Pole still thriving in big leagues
By PAUL PETERSON, For the Gazette POSTED: May 19, 2008
"Pole still thriving in big leagues"
TROUT CREEK -- Because of the short seasons, baseball isn't usually regarded as a sport Upper Peninsula natives excel in.
But Trout Creek's Dick Pole has fashioned an admirable career in the sport.
Pole, currently the pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds, pitched in the big leagues for seven seasons. He's been a pitching or bench coach for six major league clubs (Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal, Cleveland, Anaheim and Cincinnati) and is in his 20th season as a coach.
One of Pole's early proteges in Chicago was a young righthander by the name of Greg Maddux — a sure-fire Hall of Famer based on his success in Chicago, Atlanta and San Diego.
With more than 320 career wins to his credit, Maddux often has credited Pole for getting him on track.
"Dick (Pole) had as much influence on my career as anyone I've come in contact with," Maddux commented in a 2005 interview. "I remember one day he told me, 'Why don't you stop trying to strike guys out? Just try to get them out, and you'll strike out just as many guys, if not more. He was right. You get a lot of strikeouts just on accident."
It's ironic that Pole should make a career in baseball — a sport that was strictly secondary during his high school days at Ewen-Trout Creek High.
"Basketball was always the big thing at Ewen-Trout Creek," he recalled in an interview a few years ago. "I never once thought about playing or coaching baseball in the big leagues."
But a Boston Red Sox scout was on hand at a game in the summer of 1969 when Pole fired a no-hitter against Wakefield in American Legion play, striking out 16 batters.
The late Ben Manning of Trout Creek felt Pole had potential and alerted Boston scouts.
"Dick (Pole) was a big kid who threw hard. He was the kind of kid the scouts were looking for," Manning said.
Manning's son, Jim, had signed an contract with the Minnesota Twins in the early 1960's, so the elder Manning knew what it took to reach the majors.
Pole, a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, had a good season with Pawtucket of the International League in 1972 with a 12-9 record and a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. That earned him a trip to the Red Sox the following season.
Pole posted a 3-2 record in 1973 and spent most of the next two seasons with the Bosox. After going 4-6 in the 1975 — and appearing in the World Series against Cincinnati — he had his best major league season in 1976 with a 6-5 record.
Pitching in a game against the Baltimore Orioles on June 30, 1975, Pole's career was nearly ended when a line drive off the bat of Tony Muser struck him in the face. The ball was hit so hard that it bounced into foul territory and scored two runs.
He sustained a broken jaw and damage to the retina of his right eye, but returned later that season.
After being traded to the Seattle Mariners in 1977, he pitched for the next three seasons in the Northwest. His best mark there was 7-12 in 1977.
After spending a couple of years in the minors, he was hired as a minor league pitching coach for the Cubs. During that time he ran into Maddux for the first time.
“The main thing about Greg (Maddux) was that he listened to everything you told him," Pole said of the four-time Cy Young Award winner. "He was always willing to try things to get better."
Pole ran into former Boston coach Don Zimmer in Chicago. When the latter was hired as the Cubs' manager in 1988, he asked Pole to be his pitching coach.
The Trout Creek native stayed in Chicago until 1991 when the front office dismissed the entire coaching staff. But he was hired by then-San Francisco manager Dusty Baker a couple of years later. He was the pitching coach for the Giants for several years.
Pole later was was a bullpen coach in Boston and a pitching coach for the Indians, Angels and Expos.
Baker was hired as the manager for the Reds after last season and found Pole there in his first year as pitching coach. The two first met in winter baseball many tears ago and formed a close bond.
"Dick (Pole) knows how to get through to young pitchers," Baker said recently. "And we have several of them on our staff. He's a good fit for this team."