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Sports & Recreation

Best Coach 

Dave Duncan

Baseball's a game of revered statistics. Home runs. Batting average. Hit-by-pitches. The higher the numbers are, the better your player is — unless we're talking about ERA. Pitchers fear the high earned-run average, and rightly so. If the other team's scoring that many runs off you, you "suck" — to use a term we heard the other day at the ballpark — as a pitcher. Strangely, pitchers who come to St. Louis with middling numbers often improve greatly while they're wearing the Birds on the Bat. (Hello, Chris Carpenter!) Likewise, pitchers who produce great numbers here can go elsewhere and end up with lousy numbers. (So long, Matty Mo!) Is it the magic of Baseball Heaven? No, it's the magic of pitching under the instruction of David Edwin Duncan. The man once traded for Ray Fosse never pitched himself; he was a light-hitting catcher his whole career. But his list of reclamation projects as a pitching coach is a marvel, both for the names involved (Kent Bottenfield, Darren Oliver, Woody Williams), and for the fact that these same pitchers left here with seemingly successful careers, only to bottom out elsewhere. Cards skipper Tony La Russa has long credited Duncan with the Redbirds' success, and last year's World Series victory (remember that? It was awesome!), achieved with spare parts, baling wire and unlikely stars such as Anthony Reyes, Braden Looper, Adam Wainwright and even Jeff Weaver, finally provided tangible rewards for Duncan's intangible magic. Admittedly, some of those names dropped off this season, even though they're still under Duncan's tutelage. But lest we forget, Dave also provides the Cards with help at the plate, in the form of his beefy offspring, Chris "Dry Humpin'" Duncan. How many pitching coaches can boast of improving a team's pitching staff and batting average? Just one: the uniquely talented Dave Duncan.

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