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Mike Easler

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Michael Anthony Easler
(Hit Man, Easy)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Mike Easler emerged as an All-Star outfielder in the 1980s but spent 10 years of summers in the minor leagues with five organizations and winters in Latin America (with the Águilas del Zulia most notably) before becoming a major-league baseball regular. As he writes, "it was nice to know that so many teams wanted me. It wasn't nice to know so many teams didn't want me." He also says that the time allowed him to learn how to pick the best rental furniture. Easler hit .293 in his major league career.

[edit] Early career, marriage

He was drafted out of high school by the Houston Astros in the 14th round of the 1969 amateur draft. Easler signed in return for a $500 tuition payment at Cleveland State University. Assigned to the Covington Astros, Mike hit .319/~.384/.416, but fielded just .897 as an OF-3B. In 1970, he played for the Cocoa Astros and put up a .252/~.315/.322 line. He stayed with Cocoa and batted .293/~.342/.439, stealing 16 bases in 17 tries. He was one plate appearance shy of finishing among the batting average leaders; he would have placed 8th. He made the Florida State League All-Star team. Additionally, he married his wife Brenda, the sister of Cliff Johnson. During Mike's time in the minors, Brenda helped him as a batting practice pitcher (though "honestly, she never had much of a breaking ball.")

[edit] AA and AAA and AAA some more

In 1972, he was with the Columbus Astros and had a .269/~.327/.425 campaign. 1973 was split between Columbus (.310/~.401/.494), the Denver Bears (.284/~.323/.489) and a September call-up to Houston (0 for 7). The next year, coach Bob Lillis helped Easler develop his power strike; Mike says Lillis was the one coach who worked with him instead of trying to change him. He batted .283/~.369/.430 with 19 homers (his previous high had been 13) and was 1 for 15 with the 1974 Astros.

He was 0 for 5 for Houston in 1975 to begin his big-league career 1 for 27. As he was only being used as a pinch-hitter in meaningless situations, he asked to be sent back to the minors. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 25 for a player to be named later (Mike Barlow would be named), splitting the American Association campaign between the Tulsa Oilers and Iowa Oaks; overall, he hit .313/~.383/.525. He was 5th in the AA in average and made the All-Star team. Easler became a born-again Christian that year. He never played a major league game for the Cardinals.

[edit] Several years torching the high minors

In 1976, the 25-year-old outfielder spent the year in the Cardinals' AAA affiliate, Tulsa. He battered the ball, hitting .352/~.431/.651. He led the American Association in average and OBP and was second to Roger Freed in slugging. He even had a great year in the field, leading AA outfielders with 16 assists. Freed beat out Easler for MVP honors. After the minor league season, St. Louis dealt Easler away for another player to be named later (who would be Ron Farkas). For the California Angels in 1976, Mike hit .241/.259/.296 in 54 AB, his longest look to that point.

On April 4, 1977, California dealt Easler to the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor leaguer Randy Sealy. Mike hit .302/~.407/.508 for the Bucs' Columbus Clippers farm team and was 8 for 18 with 13 total bases for Pittsburgh in another brief glance at the big leagues. The Boston Red Sox purchased him that off-season, but traded him back to Pittsburgh for George M. Hill, Martin Rivas, and cash.

In 1978, Mike was stuck between Al Oliver, Dave Parker and Omar Moreno among Pittsburgh outfielders and returned to AAA for the 6th time. He batted .330/~.427/.522 for the Clippers and again led his league in average and OBP. He was second to Jim Obradovich in slugging and tied for third with 84 runs. He homered 18 times, drew 75 walks and drove in 84. Rotating between the outfield, first base and DH, Easler was picked to the International League All-Star squad as an OF; Gary Allenson was the MVP. Mike did not even get a September call-up. He had won two minor league batting and OBP titles and made four All-Star teams. He hit .298 and slugged .489 in the minors.

[edit] To the majors to stay

At age 28 entering 1979 and earning $22,000, Easler figured he would either have to make the majors or face the end of the line. He bought a house that year "on faith. We had to; we didn't have any money." Mike was rarely used by the 1979 Pirates, getting 54 AB in 55 games, only appearing four times in the field. Early in the year, the team had to pick between letting pinch-hitter Easler or pinch-runner Matt Alexander go. Easler hit pinch-hit homers in the 13th inning against the New York Mets off of Skip Lockwood and a week later against Craig Swan to save his roster spot and career. He hit .278/.371/.444 with those two home runs. He went 0 for 2 in his only post-season playing time.

