Hal Lanier Still Teaching The Game

Hal Lanier, the man who had the last hit at the original Yankee Stadium and later won National League Manager of the Year, is currently serving as manager of the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League.

Lanier is the first manager of the Champions, who began play in 2015. The team missed the playoffs in the final weekend last season, but will qualify this year.

The former infielder has now been in independent baseball for 18 years. “Independent baseball is a lot different from organized baseball,” Lanier said in a phone interview. “You have to recruit players, you have to work out players, work out contracts and talk to agents. It tough because there are so many independent leagues.”

Lanier was an infielder with the Giants from 1964-1971 before ending his career with the Yankees.

“When you put on the pinstripes on, it’s just a different feeling,” Lanier said.

He was a bench player and his thoughts of coaching began with Ralph Houk. “I wasn’t playing too much in ’73,” Lanier said. “I was a utility guy the last two years. During the ’73 season, Ralph came up to me, Ron Swoboda and Bernie Allen and asked us about what moves we would make in games. It made bench guys involved and into the game.”

Lanier etched himself in the history books as he collected the final hit at the original Yankee Stadium. “That was my last big-league hit,” Lanier said. “That was pretty neat.”

Lanier joined Ken Boyer’s staff with the Cardinals Triple-A team as a player-coach and managed a few games when Boyer was away.

After five years in the St. Louis minor league system, Lanier joined the major league staff. He was the third base coach for the 1982 World Champions and 1985 NL champions. He also got to learn from Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog. “I saw the way he ran the pitching staff. That’s the most important thing, no matter what level you’re at. Matching pitchers in the best situations. I learned a great deal from Whitey because he was a master.”

Lanier became the Astros manager with one condition from the owner: “You have to take Yogi Berra as your bench coach.”

Lanier had no problem with that, although New Yorkers must’ve thought it was weird seeing Berra in those tequila sunrise uniforms. “He had done everything in baseball,” Lanier said. “He helped a lot with the idea of not worrying about extra guys in late innings. We talked strategy. He was just perfect for me being in my first year.”

That first year saw the Astros, picked to finish last in the NL West, win the division with a 96-66 record before falling to the Mets in a classic NLCS.

Lanier was named NL Manager of the Year, but was fired after the 1988 season. He never managed in the majors again. “I thought I would get a second chance. I was the Phillies bench coach in ’90 and ’91. After I left there I was interviewed for a couple of jobs. My past record I thought was pretty good. It just never happened for some reason.”

Lanier retired before getting involved in the independent leagues. A lot of time is spent driving around in his home state of Florida, looking for players during spring training and the winter.

“I really enjoyed getting back into baseball. It’s still in my heart, still in my blood. I still enjoy teaching young guys.”

He has pitching, hitting and first-base coaches, but Lanier coaches third like he did when he was waving in Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and Ozzie Smith in St. Louis.

“I stand up the whole game,” Lanier said. “I cannot sit down on the bench. I like taking control of the game. If someone gets thrown out, I’m the one to blame.”

Lanier has had five players who went from playing in the independent leagues to playing in the majors.

“The dreams are there and it can be done,” Lanier said.

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