Strength Performance Network

15 years today was my last day as Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox in MLB. I started in August 1987. The previous two years I worked for Al Vemeil who had a contract to provide the conditioning for the White Sox and the Bulls, so I split my time between the two sports. When I started fulltime for the White Sox I had a leg up because I seen from inside what needed to be done. In essence I had two years of evaluation before I took over. The majority of those two years had been under two different general managers. The new general manager (third in two years) Larry Himes and his right hand man, the farm and scouting director Al Goldis were who hired me. They were baseball people who were innovators and visionaries. They wanted to create a model program to identify, sign and develop the best baseball athlete’s possible. They gave me a unique opportunity and I seized the moment and did not look back for nine years.

I focused on the minor leagues, the developmental system. I knew that this was where we could change the culture, establish sound habits and grow the players into productive major players. The stated objective was to establish a system where physical preparation was part of each player’s daily routine both in-season and off–season. I had no assistants, but I was in charge of the minor league trainers. None of whom were certified as ATC’s when I took over. They were given two years two be certified or they would be released. They also became the conditioning coaches for each team; we had six teams. I did not have any help until I got an intern in the summer of 1991. In 1995 I was able to add three interns for the whole season that was a huge help. We set-up a minimalist weight room at each teams clubhouse. I did not want them going to health clubs, that would just add time to their day and give people an excuse to not train, not to mention the distractions. Each position player was required to weight train. The number of days changed depending on the time of season. During the season before games at 4:00 PM everyday there was a structured warm-up and then a specific workout emphasis either linear speed, agility or core for six days a week. The pitchers had a comprehensive program that included weight training. The pitchers program was based on their role as either a reliever or a starter. Everyone, including the pitchers did their weight training before the games. The players would come in the morning and pitchers would come at 2:00 PM.

Here are some of the things we did that were pioneering at the time:

As Director of Conditioning I was in charge of the minor trainers and oversaw the rehab.

Mandatory supervised in-season training.

I was involved in scouting potential draft choices to evaluate their athleticism and potential for physical improvement.

Set up a sport psych program that involved psychological testing and training programs.

We tested and trained vision.

Established a comprehensive testing program to establish baseline measures of athletic performance and measure progress.

Set up a teaching model for the coaches in terms of teaching baseball skill.

Set up a summer intern program.

Designed position specific training programs.

We brought all our rehab in-house. Injured players were brought to our minor league complex in Sarasota where if they were not working with the rehab trainer, they were working with me.

Each player was given a comprehensive off-season program they were held accountable for.

We started pitchers mini camps in 1989 to check on the off-season progress of our pitchers.

We did biomechanical analysis of our pitchers, base running and running mechanics.

Set up a system of tracking injuries

Determined a productivity metric to measure the effects of the program in terms of player and pitcher days available.

In essence what I setup was what I would today call a Performance Model based system. The focus was on building the complete baseball athlete and rebuilding them in a systematic manner. The system worked. The players got faster, stronger, more explosive and they were injury free. Most importantly they became better baseball players. It was an amazing time. As I look back at what we were able to do I see teams today just starting to implement programs that we did twenty years ago. We were ahead of the game in so many ways. There are still three players in the major leagues today who came out of that program: Maglio Ordonez with the Tigers, Carlos Lee with the Astros and Mike Cameron with the Red Sox.

So why did I leave? There had been a change in administration. The new administration was more “old school” baseball; they did not value the innovations, so there were some fundamental philosophical differences. It was time to move on and looking back I think I was a bit burned out. The year around volume of work and travel wore on me. I needed a change. Symbolically I closed the door to my office, walked out the front door of the complex and got into my car and drove home ready to embark on a new challenge, a new adventure, Major League Soccer. I started with soccer the next day and hardly ever looked back. I am so thankful to Larry Himes and Al Goldis for giving this incredible opportunity to innovate and learn, I also want to thanks the great coaches and trainers I worked with, but most of all the players who did the work. Thanks guys.It was an experience for all of us.

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