The changes in St Louis continue. Thursday Joe Strauss reported Dave Duncan will step down as the St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach.
Duncan has had one of the more remarkable baseball careers. A catcher, he broke into the majors as an 18-year old with the Kansas City Athletics (1964), playing in 25 games. Although he returned to the minors for the next 2 seasons (due to major league signing rules of the time) he returned to the big club to stay in 1967. Duncan’s best year was 1971, when he hit .253/.307/.419 in 103 games and was named an All-Star. The A’s had moved to Oakland following the 1967 season, and Duncan won a World Title in 1972 with the club. After (or perhaps because of) a contract dispute he was traded to Cleveland just before the 1973 season for George Hendrick (who eventually played in St Louis), and then to Baltimore 2 years later. Duncan retired as a player following the 1976 season.
He started his coaching career in 1978 with the Indians. In 1982 he became the Seattle Mariners pitching coach under manager Rene Lachemann, but that didn’t last and he was hired by the Chicago White Sox to work with Tony LaRussa, beginning a professional relationship that lasted the next 30 years.
Duncan is widely considered the best pitching coach in baseball during the last 3 decades. Periodically other names appear in the spotlight and dent the national consciousness, like Leo Mazzone, Dave Stewart, and Mel Stottlemyre, but they rapidly fade away; Duncan has endured and prospered. He coached 4 Cy Young Award Winners (LaMarr Hoyt, Bob Welch, Dennis Eckersley, and Chris Carpenter), one for each team that employed him.
He resurrected numerous careers. Remember Kent Bottenfield? Kent had not won more than 5 games in any major league season before Duncan turned him into an 18-game winner in 1999. Bottenfield actually won as many games in that one season as he had in his major league career to that point. Ask Jeff Weaver what Duncan did for him in 2006. Or Jason Simontacchi (2002). Or Kyle Lohse more recently. Or dozens of other pitchers that saw their effectiveness improve thanks to Duncan’s tutelage.
No word yet on who will replace Duncan in the Cardinals dugout. Perhaps Blake Ilsley, the current Memphis pitching coach, will be promoted, or perhaps Derek Lilliquist will take the job on a permanent basis. Lilliquist, the current bullpen coach for the Cardinals, filled in for Duncan after Dave took a leave of absence to be with his ailing wife last season.
We wish Duncan’s wife Jeannie a complete and speedy recovery from her illness, and Dave all the best during his leave of absence.
Mike Metzger is a I-70 contributing writer. Follow him on Twitter.