Former Tiger Darnell Coles Embraces Brewers Challenges

Former Tiger Darnell Coles Embraces Brewers Challenges

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

Although the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians is almost over, it’s never too late to reflect on the 2016 regular season.

When we were in Milwaukee to see the Brewers in action against the Pittsburgh Pirates during late August, I caught up with another baseball friend Darnell Coles.

I’ve known Coles, 54, since Spring Training of 1986, when he was acquired by the Tigers from the Seattle Mariners.

If there is an individual that’s seen baseball from many different perspectives, Coles is that person.

He played in the Major Leagues for 14 seasons with eight different teams: 1) Seattle, 2) Detroit, 3) Pittsburgh, 4)San Francisco, 5) Cincinnati, 6) Toronto, 7) St. Louis, and 8) Colorado.  Coles managed to hang around in the Major Leagues by playing in both the infield and outfield.

Darnell’s Career batting totals include .245 average, 75 HR, 368 RBI, and 957 Career games.  For the Tigers in 1986, he hit 20 HR, 86 RBI with a .273 average along with 521 AB, in 142 games.  The 1986 campaign was his best MLB season.

During his travels, Coles was a member of the 1993 World Champion Toronto Blue Jays.

He is one of only 14 players ever, including Babe Ruth, to hit three homers in a game in both the National League (1987 Pirates) and the American League (1994 Blue Jays).

Coles has managed in the Minor Leagues four seasons compiling a 223-268 mark with a .454 percentage.

Darnell spent the 2014 season as an Assistant Hitting Coach with Detroit, his first career coaching position at the Major League Level, serving under former Tiger Wally Joyner.

During Coles tenure, the Tigers led the Major Leagues in batting average (.277) and ranked second in runs (.757), OBP (.331), slugging (.426) and OBS (.757).  Coles served as a Baseball Analyst for ESPN from 2001-2006.

In 2016, Coles Brewers ranked 25th in MLB as his club had a .244 batting average.

Milwaukee finish fourth in the NL Central with a 73-89 mark, 30.5 games back behind the Chicago Cubs (103-58).

If there is a baseball lifer, Darnell is it. 

We had the chance to have a great conversation on many interesting topics.

Q:  Doesn’t it seem unfortunate that the Tigers and Brewers don’t meet as often?

A:  It’s unfortunate but, the fortunate part is I can watch from afar knowing that you were part of something special there in multi facets as a player.  The teams I played on there were outstanding from Tram (Alan Trammell) Lou (Whitaker) Gibby (Kirk Gibson) Chet Lemon and the whole crew.  Coming back as a coach, Brad Ausmus hired me for my first Major League Coaching job working with Wally Joyner and Mr (Dave) Dombrowski so I couldn’t be more grateful to them for the opportunity.

Q:  What was it like working with the Tigers hitters?

A:  When you have a Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, a special group like that, I don’t know how much work is being done at getting them more consistent or being better.  I think all those guys are great hitters Obviously Miggy is on a different stratosphere when it comes to hitting.  But I think working with that group, you have a distinct understanding how guys should go about their business.  They understand what it takes each and everyday to be successful and the consistency of that showing every night is a beautiful thing when you work with those kind of hitters

Q. How much did the Tigers experience prepare you for your position with the Milwaukee Brewers?

A:  I think it did everything in preparing me for it because being an assistant in Detroit, I learned from Wally Joyner.  I paid attention to detail, worked on a couple different projects that he wanted me to work on.  I wanted to make sure he was satisfied with all the work being put into it.  Ultimately, it allowed us to have a great working relationship.  We’re great friends.  We call each other up every now and then to kind of bounce things off each other. Again, I couldn’t be more grateful in what he’s meant for me in my career.

Q:  What’s it like to be coaching a younger team which is far less experienced and talented then what you had in Detroit?

A:  I think payroll has a little bit to do with it.  In Detroit each and every other guy was making an enormous amount of money.  At the end of the day, the work they put in, consistency of that work showing up during the game is fantastic with the way they carried themselves.  The group as a whole understanding what it took to play for the guy next to him, keep the line moving next to him to do their job and allowing everybody to do theirs is a huge part as to why Detroit was successful when I was there and is successful today.

Q:  In your current Brewers situation, you have a much younger group and obviously they don’t have the experience.  How much of a challenge has it been for you dealing with a different type of situation, than in Detroit?

A:  I think with a younger group, there is a lot of teachable moments to understand what teams are trying to do to you, what teams are trying to set you up later in the game, pitch to you with runners on base, will they not, will they give you a good pitch to hit.  You have to understand and pay attention to the scoreboard.  The scoreboard generally tells you everything you need to know.

Q:  Let’s talk about Ryan Braun and former Tiger Herman Perez.  Did you work with him in Detroit and how is he to coach?

