Commentary

Surprise pick Rothschild makes sense

Yankees' new pitching coach survived Big Z, so, yeah, he's ready for A.J. and Joba

Updated: November 21, 2010, 3:16 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Larry Rothschild says he spent eight hours watching tape of A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes in preparation for his interview to become the next man in charge of the nuthouse known as the New York Yankees' pitching staff.

And the Yankees must have spent some amount of time watching a video of their own, a snippet of tape from a 2009 game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates in which Carlos Zambrano, enraged by a what he thought was a bad call at the plate, fired the baseball into the left-field stands before going on a rampage that ended in the Cubs' dugout, where he took a baseball bat to a Gatorade cooler.

And standing alongside Zambrano on the mound, his mouth agape and a look of wonder on his face stood Larry Rothschild, the Cubs' pitching coach at the time.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Zambrano and Larry Rothschild
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesLarry Rothschild (right) had the best view in the stadium when Carlos Zambrano flipped out in a 2009 game vs. Pittsburgh.

If the Yankees were fretting over finding the right man to deal with the likes of Burnett and Joba Chamberlain, among other members of that neurotic species known as the major league pitcher, they needed to look no further than that.

After dealing with a volatile nutcase like Zambrano, keeping A.J. and Joba in line will be about as difficult as controlling a roomful of preschoolers. Or divinity students.

Dave Eiland once described his job as Yankees pitching coach as a combination of father, brother, uncle, friend and psychologist.

With Zambrano, Rothschild had to be all those at once, and more.

Rothschild, a former major league pitcher, the pitching coach for the World Series champion Florida Marlins back in 1997, and the first manager of the Tampa Bay Rays back when they were called the Devil Rays -- who, incidentally, had a right-hander on the staff by the name of Dave Eiland -- is the surprise choice of the Yankees to replace Eiland.

It is a pick that came out of nowhere, because of all the names that were mentioned, touted and rejected, from Mike Harkey to Gil Patterson to Scott Aldred to Leo Mazzone to Rick Peterson, Rothschild's is one that never came up.

GM Brian Cashman, the kind of character who could stand up to waterboarding and not say a word, spoke to the media for a half-hour Tuesday night in Orlando, Fla., and never once let on that at the same time, Rothschild was spending his night in New York with a videotape of the Yankees' pitching staff.

The next day, Rothschild aced the test and Friday evening was announced as the Yankees' next pitching coach.

In hindsight, the upset choice sure seems to make perfect sense.

For one thing, Rothschild is a native of Chicago. When he became the Cubs' pitching coach in 2002, the catcher was a guy named Joe Girardi.

For another, Rothschild lives in Tampa, just a few blocks from The George, the spring training home of the Yankees.

He has ties to Yankees broadcaster Al Leiter, who pitched for him in Florida, and to Kerry Wood, who pitched for him in Chicago and pitched extremely well for the Yankees this past season.

And not for nothing, Rothschild was probably the best available candidate that just about no one knew was available.

Until Friday night, Rothschild was still employed by the Cubs, a job he expected to remain in but one he was open to leaving if he could join a team that trained in Florida so he could be closer to his family for at least the seven weeks of spring training.

He had put the word out to Cubs GM Jim Hendry that he would be open to such a situation, and Chicago being the small town that it is, word no doubt reached Girardi, a Chicago native, and Cashman.

[+] EnlargeLarry Rothschild
Andrew Weber/US PresswireLarry Rothschild, a Chicago native, spent nearly a decade as the Cubs' pitching coach.

And just like that, a new alliance was formed.

"It all came together rather quickly," Rothschild said on a conference call Friday night. "This wasn't so much about leaving the Cubs so much as being near my family and joining the Yankees. There aren't too many opportunities I would have left the Cubs for, but this is the Yankees and everyone knows what that means. Opportunities like this don't come around very often. It wasn't one I could turn down."

So now, it becomes Larry Rothschild's job to straighten out Burnett, the No. 2 man -- for now -- in the Yankees' starting staff who wasn't even in the postseason rotation for the first round of the playoffs.

Burnett's most violent action this year was losing a skirmish to a clubhouse door in July and winding up on the wrong end of a punch in the eye in September. Still, his reclamation is Jon No. 1 for the new pitching coach, with Chamberlain not far behind.

"I have seen him off and on through the years, but just one time in person, maybe two," Rothschild said of Burnett. "I've watched tape of him. I haven't had a chance to analyze him completely yet. I know he's huge part of the pitching staff. It would be nice to get things turned around for him and to get him going.

"I think he can be a very effective major league pitcher and I think he has been in his career. But I'm not prepared at this time to tell you what were gonna do as far as going forward with him."

Neither, of course, is anyone else.

The Yankees hope Rothschild will be able to reach Burnett where Eiland could not, especially after Eiland disappeared from the team for a month in June due to still-undisclosed personal reasons, an absence that coincided precisely with the second-half tailspin that Burnett never pulled out of.

Over his nine-year tenure, Rothschild did coax more strikeouts out of the Cubs pitching staff, which included not only Zambrano and Wood but Mark Prior, three of the most potent arms of the past 10 years.

But it was also on his watch that both Wood and Prior missed significant time due to injury, and Zambrano had a series of emotional meltdowns of which the fireworks show at Wrigley was only one.

Here, Rothschild will have Burnett and Chamberlain to deal with, but also Sabathia, one of the most low-maintenance pitchers in the game, and perhaps Cliff Lee, too, who is so quiet he makes Sabathia seem like Chad Ochocinco.

Rothschild was asked to describe his pitching philosophy. "I tend to look at guys individually," he said. "The one thing they have to be able to do is repeat their deliveries. It's something I harp on a lot. If you can repeat your delivery you should be able to control the ball to a certain extent. But philosophy-wise, I tried to take everybody on an individual basis, because every individual is different."

The Yankees have a couple of "different" individuals on the pitching staff they are not placing under the care of Larry Rothschild.

But considering some of the individuals he's already dealt with, handling A.J. Burnett should be as easy as pie.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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