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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Interview: Bobby Meacham turned coach, a teacher of baseball

Bobby Meacham at batting cages
Bobby Meacham watches batting practice in September 2016 for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. (Greatest 21 Days)
Bobby Meacham autographed 1990 Omaha Royals card

Midway through his first full season in the majors, Bobby Meacham needed to get home. Actually to the hospital.

Meacham's wife was pregnant - and overdue - with their first child back in New York in July 1985, when the Yankees arrived in Toronto.

Talk was, Meacham recalled to The Greatest 21 Days, that they'd have to schedule the birth for the morning of July 3. The problem: The Yankees were still in Toronto and, after a phone call between manager Billy Martin and owner George Steinbrenner, it looked like he wouldn't make it back, he recalled.

"Everybody started to hear what was going on," Meacham recalled, "and then the press got a hold of it. Of course, they were going to crush George in the paper."

Martin soon came to Meacham with the solution: Could the doctor move the procedure to the evening? The Toronto finale was a day game. Meacham could play, and get home.

"George is going to fly you home in a private jet to get you back after the game," Meacham recalled Martin telling him. "I called my wife and she just started laughing. She's like, 'this is crazy, right?'"

It worked. The doctor rescheduled. Meacham played in the game and then headed home.

Part 1: Shocking Moments | Part 2: Big Picture
Part 3: Baseball Teacher

"I jumped out of my clothes, didn't even shower, got a van, the clubbie took me to the airport and there's a Learjet sitting there for me on the tarmac," Meacham recalled.
Bobby Meacham
Bobby Meacham during batting practice with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in September 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
Steinbrenner's driver picked him up in New York and off they went. "We get to the hospital just in time and I get to see my daughter born," Meacham, eventually the father of three and married now more than 30 years, said with a laugh. "July 3."

Meacham played the entirety of that season with the Yankees, a season that turned out to be his only one spent exclusively in the bigs. The shortstop played in 156 games that season, including the day his daughter was born and he made the game the day after.

In the three decades since that rush out of Toronto, Meacham's job has flipped somewhat. These days, instead of getting out of Toronto, Meacham's job is to get players to the city.

Meacham spoke to The Greatest 21 Days in September 2016, as he finished up his third season managing the Blue Jays' AA club in Manchester, N.H., the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

For 2017, he's heading up the organization's AAA team in Buffalo, sending players to face the Yankees and other big league teams.

Meacham played in six seasons for the Yankees, from 1983 to 1988, 457 games total. His time with the club spanned three of manager Billy Martin's five stints heading the team.

Meacham called playing for Martin the biggest thing of his career.

"He taught me everything," Meacham said. "He really took a liking to me. My first spring was one of those times where he just put his arm around me and said 'I'm going to teach you everything I know and just listen to me and we'll figure this out together."
Bobby Meacham throwing batting practice
Bobby Meacham throwing batting practice before a September 2016 game. (Greatest 21 Days)
Meacham recalled seeming to always play well under Martin. And Martin then entrusted the Yankees shortstop position to Meacham.

"That was a big honor for me," Meacham said.

Meacham's time with the Yankees ended after 1988, with a trade to the Rangers. He played 1989 with the Pirates at AAA Buffalo. He soon felt his skills slipping. He had some injuries to his wrist and neck from his Yankee days that were taking their toll.

His speed and arm strength seemed to be waning. He stopped switch-hitting.

"I never really hit my stride after that," Meacham said. "I felt like I wasn't a guy on the upswing with a massive potential. I felt like I was leveling off to just being a pretty good player who would hopefully play well enough in a spurt or two where I could get a major league call up and be a backup."

Meacham's final professional time came in 1990 at AAA with the Royals. He got into 114 games and hit .225.

He soon turned to coaching and managing. Meacham called the move an accident.

Meacham started 1991 at spring training with the White Sox, expecting to continue playing. He had planned to retire, but they offered him a guaranteed spot at AAA if he didn't make the big club.
Bobby Meacham coach
Bobby Meacham during batting practice in September 2016. (Greatest 21 Days)
Meacham had a poor spring and he got released. He waited a couple months and started answering calls to coach. When he answered, it was the Royals who came calling.

Meacham accepted and he soon became hitting coach at short-season Eugene.

"It was an accident to get that job and I got it," Meacham said. "I loved teaching the players the stuff that I knew."

He recalled being a good student of the game growing up and as a player and he started using that to help other players along.

"I honestly felt like God wanted me to do this," Meacham said of his transition to coaching, "to really use the talent in this way now."

Meacham moved on to manage Eugene in 1992, then AA Carolina with the Pirates in 1994 and AAA Calgary in 1995.

In 2006, he made the Marlins as a base coach. He stayed in the majors through 2012, serving in similar roles with the Padres, Yankees and Astros. He arrived with the Blue Jays in 2013, serving as manager at high-A Dunedin.

"I'm like a teacher like my parents, almost," Meacham said, "in a different role, a teacher of baseball."

Part 1: Shocking Moments | Part 2: Big Picture
Part 3: Baseball Teacher

Be sure to read Part 1: Bobby Meacham's 1st majors call came unexpectedly

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