By John Perrotto
Photo: David Hague — Inside Pittsburgh Sports
PITTSBURGH_ Both Joe Kerrigan and Gary Varsho came with baggage when they were selected to be part of John Russell’s coaching staff.
Kerrigan had been a polarizing figure in his previous stints as a pitching coach with the Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. He had been known to clash with his pitchers, notably Pedro Martinez in Boston and Brett Myers in Philadelphia.
On the day Kerrigan was hired, the Phillies were working out at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg in advance of the start of the 2008 World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays. I asked Myers for his thoughts on Kerrigan getting the job and he bluntly responded, “If Joe Kerrigan was stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire, I’d just keep on driving.”
Joe Torre wrote of his mistrust of Kerrigan in his 2009 book “The Yankee Years” that the veteran manager collaborated on with Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci. Torre felt Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had hired Kerrigan as bullpen coach in order to serve as a clubhouse spy for the front office.
One veteran front-office executive said this of Kerrigan upon his hiring by the Pirates, “John Russell better have his head on a swivel because he has a manager killer on his staff now. Joe Kerrigan might be the biggest backstabber in baseball.”
Meanwhile, Varsho was a fan favorite during his time as a Pirates reserve outfielder. However, he was fired as Philadelphia’s bench coach following the 2006 season with a sullied reputation.
Many in the Phillies’ organization felt Varsho tried to undermine manager Charlie Manuel by suggesting to various front-office types that it was he, and not Manuel, who was making the strategic moves in the dugout.
Thus, it came as no surprise when Kerrigan and Varsho were fired Sunday prior to the Pirates’ 8-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park that Russell said, “there are some issues I’ve been working through for quite some time now that could not be resolved in a way I thought would be for the betterment of this organization.”
There had been whispers of discontent on the coaching staff for much of the season.
Varsho became so impatient with Russell’s refusal to publicly upbraid players for mistakes that he had a series of dugout and clubhouse confrontations, particularly with….
right fielder Lastings Milledge, following mental lapses. Kerrigan was also said to be vocal in staff meetings about his frustration about the Pirates’ lack of pitching talent.
Discord among coaches is something that is not tolerated by general manager Neal Huntington and Russell. First base/infield coach Perry Hill and special coaching assistant Rich Donnelly both expressed dissenting viewpoints of how the club was being run late last season during staff meetings and neither was asked back.
Neither Russell nor Huntington would discuss specific reasons for firing Kerrigan and Varsho. However, this much is clear: there was dissension among the ranks and that is why Ray Searage is now the pitching coach and Jeff Banister is the new bench coach.
—John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com and baseball columnist at the Beaver County Times.—