1 job, 25 years in the making Pat Dobson: His interview for Orioles pitching coach began on the bench next to Davey Johnson in 1971-72.

March 19, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - When they played together for the Orioles in 1971-72, Davey Johnson asked Pat Dobson a lot of questions about pitching, and Dobson's knowledge impressed him.

Dobson knew mechanics, offered sound logic in his approach to pitching to hitters, and Johnson thought Dobson possessed a veritable master's degree in the art of throwing a slider. Dobson had to know something about pitching, Johnson figured, because he didn't have a great arm and still figured out a way to win.

Every time Johnson interviewed for a managerial job, he thought about hiring Dobson. Had Johnson become the Orioles' manager in the fall of 1994, Dobson would have been his pitching coach then, and even before Johnson was hired last fall, he called Dobson.

"He's good working with pitchers," said Johnson. "He has credibility, because he's been successful in the majors. He's knowledgeable, and he knows how to apply his knowledge."

The regular season is 13 days away, and Dobson's impact can't really be measured until later in the season, but he has made a strong first impression. Reliever Armando Benitez, erratic and often frustrated in his rookie year of '95, has taken an immediate liking to Dobson and his suggestions, referring to Dobson as "my Daddy."

More importantly for the Orioles, he has pitched effectively. Benitez pitched another no-hit inning yesterday, bouncing back nicely from his one bad outing.

David Wells thinks Dobson knows mechanics well, picking up little mistakes that cause big problems. Arthur Rhodes, who had known Dobson from an Orioles fantasy camp a few years ago, has changed his mechanics and believes he is throwing as well (( as ever. "He's helped me a whole lot," Rhodes said. "He always keeps things simple."

Mike Mussina says Dobson is a lot like former Orioles pitching coach Mike Flanagan, in his ability to communicate with a sense of humor. Once, when Dobson was a pitching coach for the Milwaukee Brewers in the early '80s, he watched a right-hander named Chuck Porter, who was protecting a 9-2 lead, allow three runners to reach, filling the bases.

Dobson jogged to the mound. "Hey, Chuck, I think your best shot right here is to give up a grand slam," Dobson told him. "Then you can start over."

Porter cracked up, and got out of the inning. Dobson communicated to Wells similarly in Sunday's exhibition.

"I think it helps pitchers relax," Dobson said.

Like Flanagan, Dobson tries to say something positive to the pitcher, even a pitcher who has just gotten bombed. If a guy gives up 10 runs in a third of an inning, he might say the pitcher did a good job of holding runners. Stay positive, keep trying to move forward and get better.

Confrontations, Dobson said, should be avoided. If he needs to say something to a pitcher about his performance or his pitch selection, "then you should wait until the next day. If you get into it [an argument], then you'll lose the guy and won't be able to communicate with him."

Former San Diego manager Jack McKeon, who hired Dobson for the Padres, said one of Dobson's real strengths is diagnosing mechanical trouble. It's something Dobson began to do late in his career, when he pitched for the Orioles. He'd watch Catfish Hunter and Jim Palmer and try to figure out what they did to be successful, if there were any common denominators for good pitchers.

Dobson's major-league pitching career ended in 1977, and three years later he became a minor-league instructor. He was a pitching coach in Milwaukee for three years, in San Diego for three years, and in Kansas City in 1991. Unable to land a coaching job, he worked as an advance scout for the Colorado Rockies from 1993-95 and waited for another chance to get back on the field.

"The way baseball works, you have to be hired by someone who knows you," Dobson said. "You don't know how important that is until you're not the guy who's hired."

He is Johnson's guy now, however 25 years in the making, since those question-and-answer sessions back in Baltimore that began in 1971.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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