In the off-season after the conclusion of the 1986 baseball campaign, the Angels made a move that has had a profound effect on the current 2013 team: they purchased the contract of a minor league, left-handed first baseman named Jim Eppard from the Oakland Athletics.
The A’s drafted the All-American, University of California infielder in the 13th round of the 1982 amateur draft. He did well playing for the A’s minor league teams, compiling a .315 batting average during his five years there. He even won a batting title while playing for Modesto, hitting .345 in 1985. Unfortunately for Eppard, the A’s put all their chips at first base with the power-hitting Mark McGwire, which allowed the Angels to purchase Eppard’s contract in January of 1987.
After he made the switch to the Angels’ minor leagues, Eppard continued to hit and get on base. In 1987 at Triple-A Edmonton, Eppard had a .341 batting average and a .431 on-base percentage in 446 at bats. Eppard’s minor league strikeout-to-walk ratio was also outstanding. In 12 seasons in the minors, Eppard drew 607 walks while only striking out 368 times. The only knock on Eppard was that he had no power, which is something most teams look for in their first baseman. Eppard averaged only two homers a year in the minors.
Eppard finally got his cup of coffee on September 8, 1987. The Angels were hosting the Royals in Anaheim, and as the Angels were out of the pennant race, they were getting a look at some of their prospects as the season came to a close. Trailing in the seventh inning by a score of 3-2, manager Gene Mauch called for Eppard to pinch hit for catcher Bob Boone. Pitching for the Royals was current Angels broadcaster, Mark Gubicza. There were two outs and a runner on first base, and Eppard’s first major league at-bat, in a tight situation, resulted in a single into center field, moving the runner to second. That hit knocked Gubicza out of the game, but unfortunately for the Angels, the next hitter, Brian Downing, ended the threat by striking out. The Angels ended up losing the game, 4-2.
With Wally Joyner locked in at first base, it was hard for Eppard to get much playing time with the Angels. He was on the Angels’ major league roster for three years, from 1987 to 1989. He played in 76 games for the Halos, hitting .284 with a .351 OBP and no home runs, but after the 1989 season, the Angels released him. The Blue Jays picked him up, but he ended his major league career by playing in just six games for the Jays in 1990.
When his major league playing days were over, Eppard was still able to make a career out of baseball by working as a manager and coach for various minor league teams. One stop for Eppard was the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. Proving once again what a small world this is, when Eppard was their hitting coach in 2000, the manager of the Sky Sox was Chris Cron, who is the father of current Angels slugging prospect CJ Cron. The world gets even smaller when you consider that on that same 2000 team was a 32 year-old pitcher named Jerry Dipoto who played in nine games before deciding to end his playing career.
Then in 2002, the Angels, who had admired Eppard’s coaching skills, were able to lure him away from the Rockies and hire him as the Triple-A hitting coach, where he worked until his call-up to the Angels to replace fired coach Mickey Hatcher last season. While in Salt Lake, Eppard was able to work with many of the young Angel hitters currently on the big league team, including Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Mark Trumbo, and Mike Trout. Eppard has said that as a hitting coach, he doesn’t tinker much with a player’s mechanics. What he focuses on instead is a batter’s game plan against particular pitchers.
And now, thanks to the Oakland A’s tipping over the first domino by selling Jim Eppard’s minor league contract to the Angels in 1986, Eppard is working every day with the Angels’ big league hitters and loving every minute of it. As he told Danny Lawhon of the Rapid City Journal last year, “I go up to (bench coach) Rob Picciolo before every game and I go, ‘You know what, Peach, you all think you’re having fun? Well, there’ll be 35,000 here tonight and nobody’s having more fun than me.’ I meant it, and I mean it.”