Rene Lachemann: Living the dream

Part one of a two part series

By Colorado Springs Sky Sox | March 5, 2008 6:05 AM ET

In 1965, he was just a rookie enjoying his first months in the Major Leagues. He had already checked off a few Major League firsts with one swing of the bat, knocking a pinch-hit home run off the White Sox’s Gary Peters for his first Major League hit a few weeks earlier.  But now, he had a big first in front of him, his first time facing the team he idolized as a child, the New York Yankees.

I was 19 years old, catching against him. He came up and I saw his shoes said ‘Mantle’ on them. I got chills up and down my spine. ‘What am I doing here,’ I thought. But it’s a part of living the dream.”

Rene Lachemann’s dream started to shape at an early age, shadowing his big brother Billy’s every move. His yearning to be near one of his closest friends on the planet was the source for some of the best memories of his childhood. It was also the foundation for his love of baseball.

When Billy and his friends would flock to the local field to play pick-up baseball games on hot sunny afternoons, it wasn’t rare to see Rene ride up on his bike or hop out of a stranger’s car just to serve as a bat-boy for the game.

“I used to hitchhike to the park,” Lachemann said. “It was a lot safer back then.”

It was during those days following around Billy that Rene found the thing that most excited him on this planet.

 It didn’t matter that his Swiss-born parents still had no idea what baseball was, or that it would still be a few years before professional baseball would make its way to the West coast. Rene was enchanted by the game. And whether it meant watching the Yankees on television at his Los Angeles home while growing up, or hitchhiking just to watch Billy play the game, wherever baseball was being played was where Rene Lachemann wanted to be.

It is that same longing to be around the game that brings Lachemann to the Colorado Springs Sky Sox as the new hitting coach more than 40 years after signing his first big-league contract.

“The Oakland A’s let me go. And it’s something I didn’t feel the need to give up,” he said. “I still feel like I can contribute something to this game.”

His contributions, though, are long with his life-story reading like a script best told by an anchor on ESPN Classic. In his time in baseball he has coached in four World Series. He witnessed Bill Buckner’s infamous error in the 1986 World Series as a coach of the Red Sox. He saw Kirk Gibson’s dramatic 9th inning home run in the 1988 World Series and the earthquake during the 1989 World Series both as a coach for the Oakland Athletics. He was the first manager of the Florida Marlins. He was even able to see firsthand the historic home run chase of 1998 as a coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I’m living a dream. I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing. I’ve seen a great amount of history.  I’ve seen Nolan Ryan’s 3,000th strikeout. I saw Sandy Koufax pitch. I’ve seen a lot of great moments in this game,” he said.

Lachemann got his first taste of professional baseball at the tender age of 15 when long-time Dodgers’ manager Walt Alston brought him aboard as a Dodgers’ bat-boy during the 1960 season. At the time, there was no player draft in professional baseball and teams would woo high school players by giving them bat-boy status. He stayed with the team in that capacity for three seasons before ultimately signing a contract with the Kansas City Athletics in 1964.

“The money was there,” he said of his decision to sign with the A’s over the Dodgers. “My brothers had turned down money and gotten hurt. I didn’t want that to happen to me.”

Signing with the A’s would prove to be one of the best decisions of his life, as he’d meet life-time friends Tony LaRusa and Dave Duncan while there.

“Me and Tony used to roam together,” he joked. “But Dave and I were in competition as catchers. We went back and forth battling. At one time I was ahead of him, and then he’d be ahead of me. I’d move ahead of him and so on. Then I hurt my arm, and it didn’t work out too good for me.”

            Though his playing career proved to be short-lived, his baseball career was still in its infancy. He noted some of the great managers who influenced him during his playing career when describing his decision to give coaching a try.

            “I try to pick people’s brains,” he said. “I watched Walt Alston coach with the Dodgers. John McNamara managed me. You just keep learning.”

            Lachemann kept learning, and after a brief stint coaching in the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners’ farm systems, he was given his first opportunity to manage at the big-league level when the Seattle Mariners hired him on May 6, 1981.He immediately turned to his past when assembling his coaching staff, hiring Duncan as his pitching coach.

            The two enjoyed modest success during the next two seasons before Duncan left to become the pitching coach for the White Sox in 1983.

            “I hated to let him go, but Tony was in Chicago and offered him more money,” Lachemann said.

            Lachemann’s time in Seattle wouldn’t last much longer as he was let go midway through the 1983 season after compiling a 140-180 record in parts of three seasons.

He didn’t remain unemployed long, though, catching on as the manager for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1984. But a 67-94 campaign cost him his job after just one season.

With two failed managerial stints behind him, Lachemann was brought on to be the Boston Red Sox third-base coach in 1985 by McNamara. Thus beginning the most wildly successful, and often times disappointing,  period of his entire career.

Beginning with the Red Sox in 1986, Lachemann coached in the World Series four times in five seasons. Each of the four World Series provided classic moments which are still talked about to this day.

“You learn to respect (going to the World Series). You start to think it’s easy, and then you never go back again,” he said.

What didn’t prove easy for Lachemann was winning the World Series. Ahead four games to two against the New York Mets, his Boston Red Sox team was one out away from ending what at the time was a 68-year World Series drought when disaster struck in the form of Bill Buckner misplaying a routine groundball. The play ended up costing the Red Sox the game, and the team lost the Series in seven.

“The Buckner thing was a shame,” Lachemann said. “He played great throughout the year. For them to put a burden on Buckner is a total disgrace to a guy who had nearly 3,000 hits and played terrific defense.”

            Lachemann moved on from Boston after that game, reuniting with LaRusa and Duncan in Oakland to coach one of the greatest hitting teams in baseball history. The team’s mini-dynasty, featuring the “Bash Brothers,” managed to win three consecutive American League Championships starting in 1988.

            The World Series title would elude Lachemann for a second time as his heavily-favored Oakland squad would fall to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a World Series best remembered for the game-one heroics of Kirk Gibson.

“It was still the first game of the WS, and those guys kept getting hurt. So when you sit back and look at it, we still had chances to win,” Lachemann said.

            His Athletics squad would return to the World Series for a second straight season in 1989, and would take a two-games-to-none lead over the San Francisco Giants. However, Lachemann would have to wait nearly two weeks to see his team finish off the series as an earthquake during game three caused the series to be delayed for ten days.

            The Athletics picked up right where they left off when play resumed on October 27 and capped off a series sweep with a 9-6 victory the next night. It was the first and only World Series ring Lachemann has earned in his career, and he still considers it to be his greatest moment in baseball.

            “When you’re in this game, you’re in it to win the World Series. I’ve been in four and won one. You work hard to win, and to be able to do that in the earthquake year was incredible. That was a great team,” he said.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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