Kubiak returns to share his knowledge with the Scrappers
NILES – Back in 1967, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was topping the charts, Andy Griffith was leading the television ratings and Ted Kubiak was just beginning a storied career in baseball.
Coming back for his second-straight season as manager of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the New Jersey native made his Major League debut with the Oakland Athletics and spent 10 years bouncing around with four other teams. Kubiak won’t boast about his mediocre .231 career batting average, nor will he mention his 13 home runs. The switch-hitting infielder will, however, talk your ear off about the importance of defense. In fact, he wrote the book on it.
“It’s just a manual about the development of a baseball infielder,” Kubiak said. “It mentions the different ways how I came to be an infielder and the important mechanics that are needed to be a trusted infielder.”
Kubiak, 71, spent four of his 20 years in the Cleveland Indians organization as the defensive coordinator with the minor league clubs. When he spent a few weeks in Kinston, N.C., a local sportswriter came up to him before a game asking if he could write a book about his baseball career.
“I said, ‘Nah come on. I’m nobody. What’s that going to be about?’ ” Kubiak said.
The writer suggested stories could be told as an expansion of his infielder’s manual.
“I don’t know how he thought about it, but it’s exactly what it is, and it’s exactly what I want,” Kubiak said. “I always wanted to write about the history of myself and the game for my kids, just so they had something.”
So, on top of buying and selling a wealth of baseball memorabilia on ebay, including Babe Ruth signed balls, bats and gloves from the 1920s and authentic merchandise from the 1890s, Kubiak started penning his thoughts.
“What the book is is a combination of instruction and how I develop what I do with players,’ ” he said. “It mixes with my major league days, too. There’s a lot of history of the game in it like how did the old guys work out at the start of baseball history compared to how I worked out.
“Another half of the book is changes in the game from what I’ve seen – what I like and what I don’t like.”
Aside from the money involved in baseball, from endorsement deals to agents seeking astronomical contracts, Kubiak notes the addition of computers in the game. Programs that can dictate different trends in swing and pitch projections and sabermetric statistics seem to be a bible for scouts and are taking over.
Kubiak, as traditional of a baseball fan as they come, says those numbers don’t take into account how a player will perform in the future, despite being new-age techniques.
“You have to know a player’s approach at the plate,” he said. “You have to know his heart, his personality, how he does on the field, in the locker room and with his teammates.
“Even how much he likes his uniform – all that stuff affects a player.”
In a clubhouse full of teenagers and 20-somethings, Kubiak, who has been coaching baseball longer than most Scrappers have even been alive, still gets his points across and leaves an impression.
“He’s going to be a great manager,” said Ben Heller, a 22-round draft pick in the 2013 First-Year Player draft. “He obviously brings a lot of knowledge with all his experience. I’m looking forward to playing for him and learning from him because I hope to be a coach someday.”
When the New York-Penn League season begins on Monday, the Scrappers will open their 15th year at Eastwood Field. Kubiak has been there for four of them. In 1999, Mahoning Valley’s first professional season, Kubiak led it to the league championship series. In 2000, the Scrappers returned to the championship series. Kubiak coached them again in 2003, going 38-36. Last year, they were 30-45 – fifth in the Pickney Division.
“I just like being on the field,” Kubiak said. “Every level is good and fun.”