'Super Joe' brings passion for baseball to Sox
Third-base coach McEwing managed Triple-A Charlotte in '11
CHICAGO -- It's a nickname that has been as strongly associated with Joe McEwing as his actual name over the past 12 years.
Not many people know the true origin of "Super Joe" attached to the new White Sox third-base coach. And for that particular moniker, McEwing can thank Eric Davis and their brief stop together with the Cardinals in 1999.
"Every day he would walk in and I was always at my locker, dressed and ready to go," said McEwing during a recent interview with MLB.com. "He would always say, 'Did you take it home with you?'
"I loved the ballpark. I love that environment. I was always there early."
Out of that dedication, intensity and passion for baseball, Super Joe was born.
McEwing played nine years with the Cardinals, Mets, Royals and Astros, hitting .251 and literally playing all around the infield and across the outfield. The 39-year-old just completed his fourth year in the White Sox system, starting as the Triple-A Charlotte hitting coach in 2008 and finishing as the manager for the 2011 Knights.
In between, McEwing pushed Class A Winston-Salem to the Carolina League playoffs during the '09 and '10 seasons. An interesting thing about McEwing is that he doesn't seem to have many detractors, if any at all.
Young players who worked with him rave about McEwing's leadership and expertise coaching hitters. Veterans who did short Minor League injury-rehab stints speak of McEwing's professionalism and upbeat attitude.
Those plaudits are nice to hear for McEwing, but there was never any sort of finished product on display, with regard to his managerial or coaching ability. He learned something every day on the job.
"You go out there and it's so nice to see other kids' dreams come true. That's what I enjoyed so much. You see guys get better," said McEwing of his Minor League work. "But I really did learn something every single day.
"You're a father. You're a mentor. You try to draw that line, but you are a friend. You have to put your arm around them. You are dealing with so much stuff, that you try to deal with 25 different personalities and what makes each guy tick -- what they are going through off the field, family-wise. You just try to keep them positive.
"I've been there, and I know what they are going through. You just try to create a positive atmosphere, and one you want to come to work with and have fun every single day."
Manager Robin Ventura's first staff already has that feel, according to McEwing -- even with four new members. But the expectations immediately were set high when McEwing knew he would be working for one of his "best teammates ever."
"It's outstanding to be able to continue to pick brains every single day and learn from each other, with everybody coming together as one for one common goal, which is to get guys better and win games," said McEwing, who played with Ventura as part of the Mets during the 2000 and 2001 seasons. "That's a really good feeling.
"Everything has been positive. It has been an outstanding atmosphere [during offseason meetings and at SoxFest]. I'm very fortunate for the opportunity. It's a job where you go out there, and you have fun doing it."
This great opportunity looked as if it might not come to fruition for McEwing shortly after he was named third-base coach. It wasn't that the White Sox had second thoughts, but that the Cardinals deemed the somewhat inexperienced but infinitely popular McEwing worthy of an interview for the managerial job vacated by Tony La Russa.
La Russa and McEwing formed a special bond during his two Major League seasons in St. Louis -- especially during his 1999 rookie campaign, when McEwing accrued 513 at-bats at second base and in the outfield, hitting .275 with a .333 on-base percentage.
Getting that chance to compete every day under La Russa stands out as a memory McEwing always will cherish. It's also part of that learning process he spoke of, and learning from one of the all-time greats. In the present, it's simply going to be strange for McEwing not to see La Russa in the Cardinals' dugout or any other big league dugout, for that matter.
"For so long, he's been a staple in the dugout and such a quality manager, and not to see him there ...," said McEwing of La Russa. "If it was any [managerial] situation, I would be honored to be thought of in that respect. To possibly go in and replace a Hall of Famer, and arguably one of the greatest managers of all time, it was very humbling."
Although that interview process was humbling, McEwing is in no hurry to take that inevitable leap to Major League manager. His loyalty completely falls with the White Sox.
There's no set pattern for McEwing to follow in his first big league coaching job. But McEwing quipped that he has been told if a third-base coach doesn't get any players thrown out, he's not doing a good job.
Based on past experience, it's a safe bet Super Joe will make for a super coach at the next level.
"Really, it's based on the individuals you have," McEwing said. "You know where you can be aggressive in certain parts during the game and when you have to pull back a little bit. Who is on deck? How many outs? Who is at second base and who is at first base?
"So you try to plan every situation ahead. It doesn't always work out accordingly, but you go out there and try to prepare for it every single day."