Van Burkleo unfazed by A's struggles
Veteran hitting coach working with team full of youngsters
OAKLAND -- A's hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo knows that a certain segment of fans is looking for a scapegoat for the team's recent offensive struggles. Oakland entered the second game of a three-game series against the visiting Royals on Tuesday with a team batting average of .230 over its past 35 games, and its overall mark of .247 was the worst in the American League.
He also knows that disgruntled fans might look at his Major League career, during which he batted .132 in 14 games with the 1993 Angels and 1994 Rockies, and wonder how qualified he is for his current assignment.
Van Burkleo also knows that he's the fourth A's hitting coach since the start of the 2003 season. Thad Bosley was let go in May of that year, and his replacement, Dave Hudgens, was cut loose after 2005. Hudgens' replacement, Gerald Perry, parted ways with Oakland after the team was swept by the Tigers in the 2006 AL Championship Series.
But when you ask Van Burkleo how he feels about his job security, he does a more-than-passable Alfred E. Neuman: What, me worry? Sitting in the A's dugout before batting practice at McAfee Coliseum, Van Burkleo spoke in calm, confident, measured tones.
"It doesn't matter what fans think," he said. "What matters is the trust between player and coach, the strength of that relationship with each individual, and I'm very comfortable with what we're trying to do here, and I'm proud of some of the progress we've made."
Van Burkleo, 45, is far more qualified for his job than some people might realize. He played pro ball for 14 years, and you don't stay in the game that long by showing up to practice on time every day. He played for five seasons in Japan, winning player of the year honors in 1988, when he led the Seibu Lions to the Japan League title by hitting 38 homers with 90 RBIs.
And prior to joining the A's, he was a coach in the Diamondbacks system for four seasons before a six-year stint as the Angels' Minor League roving hitting instructor.
"Ty knows what he's doing, and nobody -- nobody -- outworks him," A's manager Bob Geren said. "I'm thrilled with the job he's done."
Yet Geren himself is aware that some fans look at the team's stats and wonder. The A's entered Tuesday's game with the lowest slugging percentage (.371) and the most strikeouts (796) in the AL. But, said the skipper, it's important to look at the current makeup of the team.
"Three of our biggest guns -- Eric Chavez, Mike Sweeney and Frank Thomas -- are on the disabled list, and a lot of other guys who have missed time, too," Geren said. "As a result of that, we've got a really young ballclub right now."
Rather than use the roster's relative inexperience as an excuse, however, Van Burkleo said he welcomes the daunting challenge of developing prospects at the big league level.
"It is tough, because even for experienced hitters, to make swing adjustments in the middle of the season, it takes time," he said. "And it's even tougher for a young player; it takes a lot of hitters a couple thousand at-bats at the pro level to kind of figure things out, and we have a lot of kids here who truly are learning on the job.
"But I like this. It's exciting to me. When I was with the Angels, I'd just pop in and work on some things with guys and move on, but here I get to get in the cage with these guys every day and keep working on things.
"Look, [the A's know] we've got a young team here, and they know some guys come along faster than others. But they also know who has the tools to come along eventually, and all of the guys here have the tools."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.