Rumors of Rudy Jaramillo’s retirement greatly exaggerated
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org June 12, 2013 9:33PM
Updated: July 15, 2013 7:34PM
Rudy Jaramillo still has to set people straight sometimes when he gets calls from old friends wondering what he’s up to these days.
‘‘Some people thought maybe I’d retired,’’ the Cubs’ former hitting coach said. ‘‘I didn’t retire. I got fired.’’
Whether he gets the last laugh on that one isn’t likely to be determined for at least another few years.
Until then, Jaramillo is specifically not retired. The energetic 62-year-old runs his Dallas-area hitting school, works with two area high schools and still coaches a handful of big leaguers who continue to seek him out.
And, says one of the most successful hitting coaches in the game the last two decades, he’s ready to return to professional baseball a year after getting the pink slip he saw coming from the start of his first spring training under the Cubs’ new regime last year.
‘‘I love the game,” Jaramillo said Tuesday, one year to the day after he was fired. ‘‘Hopefully, I can get that chance again. I love working with young players, and I can connect with them.’’
He had success with young Cubs hitters such as Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro, who had a strong relationship with Jaramillo and led the league in hits under him, earning two All-Star appearances in that time.
Castro’s struggles this year have become the most scrutinized, criticized and overanalyzed element of a mostly lifeless Cubs season.
Jaramillo, who coached mechanics and emphasized an upbeat mental approach, isn’t willing to weigh in on Castro’s issues from afar.
‘‘I don’t know because I’m not there,” he said. “I couldn’t make a right comment on that.’’
The final half-season of his Cubs tenure doesn’t seem to be a part of his career he remembers fondly. Sources say team president Theo Epstein, not surprisingly, was shopping for a new hitting coach before spring training ever began last year and that Jaramillo wasn’t included in the individual planning sessions with hitters that spring.
‘‘It’s all in the past,” said Jaramillo, who hasn’t remained in touch with many from his Cubs days but stayed positive about the 2½-year experience despite the ending. ‘‘I think anytime you get fired, you feel like you didn’t get the job done. I have no regrets. They gave me the opportunity — the Ricketts family did, when Jim [Hendry] was there. I had two happy years. A new regime comes in and they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do.
‘‘I’m accountable. My job was to help those guys get better.’’
If the Cubs struggled under Jaramillo, they certainly haven’t excelled since as they wait for a projected core to develop. Castro’s average dropped under .240 on Wednesday. Barney is at .203. Anthony Rizzo is down to .252 without a homer in nearly a month.
Not that it would have mattered for Jaramillo if the Cubs were the top-hitting team in the league, given the change in ‘‘message” the Cubs sought at the time, but when he was fired, they were hitting .247 with a .304 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage.
In the calendar year since: .238, .300 and .386.
‘‘They have to do what they have to do,’’ Jaramillo said. ‘‘I’ve known those kids [excluding Rizzo], and I got to where I was close with them. I want them to do well.’’
As he mulls a return, Jaramillo is aware of the changing faces of front offices and the philosophy changes that come with them in many cases.
But the key to successful hitting remains the same, he said.
‘‘It’s confidence,’’ he said. ‘‘If you’re good at [instilling] that, you’re going to have success. They’ll trust you, believe in you, work with you, and they’re going to have confidence. Keep reminding them how good they can be and give them that tough love.’’