07/26/2002 9:29 AM ET
Where have you gone, Richard Dotson?
CHICAGO -- It had been nearly 12 years since Richard Dotson last wore a Major League uniform.
By Jimmy Greenfield / MLB.com
His only connection with organized baseball since was spending a few years as a volunteer coach at his former high school.
Dotson still missed the game, however, and when he went to visit former White Sox teammates Greg Walker and Britt Burns at a Triple-A game in Toledo, Ohio, he happened upon just the right chance meeting that would lead to his return.
Walker, also Dotson's best friend, is the hitting coach for the Sox' Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte while Burns is the pitching coach for their opponent that day, the Toledo Mud Hens.
"We were all sitting around talking and (Charlotte manager) Nick (Leyva) had mentioned something that they were looking for someone for the (pitching coach) job in (Rookie) Bristol and he said he'd make a phone call.
"Two weeks went by and I didn't hear anything from him. I was thinking of calling but I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to call if they had someone in the system in mind."
The only person they had in mind was Dotson, and a few weeks after that conversation in Toledo he found himself on his way to Bristol, Virgina of the Rookie Appalachian League.
"My wife really encouraged me to do it," Dotson said. "It was really special that she did that because I missed baseball. I really missed it a lot and she kind of said 'you ought to do it it's a good opportunity.' I had to hear it from her."
It helps that Bristol is just a five-hour drive from his home in New Richmond, Ohio, where Dotson has lived with his wife and their six children since he retired from baseball in 1990.
There are four teenagers in the brood but also a two-year old girl, Claire, whom Dotson will get to see when the family drives out to meet him on the road next week. Dotson, meanwhile, is finding that his return to his pro baseball roots isn't so bad. He enjoys the fabled bus rides that give the minor leagues so much of their character and flavor.
"I know it sounds stupid but I'm tickled pink," Dotson said. "The buses are a heck of a lot better than when I was playing. I'm fortunate to be back in baseball doing something that I love to do. I really missed it. Being around players and now being part of that staff I'm just very fortunate."
But there is a trade-off from receiving a home-cooked meal every night.
"I'm happy when we have a Shonee's and I don't have to go to Waffle House," Dotson said.
That's a long way from Dotson's heyday when, as a 24-year-old mainstay for the 1983 Sox team, he helped the Sox win the AL West by a record 20 games with a 99-63 mark.
The staff was led by Cy Young winner Lamarr Hoyt, southpaw Floyd Bannister and Dotson. The Sox were 40-37 at one point but the trio went a remarkable 42-5 after the All-Star break.
Dotson finished with his best, going 22-7 with a 3.23 ERA. He made the All-Star team in 1984 but the achievements of the '83 "Winning Ugly" club still stand out.
"Two guys that really influenced the way I thought were Dick Tidrow and Jerry Koosman," Dotson said. "They would talk to me and they'd help me as a teammate if they saw something about what I was doing with pitch selecion. And not all guys do that. That '83 team was special."
It's surprising to learn that Dotson is only 43 years old but has been retired from baseball for so long. When he made his Major League debut with the White Sox in 1979 he was only 20 and by the time he was 25 had already won 70 games.
By comparison, Greg Maddux also broke in at the age of 20 and had won 75 games at the age of 25. But Dotson suffered from an overdeveloped pectoral muscle which caused him shoulder pain and surgery was needed in 1985.
"They cut the muscle in two and, of course, I was able to play after that but I was never the same," Dotson said. "My shoulder hurt more after that than before."
Dotson was traded to the New York Yankees in 1988 and finished his career as a reliever with Kansas City in 1990, when he was released in mid-season. His final record of 111-113 could have been much better if he had only stayed healthy but he spends no time thinking about what might have been.
"It was hard, but that's the way life is," Dotson said. "I wish I was pitching but I had a problem and that's the way it is. Now I'm doing this and it can be satisfying. I had a career and now I can enjoy other people's success."
One strategy Dotson immediately employed was to recall strategies used by former Sox pitching coach Dave Duncan, now with St. Louis.
The Bristol club started the season 2-12 and in one game the pitching staff walked 15 and threw roughly 300 pitches.
"I remember Dave Duncan talking about first-pitch strikes when we were with the White Sox," Dotson said. "When we got ahead of the hitters they were hitting. 170. When we got behind them they were hitting .700. It was a pretty easy example to show them the importance of getting a first-pitch strike."
Since that lesson the Bristol staff -- which has 2002 draft picks Shawn Tracy, Josh Rupe, and B.J. Mura among its players -- has settled in and the club is around .500.
The short-season league began on June 18 and concludes Aug. 27. Dotson hopes his coaching career will last far beyond that. Not content to just have received from the game, he's ready to give back.
"Some of these pitchers that I have are really good at the high school or Junior College level, or even college," Dotson said. "But start playing better competition and a lot of these guys have never experienced gettting hammered. That aspect I can help them with.
"I learned in my career what it's like to be on top and when I got hurt what it's like not to be successful. I've seen both sides of it."
Jimmy Greenfield covers the White Sox for MLB.com and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.