Former Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher has seen it all in baseball
By David Rice
My two most favorite baseball seasons were 1988 and 2002. 2002 was the year that the Angels finally won a World Series and 1988 was the last time the Dodgers won the World Series.
For the Angels 2002 was the most magical season in club history ending with the amazing Game 6 comeback in the World Series and the Series-clinching Game 7 the following day (I was blessed to be at that game).
However, most Angel fans would not list 1988 as a memorable year, especially with it being the year the Dodgers won the World Series. For me I loved both as I was a big Dodger fan at the time as well as rooting for the Angels. Many of you would not like this statement and say I am a traitor to Angel Nation. I will attempt to explain this to you.
When I moved from California to Florida at the young age of seven years old, my world came crashing down. First I moved away from everything I knew, all my friends, my school, my grandfather who I adored, and my beloved Angels and yes, Dodgers. This was made 100 times worse when my mom and I were in a bad car accident driving to Florida the day after Christmas in 1980. In the accident my mom and I were both ejected from the vehicle and she suffered fatal injuries.
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So now I was in a place where I didn’t know anyone other than my dad and I had to start a new school and try to make new friends without having the comfort of my mom, grandfather, or friends to guide me along the way. So I wrapped myself up in everything California, which I loved. Many nights crying myself to sleep.
That year 1981, the Dodgers made a magical run of their own with many great comebacks and beat the hated Yankees for a World Series title. Watching the Dodgers that year was very therapeutic for me and helped me get my mind off all the bad things that were surrounding me in my life at the time. I remained a fan of the Dodgers to this day because of this.
However, over the last 10 years I have become much less of a Dodger fan and have been even more of an Angel than ever. I still root for the Dodgers somewhat in the playoffs and during the season, but not like I did in 1988 when I first started high school (another tough time in my life). The Dodgers playoff run and subsequent World Series title was also very special to me, especially the Kirk Gibson home run off of Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the World Series.
Mickey Hatcher, Mike Scioscia, and Alfredo Griffin were key parts of that Dodgers title. 14 years later they would play a major part of the Angels World Championship season especially Scioscia and Hatcher who were the manager and hitting coach for the team. An image I will always remember was Mickey Hatcher jumping out of the dugout and whirling his arm around in celebration after Troy Glaus‘ game-winning double in the bottom of the 8th inning of Game 6 that completed the improbable comeback from 5-0 down just an inning before.
This summer I was out in Inland Empire covering the Angels minor league game when Jo Adell was on a rehab assignment. It was a Angels Sunday where they would have a former Angel come out to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. That day Mickey Hatcher was there that night and I asked him if he would mind talking to me and he was very gracious and said yes. Hatcher and I had close to a 30-minute conversation about the Dodgers, the Angels, and baseball in general. It was a very enjoyable experience and especially talking about the 1988 and 2002 seasons was special as I got an inside look into those two special seasons.
Here are some excerpts from that interview, I hope you enjoy the inside look as much as I did.
What was it like to be in baseball for more than 40 years?
“It was an amazing coming up with the Dodgers and then going to the Twins, before coming back in 1988 to the Dodgers and winning the World Series that year,” Hatcher said. “Then getting a chance to come with Mike Scioscia to the Angels in 1999 and being a part of that coaching staff that was able to help bring a World Series title to Anaheim was unbelievable. Each year my baseball career kept getting better and better.”
What was your favorite moments in your baseball career?
“Obviously playing in the 1988 World Series and being a part of that team with Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson and being able to see what they did that year was very special. Seeing a team that wasn’t even supposed to be there win it all, was amazing,” Hatcher recounted. “Winning the World Series in Anaheim with the Angels is something I will never forget either as it was a very special year with a great group of guys.”
Which World Series title was more special to you 1988 or 2002?
“People always ask me which World Series win was more special 1988 with the Dodgers or 2002 with the Angels. They both were great winning in 1988 as a player in Oakland was great, but winning at home in 2002 in front of the fans who had never seen that before was electric,” Hatcher said. “To see a group of guys that hadn’t won before come together as a team the way we did in 2002 and win it all and doing it at home. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
What was it like playing for the Dodgers with all the history and tradition they have and the legends you got to interact with?
