I'll be honest with you. I never give much thought to coaches on a baseball team. Sure they're an important part of the machine. But until they waiver a runner that should have been held up, you don't really see much of them during games. And you pretty much never see the bullpen coach. But today when I was looking for something to write about that connects to the number 43 I noticed it was Lee Tunnell's jersey number. Initially I had no intention of writing about him, but then I read some of the facts in his coaching bio and took a look at his FanGraphs page and thought I'd share some interesting notes.
Did you know his real name is Byron? I did not. Clearly he prefers Lee. He didn't have what one might consider a distinguished major league career. But it wasn't really bad either, though it was somewhat short. In parts of six seasons he provided 3.7 wins above replacement. He played for the Pirates, Cardinals, and Twins.
His best professional season was with the Pirates in 1983. He appeared in 35 games with them, 25 of which were starts. In 177.2 innings he produced a 3.65 ERA and 3.80 FIP. He was worth 1.7 fWAR that year. Perhaps if you asked him he might say his best season was in 1987. He was a part of the Cardinals team that went to the World Series that year--they played and were defeated by the Twins.
According to his coaching bio, he finished his playing career in the minor league system of the Detroit Tigers in 1995. It appears he then became a pitching coach for a number of teams. He also spent time as the minor league coordinator for the Texas Rangers and a bullpen coach for the Cincinnati Reds. He even spent a year as the North American scouting director for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan.
Then in 2009 he joined the Brewers organization as their minor league pitching coordinator. He lasted in that position until 2012. He replaced Stan Kyles as bullpen coach late in the season and has remained in that position ever since.
That's quite the career when you really look at it. It reminds me of when being a kid and running into a teacher outside of the school setting. You can forget these are real people with real lives and their own stories. It was quite the journey for Tunnell to end up with the Brewers. He must be doing something right to stay in baseball so long. And even though I couldn't really tell you what a bullpen coach does, with the success the Brewers pen has had in recent years, I'm glad Tunnell is still around now.