.WHERE ARE THEY NOW
By John Basil
October 9, 2011
As the son of educators, perhaps it was only fitting that Von Joshua followed in his parents’ footsteps when his playing career ended – if not into the classroom, than to the coaching profession.
Today, the 10-year major league veteran is in his 28th season as a professional hitting instructor. A position that he realized early in his playing days would be his destiny.
“When I played for the Dodgers’ AAA team in Spokane in ’69, we used to watch the opposing team take batting practice and my teammates called me the ‘Hit Doctor’ because I had a knack for spotting what a hitter was doing wrong and how it could be fixed,” said Von, who’s currently in his seventh season as a batting coach for the Chicago Cubs’ AAA affiliate in Iowa. “Then, when I played for the Dodgers, Tommy Lasorda always used to tell me I’d make a good coach some day. When I tried it, I loved it. I still do.”
Von’s coaching odyssey began in 1984 – two years after his playing career ended in the Mexican League and four years after being released by his last major league employer: the San Diego Padres. The Dodgers hired the former outfielder as the hitting instructor for their AA San Antonio farm club. From there, he advanced to AAA Albuquerque, before leaving the organization to assume similar posts for the White Sox in such far-flung minor league outposts as South Bend, Prince William (VA), Bristol (VA), Birmingham, Nashville and Calgary.
His work with farmhands, including future major leaguers Magglio Ordonez and Mike Cameron, helped Von earn a promotion to the parent club in 2001. Released by the White Sox after the season, Von quickly caught on with the Blue Jays as their roving minor league hitting instructor, a position he held before moving to the Cubs’ organization in 2003.
Although he enjoyed the perks of life back in the big leagues, Von said nothing compares to the satisfaction he receives from working with prospects.
“It’s equally rewarding to be a batting coach in the majors and minors, but the majors have more established guys, so I’d tell them ‘I’m here if you need me,’” said Von, who was also the Cubs’ interim hitting instructor in 2009. “There’s more teaching in the minors and it’s fun working with those players to help them reach their goals.”
Despite not achieving his personal goal of being an everyday big league player (“I wasn’t a home run hitter and didn’t steal a lot of bases,” he said), Von was a lifetime .273 hitter in the majors. He hit a career-high .318 with the Giants in 1975, yet considers his two stints in Los Angeles to be the high points of his playing days.
“Even though I went zero for four in a pinch hitting role and we lost four games to one to the Oakland A’s, being in the ’74 World Series was such a great thrill,” said Von, who made the last out of the series. “After the Brewers released me in spring training in ’78, I played in the Mexican League for a season, before returning to the Dodgers in ’79. That was a fun year. I hit a home run in Cincinnati that – at the time – made Don Sutton the winningest pitcher in L.A. Dodger history.
A first-round pick by San Francisco out of Castlemont High School in Oakland, CA in 1967, Von and the club couldn’t agree to contract terms and he signed with the Dodgers a year later. A trade after the ’74 season, however, put Von in a Giants’ uniform and gave him the opportunity to experience one of sports’ most famous rivalries from another dugout.
“I played six seasons for the Dodgers and parts of two seasons for the Giants and the rivalry was much more intense for the Giants,” Von recalled. “When I came up with the Dodgers in ’69, the rivalry was still pretty heated, but it became less intense over time for me when guys like Garry Maddox and Gary Matthews joined the Giants because we’d become buddies from playing against each other in the minors.”
Von said he maintains his closest baseball friendships, however, with members of the organization where he spent the bulk of his playing career, making it particularly trying for him to follow the news reports of the Dodgers’ current economic troubles.
“I still have friends in the organization, like Al Downing and Tommy Davis, and it’s just sad to watch the Dodgers go through this,” said Von. “Mr. [Walter ] O’Malley must be rolling in his grave at what’s going on and his son Peter, who sold the team to the last ownership group, has to be in agony.”
Assuming his health holds up, the 63-year-old Hit Doctor, who makes his off-season home in Michigan with his wife, Janet, has no immediate plans to take down his shingle.
“I work two to three hours a day from February to September 1st, get paid year round and love baseball, so there’s no need to retire yet,” said Von. “What other job is like that? I think I was born to teach hitting.”
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