[edit] With Pittsburgh as a regular

Easler became a regular for the 1980 Pirates, replacing Bill Robinson as a starter and platooning with Lee Lacy. He proved to be up to his first significant big-league action, hitting .338/.396/.583 and had one of the top five OPSes in the National League. He also hit for the cycle, starting with a triple, then a double and a single before finishing with an upper-deck home run off of Doug Bair on June 12. In 1981, he hit .286/.328/.431 but made the only All-Star team of his career. Easler replaced Dave Parker in right field for the NL and went 0 for 1 with a walk and a run. He also smashed a water cooler in Candlestick Park after losing his temper that year. The next year, the 31-year-old veteran had a .276/.337/.476 line. In 1983, Easler batted .307/.349/.441. Chuck Tanner would often replace Easler with a defensive suhstitute and limited his time against left-handers, often using him as a platoon player. This role was a logical role as Easler only hit .250/.301/.356 against left-handers during his major league career, while batting .287/.342/.449 against righties. As Pittsburgh had good right-handed platoon threats in Robinson and Lee Lacy, the move made sense. Pittsburgh aimed to rebuild around speed and defense, so they dealt away the slow, poor-defensive Easler to Boston for John Tudor, getting far more in return from the BoSox then they had dealt the Red Sox for Easler five years prior.

Among all players to get 1,000+ AB for the Pirates of the 1980s, Easler had the highest slugging average (.472), beating out Andy Van Slyke (.467), Bobby Bonilla (.464) and Barry Bonds (.458). His .301 average in the decade was second to Lee Lacy, ahead of Bill Madlock.

[edit] The Boston years

Easler became a DH almost full-time in 1984 ("the way I field, I was born to be a DH") and loved the close left field in Fenway Park. He hit .313/.376/.516 for a 140 OPS+, his second-best, despite playing regularly against southpaws. Playing in a stadium suited to his strengths, he was sixth in the 1984 AL in average, 7th in slugging and OPS, 5th in hits (188) and total bases (310) and hit a career-high 27 homers. For the 1985 Red Sox, he hit .262/.325/.412; he again was fifth in the AL in strikeouts, but it was a much weaker season.

[edit] Ending the major league part of his playing career

Before the '86 season, Easler was dealt to the New York Yankees in exchange for another veteran hitter, Don Baylor. Mike hit .302/.362/.449 for the 1986 Yankees but was traded that winter with Tom Barrett to the Philadelphia Phillies for Charles Hudson and Jeff Knox. Easler hit only .282/.316/.345 for the 1987 Phillies as his power seemed to vanish (1 HR in 110 AB) and was sent back to the Yanks for prospects Keith Hughes and Shane Turner. He finished his MLB playing career by batting .281/.337/.389 for the 1987 Yankees. Overall in the majors, Easler hit .293/.345/.454, not bad for a guy who started out 1 for 27.

[edit] Post-MLB playing career

Easler signed with the Nippon Ham Fighters partway through the 1988 season and the 37-year-old hit .304/.380/.507 with 19 homers. Returning in 1989, he batted .296/.387/.488 in 45 games and finished his NPB career at .302/.382/.515. He also played in the fall of 1989 for the West Palm Beach Tropics of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. He hit .323 in 35 games.

[edit] Coaching and managing

In 1990, Easler managed the Miami Miracle for part of the year. He was the hitting coach for the 1992 Brewers, then moved to the Boston Red Sox in 1993. When he refused to work with replacement players during the 1994 strike, he was let go by the Red Sox. He was manager of the Nashua Pride in the independent Atlantic League in 1998 and 1999 and returned to the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals after that season but Mitchell Page replaced him as the hitting coach on July 14, 2001. He declined a job as a roving instructor and filed a suit against the team, but later retracted it. In 2002, Easler was elected to the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was hired as hitting coach for the Jacksonville Suns. In 2007, he was a coach for the Las Vegas 51s, then in January 2008 stepped in to become hitting coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers, replacing the recently-named Don Mattingly who resigned for family-related reasons. Easler is the hitting coach of the Buffalo Bisons in 2011.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • NL All-Star (1981)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 2 (1980 & 1984)
  • Won a World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979

[edit] Year-By-Year Minor League Managerial Record

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1990 Miami Miracle Florida State League 34-83 -- none replaced by Fredi Gonzalez on August 14
1998 Nashua Pride Atlantic League 59-41 3rd Independent Leagues
1999 Nashua Pride Atlantic League 52-67 5th (t) Independent Leagues
2004 Florence Freedom Frontier League 17-32 11th Independent Leagues replaced Tom Browning (13-33) and Pete Rose Jr. (1-0)

[edit] Primary Sources

The Fall of the Roman Umpire by Ron Luciano, 1970-1979 Baseball Guides, Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland, Total Baseball (7th edition) edited by Pete Palmer, Michael Gershman and John Thorn, The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia by David Finoli and Bill Rainer

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