With Tuck retired, Lavarnway turns to Epperson
Red Sox catcher waits to see who will become club's new bullpen coach
BOSTON -- Gary Tuck expected the impossible of his catchers.
"He would say, 'I want you to be perfect," Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway told MLB.com on Thursday by phone from Florida. "And then he would say, 'Now is that possible?' And you expect someone to say, 'No, we're human beings. We're not perfect.'
"But he -- without delay -- would be like, 'Yes. And you will be perfect, after I'm done with you."
Bullpen coaches are probably the most underappreciated of any uniformed member of a Major League staff, just because they're well out of the public eye. The only time you're getting a glimpse of one on a telecast is in the late innings when they're watching a couple of relievers frantically warm up.
But there's a reason Tuck was so well liked in Boston, and a reason why the Yankees reportedly attempted to get him back one offseason ago. Tuck, 58, made the decision to retire this week when he was in Florida to work out with Lavarnway, who's still green relative to most big league catchers.
"He texted me one night and said, 'Hey, we're not going to go in tomorrow,'" Lavarnway said. "Last couple Spring Trainings, and obviously when I made my big league time, he's been there. He's been great. He knows the position very well and he notices things that maybe people wouldn't even think about. He's a good teacher and he knows how to communicate the same point in a couple of different ways so you can understand."
Coaching always comes down to communication, and Lavarnway said Tuck knew how to get the message across, even if it took more than one attempt at the same message. While Tuck's teachings were important to any catcher, someone who came to the position late like Lavarnway could have a different perspective than a lifelong backstop.
"There's not a lot of things in particular," Lavarnway said of what made Tuck special. "It's more the way he communicated and the amount of passion he brought on a daily basis and how he really built confidence in the players. He wanted you to be the best every day and he wanted that from each one of us that he worked with."
Lavarnway said his workouts in Florida have been about becoming more efficient all-around, "and as Tuck would have said, being perfect -- in every phase."
In place of Tuck in Florida now is Chad Epperson, who would be entering his fourth season as the franchise's Minor League catching coordinator. If Epperson turns out to be Boston's choice to replace Tuck on the Major League staff, Lavarnway is on board.
Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett said Thursday that nothing was settled regarding Tuck's replacement.
"I have a great relationship with Eppy," Lavarnway said. "I don't want to say who I think they should pick. But I think Eppy is very qualified. Since Tuck retired, Eppy has come down and been working with me one on one. He's been down here for me."
Epperson spent eight years as a manager or coach in the Red Sox's farm system before becoming a catching coordinator. He was a manager from 2004-09 and spent 2002-03 as a hitting coach with the organization.
As for Lavarnway's future, with David Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia both on the roster, he appears to be the odd man out if the team carries only two catchers. Lavarnway has options remaining and therefore could head to Triple-A Pawtucket to start the season, but injuries could always change things.
"There hasn't been a ton of communication about the future," Lavarnway said. "It's just get in the best shape you can and be ready to help us when you're called upon."