As the Red Sox enter the second month of the season, I thought it appropriate to recognize the role played by a native Mainer in their success.
Before the season started, people had questions about the ability of the pitching staff, both starting and relief, and whether it would perform better than last year with the additions of David Price, Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith.
The next big questions Sox fans had revolved around Hanley Ramirez, who the Red Sox had paid a small fortune to and turned into the worst left fielder in baseball last year and were planning to make a first baseman out of this year and what would happen at third base now that Pablo Sandoval, who had also gotten a small fortune to play third base, and had turned out to be a flop last year and showed up at Spring Training out of shape and bigger than ever.
Nobody thought that one month into the season, Ramirez would be playing first base like he’d been there all his life and that, before Sandoval went on the disabled list with an injured shoulder and/or pride, that young first baseman Travis Shaw would be playing third base like a veteran and hitting the cover off the ball.
Ramirez, who couldn’t be bothered to try to learn to play left field last year, worked every day in Spring Training to develop the skills to allow him to play a position which, according to Baseball Reference, he had never played at any level in the minors or majors.
Shaw had started a total of just 59 games at third base in his five year minor league career while starting 335 at first base. Last year, after coming up to the Sox late in the season, he played only eight games at third, 55 at first and one in left field.
What is the one thing that these two, who have been important cogs in the Red Sox defense so far, have in common? The answer is Brian Butterfield, the Red Sox, 58 year old third base coach, who also doubles as the infield instructor and base running coach. Butterfield is one of the most respected infield coaches in all of baseball. He has worked tirelessly with Ramirez since he arrived at Spring Training hitting literally thousands of ground balls and imparting his special brand of wisdom.
Butterfield was an infielder himself, a second baseman who played five seasons in the minor leagues in the Yankees system but never made the big leagues. He started at Oneonta in the New York/Pennsylvania League in low A ball in 1979 and worked his way up to AAA with the Nashville Sound in the International League in 1982, where he hit .238 in 71 games. The next year, he was back with Miami in the Class A Florida League and that was the end of his playing career.
Butter, as he is affectionately known around baseball, was born in Bangor, Maine, on March 9, 1958. His father, Jack, was the University of Maine baseball coach from 1957 to 1974 and also served as Vice President for Player Development and Scouting for the New York Yankees from 1977-1979.
After attending Maine briefly, Butterfield got his B. A. from Florida Southern in 1980 while playing in the minors and filling in as an Assistant Coach at Southern and then at Eckerd College.
After his playing career, he served in various positions in the Yankee system including as roving infield instructor at different levels throughout the organization. In 1988, he was named Gulf Coast League Manager of the Year after leading his Sarasota team to the league title.
He managed at different levels in the minors and in 1994 and 1995 he was Buck Showalter’s first base coach with the Yankees and, coincidentally, a player who turned out to be a pretty good infielder, Derek Jeter, came up with the Yankees at that time.
He left the Yankees to go to the new franchise Arizona Cardinals in 1996 and helped get the franchise ready to begin play in 1998 when he became third base coach. He managed the Tampa Bay Yankees in the Florida State League to a share of that league’s title in 2001 and started the following season as the Manager of the Columbus Clippers in the AAA International League. After a bad start, he was fired on May 6 and, less than a month later, was hired as third base coach with the Toronto Blue Jays.
He was with Toronto until 2013, serving as Bench Coach in 2008 and 2009 and going back to third base coach in 2010. In 2010, when Toronto hired John Farrell as Manager, Butterfield had been a finalist for that position. When Farrell left to go to Boston as Manager in 2013, Butterfield was again a finalist for the position but when John Gibbons was hired for the job, Butter went to Boston with Farrell as third base coach and infield instructor.
He is in his 37th year in professional baseball and his 20th as a Coach at the Major League level. He was elected to the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
If the Red Sox should go all the way this year, much of the credit should go to this Maine native who solved their corner infield problems and may very well have saved Hanley Ramirez’s career in baseball. Whatever happens with the Red Sox team, watching the Red Sox defense, particularly the corner infielders, from the dug out this year must be providing some of Butterfield’s proudest moments in a long and productive career.