“Being able to talk to guys like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Roy Campanella to name a few was unbelievable. I just loved being able to sit around with Koufax and Drysdale and hear stories of baseball history. To this day I still have lunch with Sandy Koufax occasionally and that is very special,” Hatcher said with a smile. “This is what baseball was all about. These young kids coming up now don’t know how hard it was back then and how much of a grind that baseball really is. These stories that I would hear from these guys would help keep going when things were tough.”
What players had an effect on you when you played with the Dodgers?
“The way some of these guys crowd the plate now-a-days would not have done that back when guys like Sandy Koufax played. If you were up on the plate against him you wouldn’t be feeling very good walking back to the dugout as he would knock you down until you got the message,” said Hatcher with a laugh. “But that’s how the game was played back then. I have so many stories and so many memories, and I have been around so many great players in the game. It was never about me, I was just enjoying the moment.”
How did Mickey Hatcher approach a game?
“Every time I got to play the game I did it one way. I played it hard and left it all out on the field and tried to win every game. That’s the way my parents raised me,” Hatcher said. “I had great memories from the worst teams that I was on to the best teams I was on. They were all great for me because I had a uniform on my back and I was playing baseball.”
You just missed being a part of the 1987 Twins World Series run being released mid-season. How did you get to the Dodgers?
“I was back in Arizona where I lived and I thought my baseball career was over. I was reading my neighbor’s paper as I would go by and look at it when I would run,” Hatcher said. “I would read the paper in their front yard and the lady, who was like 80 years old, would bring my a cup of coffee while I read their paper in their driveway and I found out the Dodgers third baseman had gotten injured so I told my agent to call the Dodgers.”
“I told him to tell them that I would go to Triple-A ball play at my own expense for two weeks. My agent called me back an hour later and told me to get on a plane to Los Angeles as the Dodgers wanted me in the big leagues,” Hatcher added.
What was it like to hit a home run in the first inning of game one of the World Series?
“I hit the home run off of Dave Stewart, who was a close friend of mine when I came up in the Dodgers organization. I told him during batting practice that day I was going to hit home run off of him. He said not if I throw it at your head. I said that’s my favorite pitch,” Hatcher chuckled. “When I hit the home run people asked me why I ran around the bases so fast, and I said because I didn’t want to look at Dave Stewart for fear he throw at my head the next time for showing him up. I was hitting the ball better than I ever was. My confidence was at a high and things worked out.”
What was it like in the 9th inning and the Kirk Gibson home run?
“When we saw Gibson going down the tunnel to try to get ready to pinch-hit everybody on the team thought Tommy (Lasorda) was stupid to be putting him in. But once Mike Davis got a walk and stole second we all thought Gibby could get a knock and tie the game. No one was thinking he could hit a home run off of Eckersley,” Hatcher said. “Everyone was just shocked when he one-handed it and it went out. It was the perfect swing.It was an amazing game to be a part of and great series as well.”
What was it like to play for Tommy Lasorda and what did you learn from him?
“Tommy was a great motivator, but many of the players said he was a lucky bastard. He would sometimes make moves and run out of players and have to have a pitcher hit and then the pitcher would get a hit and win the game and he would look good,” Hatcher said. “He was a great motivator, he was a guy you would love to be around, Tommy would never let you feel sorry for yourselves. He knew how to get the most out of his players and that’s why I loved the guy so much.”
How did your relationship with Mike Scioscia start and grow over the years?
“My first year I signed with the Dodgers he was there and we came up through the minors together and were roommates throughout our tie in the minors and became great friends,” said Hatcher of Scioscia. “We are still friends to this and get together frequently. When he asked me to join him with the Angels it was an easy decision. I had a great time with him and the other coaches for 14 years. What was the best thing was that he let us coach and do our thing and gave us the opportunity to give our opinions and not be afraid to speak up.”
