With manager John Farrell taking a leave of absence due to his battle with cancer, bench coach Torey Lovullo has taken over as manager of the Boston Red Sox. Dana LaVangie, the team’s bullpen coach, has taken over as interim bench coach for the remainder of the 2015 season. Brandon Magee takes a look at the interesting path that LaVangie has taken to a big league dugout.
Here is a question about the 2004 Red Sox World Championship team and the 2013 Red Sox World Championship team that could win quite a few bets: Which two members of the Red Sox were both on the field and in uniform during the 2004 and 2013 World Series? The first name is a given, Big Papi David Ortiz. The second? Heretofore anonymous interim Bench Coach for the Boston Red Sox, Dana LeVangie.
Dana LeVangie’s Red Sox career started in 1991, drafted in the 14th round out of Springfield, Massachusetts’ American International University College. In his senior season at AIC, LeVangie put up video game numbers for the Yellow Jackets, with a line of .462/.508/.811 and 78 hits (including 14 doubles, 3 triples and 13 home runs), 51 runs scored and 75 RBI. LeVangie led the Yellow Jackets to the Northeast-10 regular season championship, the Northeast-10 tournament championship and AIC’s only appearance in the NCAA Division II World Series. He was named a Division II All-American as well as being the Northeast-10 Player of the Year.
Unfortunately, the catcher never was able to even come close to those numbers with wood bats. Although he played six season for the Red Sox minor league affiliates, starting with Elmira in 1991 and ending with AAA Pawtucket in 1996, LeVangie’s career line of .196/.274/.249 in 1,186 plate appearances laid bare his struggles at the plate. At 26 and with little hope of ascendency to the major leagues as a player, LeVangie was thrown a rope ‒ he was asked to be the bullpen catcher for the Red Sox.
LeVangie spent the next eight years in Boston, toiling in anonymity as the bullpen catcher. LeVangie lived in a world where he wasn’t a player – despite catching hundreds of pitches daily and doing other on field tasks of a player – or a coach. He honed his skills in evaluating how a pitcher was pitching, potentially catching and fixing flaws before they could become evident in game action. As Matt McDermott, a minor league baseball bullpen catcher, explained:
“Bullpen catchers are the men in a baseball game who have the responsibility of warming up relief pitchers in the bullpen. Most of these catchers are anonymous to baseball fans and the sports media, never get a baseball card made of them (even when the mascot sometimes does!), yet they impact the overall experience at a baseball game in ways most people do not recognize. While their primary duty is to warm up relief pitchers during a game, there are many other things bullpen catchers do to while serving in what some consider to be a “thankless” role for the team.”
Eight years of anonymous expert training, LeVangie worked with Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. He worked with Tim Wakefield and Derek Lowe, Curt Schilling, Dennis Eckersley and Bret Saberhagen, Rich Garces and Hipolito Pichardo. He even caught Paxton Crawford and Tomo Ohka. He was able to learn from catchers Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli. And, on his last day as the bullpen catcher, he partied on the field in St Louis after Keith Foulke underhanded to Doug Mientkiewicz and 86 years were swallowed up by an earthquake of emotion and elation.
Having proven his worth to the Red Sox, LeVangie changed career paths in 2005. Joining the scouting staff, Dana spent one season as a pro scout. While his exact itinerary that year is not known, a pro scout is exactly what it sounds like, scouting players in other major league organizations, gathering data for use in trades or future free agent signings.
LeVangie continued in the Pro Scouting Department over the next seven years as a Major League advance scout. Advanced scouting is largely concerned with finding tendencies and trends, advantages that may be used during the next series. Advanced scouting this season may have given the Orioles’ and Blue Jays knowledge of Eduardo Rodriguez’s pitch tipping.
LeVangie was one of the many advance scouts who followed the Rockies prior to the 2007 World Series. As explained by Allard Baird to the Boston Globe’s Gordon Edes during the World Series:
“You know how people say, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff?’ This is completely the opposite. You sweat the small stuff. It’s all about the little things. If they don’t want it, they don’t have to use it, but it’s all there if they want it.”
What is the small stuff? One of the pieces of information the scouting staff gathered was that Matt Holliday would attempt to steal on the first pitch Jonathan Papelbon threw. The result was a successful pick off, a Game Two win and the eventual sweep of the Colorado Rockies. A result that Dana LeVangie and the scouting department helped make possible and a result that earned a second World Series ring.
LeVangie would move back to his ancestral home in 2013, becoming the Red Sox bullpen coach in February of 2013. Unlike some others on the coaching staff, the name of the bullpen coach is rarely known. After all, doesn’t he just sit in the bullpen and answer the phone? How important could he possibly be? Of course, the job is not that simple.
Supervising the warm-ups of relief pitchers is part of the job, recognizing if the pitcher is ready to come into the game or, more importantly, is not going to be effective in a game is also a part of the job. Additionally, as with the first and third base coach, the bullpen coach has additional responsibilities. LeVangie serves as the club’s catching coordinator, a job that has held extra importance the past couple of seasons with the promotions of youngsters Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. And, as a coach on the 2013 team, LeVangie was once again in the bullpen as the Red Sox won Game Six of the World Series, at Fenway for the first time since 1918, and picking up his third World Series ring.
With the cancer diagnosis of Manager John Farrell and his decision to take the rest of the season off to receive treatment, LeVangie has stepped up to a new role. Bench coach Torey Lovullo takes over the managerial reigns for the rest of the season and LeVangie was tapped by Farrell to be Lovullo’s consigliere, the interim bench coach. While bench coaches are far less anonymous, the job of the bench coach is also not well understood. LeVangie explained the role to Ron Chimelis of the Republican:
“It involves constant communication with the manager, the pitching coach and so on. The job is to help think about decisions, leading up to those decisions.
“Instead of (the bench coach being) just a yes man, there is a trust factor. You may go against what (the manager) is thinking, but you also have to be careful not to cross that line.”
LeVangie also must be prepared to manage. The bench coach is the de facto assistant manager, taking over for a manger felled by illness, injury or the fickle finger of the umpire.
Dana LeVangie has spent 24 seasons in the Red Sox organization, toiling in obscurity but playing an important role in each championship season. As he enters into the light, LeVangie is well prepared. Having ridden the buses and benches of the minor leagues, he knows the difficulties of getting to the majors. As a bullpen catcher, he spent years interacting with major league pitchers and catchers, being a student and a teacher at the same time. As a scout, he expanded his knowledge as he noted tendencies and spotted trends. Whether or not he can become the next scout to become a full-time manager remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the chronicles of Dana LeVangie have more chapters to be written.