitter during the game. Though it didn't occur to him at the time, Allenson was preparing for a career beyond his playing days.
"For me, it was just like going to school. I paid attention in the bullpen. You did your homework and knew who was a dead-red hitter and who was a 'guess' guy. It helped prepare me," who played for the Red Sox from 1979-84.
Before a game in 1982, then-Red Sox manager Ralph Houk was asked if there were any players on the team that have manager-type qualities. Houk pointed to Allenson across the room.
Fast forward 30 years, and the mustached "Muggsy" has won more than 1,000 games in the minors - and lost more than 1,000. Allenson has managed from short-season Single-A Oneonta (Yankees) to Triple-A Ottawa (Orioles). From 1992-94, he served as bullpen coach and third-base coach for the Red Sox, working under then-manager Butch Hobson.
As a player, Allenson learned from managers Don Zimmer, Houk and Bobby Cox.
Zimmer tended to yank Allenson for a pinch-hitter. It became such a routine that the young player began looking over his shoulder for a replacement. Allenson says he also read the newspapers and listened to talk shows, often hearing about another catcher that would soon replace him.
"It's a long walk back to the first-base dugout when the manager calls you in for a pinch-hitter. It's tough. I put a lot of pressure on myself. One thing (Zimmer) could have done for me was given me a pat on the back and say, 'Hey, don't worry about it. You're my guy.' Maybe that wouldn't have been the case two weeks later, but it still helps you relax," Allenson said.
That's a message the 57-year-old will be telling the Fisher Cats, who fell apart last season and finished in last-place with a 61-81 record under Sal Fasano. Allenson, a California native, is anxious to return to New England and help guide Toronto's top prospects to the big leagues.
"When players are that close to the big leagues - and I'm sure I'll be calling guys into the office when they get sent to Toronto - we make sure to tell them to relax. Don't do anything different. And do yourself a favor and let mom and dad buy the paper. It's tougher nowadays. Every game is on TV and you're overcritiqued. Baseball is a tough game. You have to be able to relax, forget about it, and move onto the next game."
Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.