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Brief major league career informs new Angels hitting coach

Angels hitting coach Jim Eppard had only 139 at-bats in his big league career but has coached in the minors for 18 years.

May 19, 2012|By Bill Shaikin
  • New Angels hitting coach Jim Eppard, left, shown talking with Mark Trumbo, won four minor league batting championships as a player.
New Angels hitting coach Jim Eppard, left, shown talking with Mark Trumbo,… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

SAN DIEGO — After six seasons in the minor leagues, Jim Eppard finally got the call to the Angels.

In his first major league at-bat, on Sept. 8, 1987, he singled — off current Angels broadcaster Mark Gubicza.

In his second at-bat, two days later, he singled again.

Two hits, two at-bats, each as a pinch-hitter. This Eppard kid might have a pretty good future.

Or, as it turned out, he might not. Eppard — who replaced Mickey Hatcher, the Angels' hitting instructor who was let go Tuesday — finished his brief major league career with 139 at-bats.

"It's all about opportunity," Eppard said.

Eppard could hit. He won four minor league batting championships.

But he was a first baseman and corner outfielder, coming up to an Angels team that had Wally Joyner at first base and Tony Armas, Brian Downing, Dante Bichette and Claudell Washington variously manning the corners.

That makes him a perfect person to counsel young players on the breaks of the game, particularly with the Angels' overloaded outfield.

Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo comprised the starting outfield on Saturday. The Angels could go young and make that outfield their regular one, but they still have Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells.

Before the Angels promoted Eppard last week, he had spent 18 years in the minor leagues, as a manager and coach. He has had these conversations with players year after year, the ones who hit and hit and cannot stick in the majors.

"You can control what you do on the field and how you carry yourself in the clubhouse and on the field," Eppard said. "It's really tough to come to the ballpark every day and know you don't have that control."

Eppard came up through the minor league system of the Oakland Athletics in the mid-1980s, when the system was churning out the likes of Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Luis Polonia and Stan Javier at the positions Eppard played.

The A's sold his contract to the Angels in 1987. Eppard got 134 at-bats for the Angels over the course of three seasons.

The Angels released him after the 1989 season. He played one year with the Toronto Blue Jays — mostly in the minors, five at-bats in the majors — and got what turned out to be his last major league hit on Sept. 22, 1990, a single off veteran closer Doug Jones.

Eppard played three more years in the minor leagues. He never did get back to the majors, until the Angels welcomed him back.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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