FORT MYERS, Fla. — He was there the night the Red Sox collapsed in the Bronx when Grady Little didn’t take Pedro Martinez out. And he was in Anaheim in 1986, catching Donnie Moore after Moore surrendered a series-changing home run to Dave Henderson in the ALCS.
Red Sox bench coach Jerry Narron also was the man who replaced Thurman Munson behind the plate at Yankee Stadium on the night after Munson was killed in a plane crash.
Narron is a hardball Forrest Gump — a humble, unassuming man who always seems to be on the scene when big things happen. This past week he was named bench coach of Ron Roenicke’s 2020 Boston Red Sox.
The role of a big league bench coach has grown in recent years. There was a time when many a bench coach was perceived as a manager’s drinking buddy or someone to round out a foursome for poker on road trips. No more.
Terry Francona, the best manager in the majors for the last two decades, would be lost without wingman Brad Mills (a.k.a. “Millsy”), Alex Cora was the inventive bench coach of the cheatin’ champion Houston Astros in 2017, and Roenicke was Cora’s bench coach until the Sox parted ways with Cora for his involvement in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal.
“I’m just another set of eyes for the manager,’’ says Narron, who served as Roenicke’s bench coach when Roenicke managed the Brewers from 2011-15. “As a bench coach, I keep the game slow for the staff and the players. Try not to get emotionally involved where the game runs away from you. I think that happens to a lot of guys. They get so emotionally into the game, they may not see something.
“With Ron in Milwaukee, he would talk a lot during the games and go over situations. Maybe about what might happen a couple of innings down the road. I wish when I managed [the Rangers and Reds] I would have used bench coaches as much as Ron did. Just to see if you’re on the right way.’’
Narron is unlikely to be overwhelmed by anything Roenicke throws at him.
Born and raised in North Carolina, Narron came to the big leagues as a backup catcher for Billy Martin’s defending world champion Yankees in the summer of 1979.
He remembers when the Yankees were in Chicago on Wednesday, Aug. 1, and he got to catch the final game of a Yankees-White Sox series while Munson played first base.
“I hit a home run that night,’’ Narron recalls with a smile. “Off Ken Kravec. The second homer of my career.’’
The next day, Thursday, was an off day, and the baseball world was stunned when it was learned that Munson had crashed his private plane at Akron-Canton Airport.
On Friday, the Yankees came home to play the first-place Orioles. It was one of the most emotional nights in the history of the old Yankee Stadium. Martin tapped Narron to start behind the plate, catching Luis Tiant. Narron was 23.
“It was like losing someone in your family and having to play a game that night,’’ says Narron.
“Mr. Steinbrenner came into the clubhouse before the game and he said, ‘We’re going to take the field for the national anthem and have a moment of silence. I want you to stay in the dugout and stand next to Yogi [Berra], and he’ll tell you when he thinks it’s time to go out behind home plate.’ ’’
It was an epic moment. Eight Yankees took their position and all were weeping, while the catcher’s box remained empty for the moment of silence and Robert Merrill’s national anthem.
“It was a sad day,’’ recalls Tiant. “Nobody wanted to play, but I had to pitch.’’
Tiant and the Yankees lost, 1-0. Orioles outfielder John Lowenstein’s solo homer was the difference.
Narron: “Charlie Lau told me before the game, ‘Do not throw Lowenstein a changeup; he will hit Luis’s changeup.’ And that’s what happened.’’
Seven years later, Narron was part of Red Sox history when he served as Bob Boone’s backup catcher for the Gene Mauch Angels in the ALCS. In Game 4, Narron scored the winning run on a walkoff hit by Bobby Grich in the 11th inning to give the Angels a 3-1 series lead, but the next day, he was catching Moore in the 11th inning when Henderson hit a game-winning sac fly to launch Boston’s comeback in the series.
Mauch lifted Angels ace Mike Witt too early in that one.
In 2003, this time as Boston bench coach, Narron was sitting in the dugout when Little left Martinez in too long and the Red Sox lost the pennant.
“Between innings, Grady went down to talk to Pedro and he told me, ‘Pedro’s good to go,’ ’’ recalls Narron. “They got guys on base and Grady went out again. I can’t speak for Grady, but I think he felt that if he was going to get beat, he wanted to get beat with Pedro and nobody else.
“I’ve seen it both ways. I’ve lost with my best guy getting taken out and I’ve lost with my best guy left in.”