.WHERE ARE THEY NOW
By John Basil
September 30, 2012
In 1984, Jack Perconte hit 150 singles, the third-highest number recorded in the American League that season. The Seattle Mariners second baseman also batted a career high .294 that year. Both of those feats, however, pale in comparison to his role in a simple ground out.
“I was a September call-up from AAA Albuquerque by the Dodgers in 1980, my rookie season,” said Perconte. “With three games to play, we trailed the Houston Astros by three games in the standings (Los Angeles swept the series, with the Astros winning the division in a one-game playoff). As a defensive replacement at second base in the second-to-last day of the regular season, I had an assist for the last out of the game. That was the greatest thrill of my career.”
Perconte had another cup of coffee in Los Angeles the following season, but sandwiched between Dodger great Davey Lopes and future National League Rookie of the Year Steve Sax on the team’s second base depth chart, he knew that his future in the organization was short lived.
“I had opportunities in L.A. but I didn’t take advantage of them, so if I was ever going to have a career in the Big Leagues, I had to go elsewhere,” said Perconte, who was drafted by the Dodgers in the 16th round of the 1976 amateur draft out of Murray State in Kentucky. “Still, the Dodgers were more than generous to me. For my time with them in 1981 they gave me a World Series trophy, a ring and a playoff share – even though I wasn’t on the post-season roster. Those are my most cherished baseball memorabilia.”
Traded with pitcher Rick Sutcliffe to the Cleveland Indians following the ’81 campaign, Perconte played parts of the next two seasons for the Tribe, before being swapped with Gorman Thomas to the Seattle Mariners.
Reunited with Del Crandall, his former skipper at Albuquerque (who was then piloting the Mariners) Perconte earned the starting second base job in 1984 and produced what proved to be the best statistical season of his seven-year Major League career, leading the team in base hits (180) and finishing second on the club in batting average.
Perconte tailed off the next year, hitting .264. Released at the end of spring training prior to the ’86 season, the Illinois native subsequently hooked on with his hometown White Sox, splitting the year between Chicago and its AAA affiliate in Buffalo.
His career came full circle when he signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers in early ’87. After one more season in Albuquerque, Perconte retired from the game, moved back to Illinois and opened Jack Perconte’s Sports Academy, a baseball school devoted to training players of all ages and abilities.
“I don’t have any regrets about my playing days, but I know I would have been more successful if I’d understood the game more and had better fundamentals,” said Perconte, who finished his Major League career with 389 base hits, two homeruns and a lifetime .270 batting average. “My senior year of high school at Joliet Catholic our team only played 20 games and there was no travel ball in the area, so I didn’t develop my talents as fast as other prospects.
“I started the academy to help others learn from my mistakes. When I wasn’t hitting, I had to work very hard to get my swing back. In retrospect, I could have avoided a lot of needless work. I tell my students it’s better to swing a bat right just 10 times than to take 100 swings the wrong way.”
Hitting slumps, however, were few and far between for Perconte (who had a batting average of .311 over the course of his 10-year minor league career) – particularly from 1979-81 when the left-handed swinger strung together batting averages of .322, .326 and .346 at Albuquerque.
At the Major League level, Perconte was known as a steady fielder, reliable contact hitter (averaging a strikeout nearly once every 12 at-bats) and adept bat handler (he tied for the Mariners team lead in ’84 with 11 sacrifice bunts).
“The game’s changed since I played,” said Perconte. “I used to choke up on the bat; now, no one does that.
“I tell parents that players like Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun are freaks of nature and can’t be duplicated. It doesn’t pay to hit fly balls, so it’s best if their kids just try to hit solid line drives and put the ball in play. When I work with a player, I gear the swing to his size and strength. I keep it really simple and don’t get caught up in hitting terminology or follow one hitting philosophy. They’re all the same thing anyway, because swinging a bat is linear, but the hips are rotational.”
After 19 years in operation, teaching hundreds of young players, including former Major Leaguers Joe Benson, Rich Becker and J.J. Furmaniak, Perconte sold his academy in 2007. Since then, he’s produced numerous instructional hitting videos, gives private batting lessons, maintains a website that houses baseball tips for parents, coaches and players, and has authored two educational sports books: "The Making of a Hitter - A Proven and Practical Step-by-Step Baseball Guide" and "Raising an Athlete - How to Instill Confidence, Build Skills and Inspire a Love of Sport.”
While Perconte still maintains close friendships with former Dodgers teammates – now Major League managers – Mike Scioscia (Los Angeles Angels) and Ron Roenicke (Milwaukee Brewers), he has no interest in following in their professional coaching footsteps. Instead, he prefers to stay close to home and wife, Linda, and there three adult children, including son, Mike, a minor league pitcher, whose played in the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers organizations.
The 57-year old Perconte also enjoys indulging in his passion for golf and long distance running, having participated in five marathons.
“After traveling in the game for so many years, it doesn’t appeal to me to go back on the road and start on the bottom of professional ball again, riding buses in the low minor leagues,” said Perconte. “Plus, it’s more fun for me to work with inexperienced players, because it’s easier to see the improvement in their games.”
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