Slaught resigns as Tigers hitting coach
Family is the reason why he's leaving after just one season
DETROIT -- A year ago, Don Slaught and Andy Van Slyke decided to answer their old manager's call and try Major League coaching for one season with the Tigers to see if it was for them. While it worked for both of them, it was tougher on Slaught, who announced his resignation on Friday as Detroit's hitting coach.
Slaught oversaw an offense that, while streaky, came up with timely hits on many occasions during the season and matured into a more disciplined group during the postseason. Take away the World Series, and it would've been quite a story about the development of several young hitters into one of baseball's most balanced lineup.
For Slaught, however, the time away from home in his first pro coaching job was putting his life out of balance. With four kids in school back home in California, Slaught missed out on the better part of eight months with his family by the time the World Series ended.
"It proved to be a bigger sacrifice than anticipated, to be away from my wife and kids during the baseball season," Slaught said.
The sacrifice wasn't just on his end. His son, Cory, ended up skipping youth football so he could spend an extra week and a half with his dad in Detroit. When they weren't in Detroit, they were trying to keep in touch with a video phone. It was tougher for them to travel now than it was when he was a player. Realistically, Slaught said, he was thinking all year about not returning in 2007.
Finally, the elder Slaught returned home and said he was back, but his kids knew that he would have to leave again before long. By Halloween, he decided he couldn't do it for another year.
"It's one of those things where the opportunity to go coach in the Major Leagues, especially with Jim Leyland, is a great thing," he said. "But it was just too early. I wish my family was older [with kids] in college, or they could move. But I can't move."
Leyland could relate. He went through some of the same feelings when he managed the Rockies in 1999 while his family stayed back home in Pittsburgh.
"It didn't really surprise me," Leyland said. "I could see that it was a pretty good strain. He signed a one-year deal and was basically trying it out. I think he liked it to a large degree. I think with all the combination of things, he decided it was a little too much."
Adding to the pressure was the effect on his business. A large part of Slaught's experience that helped him as a coach was his time as president and founder of RightView Pro, a company that produces baseball and softball training software to analyze the mechanics of a swing. He put a lot of that work on hold when he joined the Tigers and realized much of it wasn't getting done.
He's back running the company now, and he'll still be on the road, but for a few days at a time instead of a few months.
"It's coaching," Slaught said. "It's just not 3,000 miles away."
It's not coaching a World Series team, either, but Slaught had reconciled that. He doesn't leave the game on top, but he's not far from it.
For all the attention paid to the Tigers' free-swinging foibles and hot-and-cold stretches this year, capped by a .199 batting average in the Fall Classic, Slaught leaves behind a far better offensive club than when he took over. The Tigers finished ninth among American League teams in batting average and 12th in on-base percentage, but fifth in runs scored and slugging percentage.
Only the White Sox and Yankees hit more home runs among AL teams than the Tigers' 203 homers. Their hitting late in games and during clutch situations was much improved.
"I'm proud how the team played as a team and how they all contributed," Slaught said. "It wasn't one guy that had this huge year. It's that everybody had good years. When they played the highlights [on the video scoreboard] in the playoffs, truth is, I got tears in my eyes with all the things that happened -- the comebacks, the home runs, the walkoffs, the big base hits, the comebacks. At the end of the season, if they didn't play that, you would've forgotten half of them. There were so many, and by different guys."
It'll be a different guy in charge of Tigers hitters next year, but it'll nonetheless be a familiar face. Leyland said he will stay in-house for his new hitting coach, but left it open whether the move would come from the Minor Leagues or the current staff.
Though Leyland wouldn't mention candidates, the most logical move would be to either slide over current bullpen coach Lloyd McClendon or promote Leon Durham from Triple-A Toledo. McClendon spent four years as the Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach before succeeding Gene Lamont as manager, overseeing the development of young hitters Jason Kendall and Aramis Ramirez.
Durham has been the Mud Hens hitting coach for the last six years under managers Bruce Fields and Larry Parrish, giving him familiarity with most of the Tigers hitters. Durham has received widespread credit for his work, both with prospects who come through Toledo and with big-league hitters who are either sent down or sent back for rehabilitation stints.
The matter will be discussed at next week's organizational meetings, said Leyland, who added he won't be in a rush to fill the spot.
As for Van Slyke, he'll be back as Detroit's first base coach in charge of outfielders and baserunning, having agreed to a contract extension for next season.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.