Cubs hire Jaramillo to be hitting coach
Result-driven guru known for communication skills
CHICAGO -- All you need to know about Rudy Jaramillo is that he got Sammy Sosa to pick up the balls after a session in the batting cage. That shows the type of disciplinarian Jaramillo is.
Jaramillo, 59, was named Wednesday as the Cubs' new hitting coach, signing a three-year, $2.4 million contract to join Lou Piniella's staff. He leaves the Rangers, where he spent 15 seasons, including 2007, when Sosa was there.
Jaramillo had worked with Sosa when the Rangers first signed the outfielder in 1985. Sosa was dealt to the White Sox in 1989, and he eventually played for the Cubs from 1992-2004. Jaramillo and Sosa were reunited in February '07 when the Rangers signed Sosa as a free agent.
Texas general manager Jon Daniels told Sosa that Jaramillo wanted him in Arlington for a hitting session on Monday at 9 a.m. Sosa's agent advised his client that he could skip the hitting session, and just had to report in time for a dinner that evening.
"I said, 'Tell your agent he's not the hitting coach,'" Jaramillo said Wednesday during his introductory news conference at Wrigley Field. "We left it at that. ... He was there by 9 o'clock. Then I knew he was serious and that he wanted to play. I was always real disciplined with Sammy and have kept it the same way."
Sosa was legendary for not picking up balls after sessions in the batting cage. Not under Jaramillo's watch. The hitting coach recalled a session when there were five players in the cage, including Sosa, who went through about 100 balls. After the round was over, Sosa didn't pick up a single one but let the other four do the work.
After the next round was over, Jaramillo stopped the other players from retrieving the balls.
"I said, 'Hold up -- Sammy has them all,'" Jaramillo said. "He picked every ball up."
Whether that tough-love approach can help Cubs hitters remains to be seen. General manager Jim Hendry called Jaramillo the "best hitting coach in Major League Baseball."
"We feel we're the beneficiary of good timing," Hendry said Wednesday. "When you get an opportunity to put somebody in place who is so well respected and so universally considered at the top of his profession, you jump at the chance of that."
The Cubs found out last Wednesday that Jaramillo was not returning to the Rangers, who offered him a one-year contract, not a multi-year deal. Jaramillo was signed through Oct. 31, but Hendry received permission to talk to him, and finalized details Monday night.
"It couldn't come at a better time for us," Hendry said.
The Cubs ranked second in the Major Leagues in runs scored in 2008, yet dropped off significantly this past season, primarily because of off years by players like Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, Mike Fontenot, and Milton Bradley. Chicago finished 10th in the National League in runs scored and ranked next to last with a .241 average with runners in scoring position.
Jaramillo will get to work immediately, returning to his Dallas home with videos of the Cubs' hitters. He plans on seeing some of the young players in the system when he attends the organizational meetings in Arizona in early November, and may even travel this offseason to visit with some of the players.
His goal is to win the players' respect and trust. Jaramillo says the way to do that is tell them something and make sure the player sees results.
"If you tell a hitter something and it doesn't work, why should he believe you?" Jaramillo said. "I'm not a symptoms coach. I figured this swing out over the years, and I can go right to the root of the problem."
His Rangers hitters have won 17 Silver Slugger Awards, four Most Valuable Player Awards, three home run titles, and three RBIs crowns. Former Cub Mark DeRosa, who batted .296 with Texas in 2006, said Jaramillo changed his career.
"I always put myself as a teacher first, a coach second," Jaramillo said. "I have passion working with these young men. I love to see talent get better. I'm just trying to help these kids learn themselves and try to help them get the most out of themselves so they can get to a different level."
One thing the Cubs hitters will discover quickly is Jaramillo believes in good communication and work habits. He is bilingual, but admitted he doesn't speak any Japanese. One gets the impression that Jaramillo will learn a few phrases to communicate with Kosuke Fukudome.
"These kids will know I care and they'll see that in my passion and work ethic," he said.
Jarmillio's approach doesn't focus on hitting home runs, even though the Rangers have consistently put up power numbers.
"[People say] Texas hitters are always trying to hit home runs and they don't walk enough," Jaramillo said. "The game dictates what you do. ... We hit with a lot of power in Texas. A lot of people give credit to the park. It's a big ballpark. I don't care what park you're in -- you still have to do the right thing and execute at home plate."
He does stress two things when a hitter gets in the batter's box: their breathing has to be slow and their minds have to be clear. As technically savvy as Jaramillo is, he has to also treat the mental side.
"That's the bottom line -- to help these kids believe in themselves," he said.
Hendry said Jaramillo's success with Bradley had nothing to do with the Cubs' decision to hire him. Bradley led the American League in on-base percentage and batted .321 in 2008 in Texas, but struggled to hit .257 this season in Chicago and was suspended for the final 15 games because of detrimental conduct.
Hendry has talked to teams in an attempt to trade the outfielder and the $21 million still owed on his contract.
"We play the cards that we have," Hendry said. "Milton's on the Cubs' roster [now]. That's how we go about it until somebody's not on the Cubs' roster. [Jaramillo's relationship with Bradley] didn't have any connection. We could've had 20 different guys on our roster and Rudy would still be sitting here today as our No. 1 guy."
When asked about Bradley, Jaramillo had nothing but positive things to say.
"When he came in [to Texas], I knew my job was, 'Hey, I have to win this kid over,'" Jaramillo said. "He started trusting me, and we started to get that rapport, and things started to get better and better and he led the league in on-base percentage and slugging, so his ability is still there, there's no doubt in my mind."
Jaramillo did not talk to Bradley this past season, but did talk to Piniella a couple times to try to help get the outfielder back on track. Would he like to work with Bradley again?
"I'll work with anybody," Jaramillo said. "I can get along with anyone. I have no problem [with Bradley]."
Jaramilo was eager to get started.
"All hitting coaches at the big league level are very good and talented, or they wouldn't have gotten here," Hendry said. "They always put [Jaramillo] as a cut above, as the guru of it. When you get that from your own peers, there's not higher respect that you can get."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.