A:I did work with him in Detroit and got a chance to see him there.  He didn’t get a chance to play a lot based on the fact you had Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias.  You have guys that played everyday in the positions he played in then it was going to be tough to get at bats.  He had an opportunity to come over here was a fresh new deal for him to play a little third base, a little shortstop, a little second base, and now he has put himself in a position to play the outfield.  So this allows him to getting to playing a number of positions.  But it also allows him to consistently get at bats.  He went to winter ball this year, lost weight, got himself in great shape, came back this year after having a great winter ball.  He started the season in AAA (Colorado Springs).  Consistently he did well there and he’s been phenomenal.  Getting him here, we’ve gotten him to make adjustments that have worked out.  He’s put himself in a position to possibly vie for a regular position at some point in time down the road. He’s special to watch because he’s someone who you have worked with over time that has consistently gotten better and now it’s showing up in the same.  That’s a beautiful thing.

As for Ryan Braun is Ryan Braun.  He’s one of the best payers in the game.  To me, he’s one of the top five hitters in MLB.  He has a routine he does everyday understands hitting, how he’s being pitched, understands situations, pays attention to detail, has a plan and the list goes on and on.  There is very few guys that go about their business the way he does and the consistency of that showing up every night and you see that in the results  He’s a great player that’s a great teammate and he’s special to watch.  I’m happy I get a chance to work with him everyday.

Q:  What’s it like working with a small market club compared to the bigger market teams around MLB?  Do you embrace this challenge?

A:  I think the market place is what it is.  We have a great fan base, as good of a ballpark (Miller Park) as there is in Major League Baseball.  So that portion of it is taken care of.  I think the reality of it is that we’re a team that has to develop our farm system.  We’re doing a great job of doing that with David Sterns (General Manager) coming in and Matt Arnold his Assistant GM have put in place for us to give these guys a better opportunity in order to build a long term future.  Our guys understand that they will get opportunities to play there will be a lot of teachable moments.  We have to understand as coaches, the more we teach them and the better they get, that will increase our chance of being successful.  I embrace any challenge of getting guys better!

Q:  Let’s describe Milwaukee as a baseball town, Wouldn’t it be scary when they do win considering they can get 35,000 fans for a sub .500 team?  It makes me wonder does Milwaukee have the potential to be a Sleeping Giant once the Brewers play contending baseball.

A:  I think it shows that the fan base shows up every night  They understand what the transitional period is.  We’re a team that’s young and motivate that talent to be good Major League players.  That takes time but our fan base is always sticking by their teams and they understand the gravity of the situation.  With that said, they want to win and want to win now as much as we do.  So we’re trying to do it in a systematic way that allows us to win long term but financially puts us in the best possible position to be stable for a long time.

Q:  You worked with Brad Ausmus and now Craig Counsell.  Both are young managers.  Compare and contrast both skippers?

A:  They’re both young, have played baseball for a long time, they understand how the game is played.  They’re both old school and came up at a time when players had to go out and play, perform and do well to continue to play in the Big Leagues.  I think they both have a distinct understanding to how they want their teams to play.  They’re very good at making sure that the talent they have plays a brand of baseball, but each can be proud of.  Like I said, I enjoy and it’s been a pleasure to work with both of them.

Q:  Finally, Do you  have a managerial aspirations one day in the big leagues?  Do you understand how important patience is to get that opportunity?

A:  I do.  I managed in the minor leagues.  Getting to the Big Leagues as a Hitting Coach has been special.  At the end of the day, I do want to eventually get an opportunity to be a bench coach then to manage.  I’ve learned a lot of things from the different managers, such as Sparky Anderson, Jim Leyland to name a few that have allowed you to earn and gain a distinct understanding of how the game is supposed to be taught, played, and how to run a franchise from the foundation up has been beautiful to watch.  I’d love to get an opportunity to be a part of that and show everybody all the things that you’ve learned along the way will allow you to be a manager that will allow your players to play, hold them accountable but most importantly, be a manager that puts the city on his backing and is capable of winning championships and getting out in the community.  It’s a big part of what I want to do.  If I set the opportunity, I will put my best foot forward and hope that chance comes one day.  I’ve always been patient, being a hitting coordinator, then a hitting coach you have to be patient

because the development of players sometimes comes later than others.  You have to be patient enough to stick with the program, understand what the program is all about, but to methodically add and subtract things that don’t prevent that player from being successful so that you can get the best out of them daily.


I feel like I’m really good at that.  I learned this as a player and it took me sometime to catch on and experience to learn it.  Patience has carried me now that I’m coaching and I’ll have a lot as a manager.

There is no doubt in my mind that Coles has many good years left in baseball. At age 54, his student of the game mentality means the sky is the limits as time progresses. There are never enough good minds in baseball. I will be looking forward where/when our paths cross in the future.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at www.scottsports33.com and is a member of The Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association.