"What was 2002 like to be a part of for you?“It started in Spring Training we had a great group of core guys, but Ike and I talked and he said this team needs to learn how to play different. We need to learn to manufacture runs, moving runners over and then getting them in. So in Spring Training that’s what we focused on changing the mindset of the players to make this happen,” Hatcher said. “Mike (Scioscia) got the guys together in Spring Training and told them about the new philosophy and Tim Salmon and Troy Glaus spoke up saying ‘I can’t hit a ball to second base to move a runner over’ So I spoke up and said to them ‘I knew you two were going to say that’ How about hitting a double off the right field wall or hitting a deep fly ball to right field. That will get a runner over too. The team bought in to the idea and even after a rough start they kept with it and things started to click and we won a lot of games that way.”"
What players stood out from the 2002 team?
“David Eckstein was one of the hardest working guys I had ever seen. He was brought in to give us some depth in Triple-A that year, but he worked hard. He was the first guy in the batting cages and he took 200 or more ground balls every day at second base and shortstop and when Gary Disarcina hurt his arm Eckstein got a chance and never looked back,” Hatcher said. “What was the best thong about Eckstein was he was a leader. He would position the infielders telling them where to play. He was just an amazing individuals.”
“Another guy was Darin Erstad. He was like our Kirk Gibson. He was fearless out there. You didn’t want to be around him when his face started turning red. He wanted to win more than anyone,” Hatcher said. “Tim Salmon was another fierce competitor, but we won it he was like a little kid running around the field with the World Series trophy. I will never forget those guys.”
What stood out about that post-season?
“When we went into New York and rallied to win game 2 I could see all the Yankee players sitting with their arms folded on the dugout looking out at us as if to say who are these guys who just beat us. That was a great feeling,” Hatcher said. “When we made the comeback in Game 6 I knew we were going to win Game 7. This team never quit the whole season and they believed they could win it all and they did.”
How has the game changed since you played?
“The game has changed. I don’t buy into it all. It seems like the players are unwilling to make the adjustments. The fact that players don’t bunt a ball down the third base line to beat the shift. It doesn’t show me that they are trying to win a game,” Hatcher said. “The ball is juiced and everyone is concerned about this launch angle stuff. It’s proven that if you get the ball in the air you’re gping to hit more home runs. It’s common sense.”
“I saw one of the big Angels left-handers reaching out one-handed and hit a home run to the opposite-field which proves this to me. The guys are getting stronger and the pitchers are getting screwed because the strike zone is so small,” Hatcher said with a laugh. “I talked to Sandy Koufax and he said ‘You know what, I love Bellinger, but if he faced me his first at-bat his hands are going to be hurting because I’m going to pitch him inside and jam him. Then I won’t have to worry about him the rest of his at-bats because he is not going to be swinging the bat very well’. These guys stand right up on the plate now, but that wouldn’t have happened against guys like Nolan Ryan or Bob Gibson.”
What was it like to coach guys like Mike Trout and Albert Pujols?
“The great things about having guys like Trout and Pujols is that you bring the young guys down to watch their routine and how they are focused. To have those guys lead the way is very valuable,” Hatcher said. “Trout and Pujols have that sound when the ball comes off the bat that you just know they are good. Shohei Ohtani has that kind of raw power as well he is a special player. He is going to something here.”
What are you doing now?
“I am doing public relations for the Angels and I get to come out to the minor league stadium and talk to the guys and also I get to visit with some of the guys I coached and played with and that is special,” Hatcher said. “I also get to go back to Dodger Stadium and with the guys I know there like Tommy Lasorda, Sandy Koufax, and of course Vin Scully who is one of the most special individuals I have ever met. I have a great friendship over the years with all those guys.”
What advice would you give to kids/teenagers who have dreams of playing in the majors?
“You have to keep playing to get better. I think some of these kids want to be a professional ball player from day one. It takes a lot of hard work learning the skills and the mechanics of the game and that takes time,” Hatcher said. “You have to grow with it and keep working at it. A lot of the players in the major leagues weren’t the best players growing up, but they were willing to work at it and get better. They worked hard to get where they are so that one day that chance to play in the majors might happen.”