Brian Doyle: an extended baseball family

Interview by Keith Madison

Brian Doyle has had an impactful and influential baseball career. He is best known for leading the Yankees with a .438 batting average in the 1978 World Series. His older brother Denny played in the Major Leagues with the Phillies, Angels and Red Sox. His twin brother Blake is currently the major league hitting coach with the Colorado Rockies. The three of them together were innovators in starting the Doyle Baseball School in 1978. The school has trained over 500,000 players and 300,000 coaches to date. The Doyle brothers were also pioneers in showcases (Doyle Bonanza) and coaches certification. Having competed against Brian in little league, high school and in the minor leagues, I thought it would be fun to talk baseball with him once again.

In an era prior to camps, showcases and travel ball, how did a young Brian Doyle develop his passion and skill for baseball?

Our father, Robert, was a very good amateur basketball and baseball player. He spent a lot of time in the backyard throwing, playing pepper and catching ground balls to us. When Blake, my identical twin, and I were in the 7th grade, Denny, my older brother, was in the Major Leagues with the Phillies. In a small, rural Kentucky town there was only one thing that occupied our time and that was sports. We played all sports, but baseball was the game that seemed to come naturally.

doyleYou come from a well known “baseball family.” How did your father and brothers impact your passion for the game and help you develop your skills?

Having a big brother eleven years older was a huge factor. Denny would come home from pro-ball to teach Dad and us. Dad would quickly make coaching adjustments. He was a good coach who knew “the only way to get better is to get smarter.” I was impacted at a very young age with that principle. So my skill level got better each year. The passion for the game comes from the desire to become better.

How did you share your passion?

Sharing that passion is easy for me. That is why after my playing days, I was with my brothers at Doyle Baseball and, at different times, a minor league manager, a scout, Director of Instructional League, Director of Spring Training, Major League Coach and a Major League Player Agent. I wanted to experience every aspect of the game. Even though Denny, Blake and I have taught more players and coaches in baseball than anyone in the history of the game, we are still learning. Remember, the only way to get better is to get smarter.

Most baseball fans think of the 1978 World Series when they think of Brian Doyle. You were thrown on the “big stage” in a surprising way. Share with us how that all took place.

During the 1978 season I was called up and down to the Yankees 5 times. Because George Steinbrenner wanted to win on the AAA level, I was sent back to play in their playoffs. I got called back up to the Yankees when the roster expanded to 40 players. Three days before the season ended, Willie Randolph, the regular second baseman, pulled a hamstring, so at the end of the season I was playing second. We ended up tied with Boston in the East and had that one game playoff in Fenway where Bucky Dent hit his famous home run.

We were in the American League Playoffs against the Kansas City Royals. Special permission had to be granted for me to be on the roster because I was not on the regular season roster due to playing in the AAA playoffs. To be granted a roster spot, the Royals and MLB Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, had to approve it.

After we won the AL Championship, we then had to get approval once again. This time from the LA Dodgers and Kuhn. I was once again given permission to play. The first game of the World Series was in LA. I was in a cab with Catfish Hunter and Yogi Berra going to the stadium. Yogi looked at me and said, “You’re playing kid.” I didn’t know until just a few hours before the first game of the World Series that I was eligible to play! After all of that, I led the World Series in batting average.

As part of the New York Yankee family, you have attended numerous “Old Timer’s Games.” Over the years, what’s it been like to sit around the clubhouse and in the dugout with names such as Mantle, Berra and Ford?

I am so blessed to be known as a Yankee. There is no other tradition, franchise or sports brand as famous as the NY Yankees. When I played, Mantle, Maris, Ford, Larsen, Bauer and Richardson would come into the clubhouse; all of us were so excited to be there with them. Sitting quietly listening to the stories of those great players was a little boy’s dream come true.

Our clubhouse attendant was Pete Sheehy. He was the clubhouse boy for the Yankees since Babe Ruth. I would go in early to Yankee Stadium just to sit with him and ask questions about the teams and players. It was so wonderful to hear those great stories. Years before the old Yankee Stadium was torn down, the Yankee Clubhouse was named “The Pete Sheehy Clubhouse.”’

How will this summer’s Old Timer’s game be different for you?

Well, I have had the honor of being invited back now for well over 20 years. I had only missed one due to illness. This year, Lord willing, I will be there once again but will not be able to play. This past May, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Right now I am homebound, but I have a huge desire. I am going through therapy and I desire to jog onto the field when I am introduced. Playing in the game will not be the issue, jogging across the infield will be a wonderful thing. I am working hard to do just that.

A little over 20 years ago, you were diagnosed with Leukemia with doctors giving you only 6 months to live. You obviously overcame the odds and have lived an active, productive life. What would you say to people who are going through devastating circumstances in their lives?

“The first question that I would ask is: “On a scale of 1 through 10—10 being the best—how happy are you?” Whatever their answer is, I would then ask them if they had God in their life, would it be a higher number?

Without God in a person’s life I believe that it is so hard to go through trials of any type. James 1:2 states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.”

Happiness depends on circumstances. Joy is greater than happiness; and joy depends on a relationship with our Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. I believe that a person needs to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead. Then comes salvation, then comes a relationship with Jesus, then comes joy. Joy comes from faith in Jesus. Again, joy is greater than happiness. Most people seem to look for happiness but can never find it. Happiness depends on circumstances which will always change. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He will never change. Facts change, Truth never changes.

So the most important way to go through a trial is to have joy. To have Jesus in your life. Then God gives us the grace to go through that trial. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. God gives us the ability and the power to go through the circumstances so we won’t lose our joy.

The next question I would ask them is: ‘Do you have a team?’ If they don’t have one, I would encourage them to find one. Teamwork is the one entity that causes ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. These teammates are positive Christian brothers and sisters. I have been on many teams and the greatest is not the Yankees. The greatest team that I was a part of was when I had Leukemia. I had my Savior, my family, my church and my Christian friends. My joy stayed intact. No negatives around me. All JOY!

As you mentioned earlier, life has thrown you a curveball. You have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and it has dramatically changed your life. What is God teaching you and how is He helping you through this trial?

I am using baseball as the platform to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. I am the Executive VP of Global Baseball. Through baseball we build relationships, share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and make disciples across the globe. We go on short-term mission trips and place missionaries in countries. I am an ordained minister and have been a pastor. With the experience of pastoring and working in just about every job in baseball, I can train our staff right here in my home. The next step will be implementing a 6 month training period in the Atlanta area to ready our staff for Europe. For such a time as this, God has me not on the field or traveling but mentoring those who will.

If you could give one piece of advice to players who have a desire to play professional baseball, what would it be?

Practice before practice, and practice after practice. Be an athlete. Pro Scouts do not look for baseball players; they look for athletes. Become involved in other sports or get involved in speed enhancement, weight training and quickness training. Be an athlete, not just a baseball player. The only way to get better is to get smarter.

What advice could you give coaches?

As I stated before about my Dad, he taught what he knew with passion; as he grew as a coach in knowledge and wisdom, he taught passionately with more skill. You can only teach what you know and have experienced. Have the zeal to get smarter.

You have the privilege to affect young lives. You are to use the game of baseball to teach the game of life. You have a choice to make; be a coach a player will never forget, or be a coach a player wants to forget. I have had many coaches in my career. Only two have made life-changing impacts. Have the passion to be the coach who will have a life-changing impact for your players.

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