Tony Paul | The Detroit News
Brandon Inge spent 13 seasons in Major League Baseball, played in one World Series, was part of a team that made another, once was an American League All-Star, signed enough autographs to fill the Library of Congress, and for a time was regarded as one of the most athletic players in the game.
Now, Inge is back working a full-time job for the first time since he retired from playing, in 2014.
And his salary — once as high as $6.6 million a year; over $40 million for his career — is less than yours: $0.
If that seems like a steep fall from grace, you’re as wrong as those who wrote him off when Pudge Rodriguez took his catcher’s job, or when Miguel Cabrera’s took his third-base job.
Meet the University of Michigan’s new volunteer assistant baseball coach.
“The majority of major-league players, obviously, if you’ve been smart, money should not be an issue,” Inge said in a recent conversation with The News. “And for me, it was never about money, or even playing time. I love this game, I love this sport, I love being around it, and I think the best way I can continue to make an impact is to be a coach at the college level.
“I enjoy giving back to the game.”
On the receiving end of Inge giving back are the Wolverines, ranked 20th in the nation by Baseball America and scheduled to open the season Saturday, March 6, against Iowa in Round Rock, Texas. It’ll have been almost exactly a year since Michigan played a game, the 2020 season shut down by COVID-19.
Inge is one of two new staff members at UM, along with pitching coach Steve Merriman, who comes from the Rockies organization for his fourth stint on the Michigan staff. He replaces Chris Fetter, who left to become pitching coach for the Tigers.
Merriman gets paid, as one of the two paid assistants the NCAA allows, given almost every Division I baseball program operates deep in the red. Inge does not get paid, though the term volunteer is totally misguided. Most Division I baseball teams have a “volunteer” coach who does just as much work as anyone else on staff — and that’s the plan for Inge, too, who has an office, but doesn’t plan to be in there much. He can’t work with the catchers, or the infielders, or the hitters, or even the pitchers, there.
“You can just take that word out, ‘volunteer,’ and really throw it out the window,” Michigan head baseball coach Erik Bakich said. “That is a total misrepresentation of what the person does. It’s completely disrespectful. Most of them, not like Brandon, they haven’t made a career in baseball and they’re just starting out trying to get into coaching, working as many hours as anybody else, around the clock, totally invested, as invested as anyone. For most of the volunteers out there in the country, it’s their start.”
For Inge, it’s a start — but not like the start of most. He’s done some coaching of the years, mostly with his two young boys. He left his gig helping coach at Detroit Country Day, where Tyler is a freshman and Chase is a seventh-grader, to take the Michigan job. In 2018, he moved his family back to Michigan to join the teaching staff at Legacy Center Sports Complex in Brighton.
He’s trading in one classic uniform, the Olde English D, for another, the Block M.
Of course, Inge, 43, always has felt like a Michigan Man. Since breaking into the bigs in 2001, and living in Ann Arbor suburb Dexter, he’s done charity work with Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. Over the years, he became close with a legacy family, the Carrs, and Inge and wife Shani were set to help chair last spring’s ChadTough Foundation gala. The in-person event was canceled because of COVID-19, but Inge’s work in the buildup led to this job. Backich and wife Jiffy also were chairs, and Inge and Bakich hit it off.
“I was blown away at the generosity and philanthropy of someone like that who has made a career and a lot of money playing baseball, how he truly cares about the community that he’s a part of,” Bakich said.
When former Michigan player Ako Thomas decided last year to take a job in the Boston Red Sox organization, Inge was Bakich’s first call.
“I asked him, ‘I have a crazy idea, what do you think?'” Bakich said.
Inge nearly accepted on the spot, but had to talk to his family — the “boss,” Shani, and his boys, who’d be losing their dad as their baseball coach. Turns out, the boys were all for it. Just think of all that Michigan swag (OK, so the gig’s not totally without compensation).
“I’m all in at this point,” Inge said.
Inge will technically be coaching the catchers, which was his full-time position his first three years in the major leagues, and four total. But he also brings plenty of expertise for the infielders — he probably was one of the best defensive infielders in baseball to not win a Gold Glove during his playing days — outfielders and hitters. He’ll do some work on base running.
Michigan pitchers also are raving about him, specifically saying how he points out their tendencies and can call out their pitches. You can bet the Wolverines won’t be tipping many pitches this season.
And then there’s just the energy he brings on a day to day basis, fueled in part by coffee, and in part by his passion for the game.
“Coach Inge, he is level-10 energy all the time,” reliever Joe Pace said. “He’s great, the Energizer Bunny.
“One of my favorite things about him, he’s a coach, he has an office, but one of the first things he said was, ‘My office is the batting cage.
“He brings that intensity with him to practice and training and teaching, from the seniors to the freshmen, his little bits of wisdom and knowledge that he’s picked up throughout his long major-league career. He’s been awesome.”
Said shortstop Ben Sems: “The catchers want him, the pitchers want him, and the infielders. We love him.”
Inge does a little bit of everything, from the big to the small, like throwing batting practice and collecting balls.
Inge also, of course, could prove huge in helping Michigan players prepare for that next level, and there’s a next level for so many Wolverines. Since Bakich’s first season, 2013, Michigan has had 36 players drafted, including 12 in the top 10 rounds — and seven in the top five rounds of the last two drafts. (During his brief time with Michigan, he already has been so impressed with the talent level, he said it’s not far off from what he saw in the major leagues. And while he played on some awful teams, he played on some great ones, too.)
He’s really happy to offer whatever he can — particularly when it comes to playing the game the right way, which in his view he always did, and also in his view playing the right way doesn’t include theatrics like bat flips and over-the-top celebrations — with his time and knowledge, rooted in experience. Inge said he’s learned from a number of his coaches and managers over the years, the good and the bad — and, interestingly, he said he’s learned more about coaching from the bad coaches.
Maybe that’s why Inge has no grand notion of coaching beyond this level. He’s not interested in a minor-league job, or a major-league job.
“The college level is somewhere I could probably make the biggest impact,” said Inge, who played for the Tigers from 2001-12 before finishing his career with brief stints with the Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates. “They’re impressionable, they don’t have a chip on their shoulder like some minor-league kids, who think they know everything. It’s more personality issues in the minor leagues rather than skill development.
“You couldn’t pay me enough to be a major-league or minor-league coach.”
At Michigan, you couldn’t pay him any less.
And that’s just fine with Inge.