Butcher departs Angels with fond memories

Butcher departs Angels with fond memories

ANAHEIM -- Mike Butcher was effusive in his praise for rookie general manager Billy Eppler on Wednesday morning. He raved about their conversations, called him "a stand-up guy" with "tremendous attributes" and came away believing that he's "going to be a friend with this man for the rest of my life."

It was a bit unusual, considering Eppler had essentially just dismissed Butcher as the Angels' pitching coach.

"I mean this when I say this -- this is from my heart -- Billy Eppler is a quality person," Butcher said of the former Yankees executive, introduced as the Angels' GM just nine days ago. "He's going to bring a lot to this organization. I heard the passion in his voice, the desire to get better, a philosophical plan that he's going to put in place to where he's going to get the organization back on track. I know he's going to do great things here. I know he will. I respect him tremendously. And he knows that."

Eppler announced late Tuesday night that Butcher and hitting coach Don Baylor, both with expiring contracts, would not return to Mike Scioscia's coaching staff next season. For Butcher, it marked the end of a nine-year stint as the Angels' pitching coach, which followed four years as an Angels reliever and six years as a coach in the Angels' Minor League system.

Butcher hopes to hook on with another Major League team this offseason. Reached by phone, the 50-year-old Arizona resident called the decision to part ways "a mutual one," though owner Arte Moreno or president John Carpino may have had some influence.

"Sometimes, it's just time," Butcher said. "I think we all agree that it's time. I don't have any hard feelings. I have tremendous memories. We had a tremendous amount of success here. We were consistent for nine straight years with our pitching. I mean nine years, to have that kind of consistency with our pitching staff, I'm very happy about that -- extremely happy about that."

Under Butcher from 2007-15, Angels pitchers ranked third in the AL in ERA (4.00), third in WHIP (1.32) and fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.33). There were some underperforming veterans during that time, most prominently Scott Kazmir, Fernando Rodney and Joe Blanton. But several young pitchers also shined, most recently Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago and Andrew Heaney.

"I know what I bring to another organization," said Butcher, who also served as the Rays' pitching coach in '06. "I'll bring leadership, I'll bring personality, some humor, and I can be hard when I need to be. I'm looking forward to the next chapter of my career and I'm waiting for it to happen."

Butcher called the Angels "an organization that I'm proud of," even though he and several other coaches butted heads with ex-GM Jerry Dipoto and other members of the front office.

"There's great leadership, and now we have new leadership at the top," Butcher said. "I truly believe that Billy Eppler is going to do great things."

Butcher recalled an unexpected phone call he received in late October 2002, from members of the Major League staff wondering if a rookie named John Lackey could handle starting Game 7 of the World Series. Butcher, at that point a Minor League coach, said "absolutely" and was asked why.

"Because this guy lives for the moment," he told them. "He performs better when the pressure is on."

Butcher remembered convincing Brendan Donnelly -- then 29 years old and released by six different teams -- to sign a contract with the Angels' Double-A affiliate, then watching him becoming a critical reliever on the Major League club. He was there for Jered Weaver's first bullpen session out of college, roomed with and later coached Troy Percival and watched Garrett Richards come into his own.

Butcher will never forget sitting alongside Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Erick Aybar on the dugout perch during every game, studying opposing pitchers' tendencies together.

And, in a very different way, he'll never forget the wee hours of April 9, 2009, when he found out that 22-year-old rookie sensation Nick Adenhart had died in a car accident.

"That was by far the toughest thing ever," Butcher said. "I can't change that. I always thought, 'What if? What if Nick would've been there? What would our rotation have been?' He was so up-and-coming and so talented and had a tremendous future ahead of him. And for that to be taken away from him -- that's the one thing I miss that will never happen."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.