Oh, brother! Narrons living baseball dream together
Brewers coaches Jerry and Johnny, influenced by uncle Sam, remain attached to game
PHOENIX -- Jerry and Johnny Narron played football and basketball while they were growing up.
But they lived baseball.
Their uncle, Sam Narron, was a professional baseball player and coach for more than three decades, including serving on the coaching staff of Danny Murtaugh in Pittsburgh until Sam retired in the mid-1960s. Their dad and three other uncles also played baseball at the Minor League and semi-pro levels.
Jerry and Johnny remember going to Spring Training to see their uncle and making trips from their home in Goldsboro, N.C., to Pittsburgh for regular-season games.
"The ultimate was the 1960 World Series," said Johnny. "We wore Pirates uniforms around Goldsboro and people asked us why. We'd tell them our uncle was a coach with the Pirates."
They got to meet Murtaugh, and shortly after that, Uncle Sam gave Johnny a baseball autographed by pitcher Bob Friend.
"Dad wrote, 'Presented to Johnny Narron by request of Danny Murtaugh' on the ball," Johnny remembered.
Five decades later, the Narron brothers are still living the dream.
They broke into pro ball as teammates in 1974 with the Yankees' Rookie team in Johnson City, Tenn., Jerry signing out of high school and Johnny following a four-year career at East Carolina.
"I hit third and Johnny hit fourth," Jerry said. "I hit .300 and he hit 15 home runs.
"We lived in a single-wide trailer," Johnny added. "It was the good life."
Johnny was traded the next spring to the Chicago White Sox, one of four players the Yanks dealt to acquire catcher Ed Herrmann, and his playing career ended after 1975. Jerry wound up appearing in 392 big league games during a 15-year playing career that included parts of eight seasons in the big leagues with the Yankees, Mariners and Angels.
However, they remained close over the years, and they were reunited in 2012 on the coaching staff of Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke. Jerry joined the Brewers as the bench coach in 2011, Roenicke's first year, and Johnny was hired to be the hitting coach the next season.
"No," Jerry said with a laugh when asked if they were still living in a single-wide. "It's nice to have my brother here, more so when we are away from the ballpark. When we're at the ballpark, it's not about brothers, it's about the game, our jobs and what we can do to help the team."
It's the Narron way. The lessons of their youth have not been forgotten.
Uncle Sam was a disciple of Branch Rickey, originally signing with the Cardinals when Rickey was their general manager. He played in the 1943 World Series and worked for Rickey in St. Louis, Brooklyn and Pittsburgh.
"We heard from Sam our whole life, 'Mr. Rickey did this. Mr. Rickey said this. Mr. Rickey signed this player,'" Johnny said. "And we listened. Mr. Rickey was a man who understood the game, and Sam made sure we understood that."
It's why they are both still in the game today.
Jerry's path has been more routine than Johnny's. Released by the White Sox after that 1975 season, Johnny was involved in youth programs in Goldsboro and found himself in the sports apparel business, too, staying in touch with the professional game through brother Jerry.
And it was Jerry who helped Johnny get back into the game. Jerry was a coach with Boston when the Red Sox visited Milwaukee in June 2003, and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin mentioned he was looking for a Rookie-ball hitting instructor.
"I called Johnny and asked him how badly he wanted to get back in the game," Jerry said. "I told him it was put-up-or-shut-up time. Johnny had sold his apparel business a year earlier, and agreed to stay on as a consultant for one year. It was one year to the day."
Johnny relishes that moment.
"I am a man of faith, and this was God's plan," said Johnny. "When I was out of the game, I'd pick the brain of people I met. Rudy Jaramillo was the hitting coach [for Texas when Jerry managed the Rangers] and I got to know him.
"He had a big influence on me as a hitting coach -- his approach, mechanics -- and then Clint Hurdle was a big influence on the mental approach. I took the information I was exposed to and worked on how I could teach it."
Johnny got to the big leagues as a video/administrative coach with Cincinnati in 2007, where he also served as "accountability partner" for Josh Hamilton. When Hamilton was dealt to Texas after that season, the Rangers brought in Johnny, who also worked for the team as an assistant hitting coach, which is how he met Hurdle.
The relationship with Hamilton dated back to 1990, when the 9-year-old Hamilton played on the same team as Johnny's son. There were times when the feeling was that Johnny's chance to advance could be hampered because he was tied so closely to Hamilton, rather than being known for his baseball acumen.
Johnny never worried.
"I look at my relationship with Josh as helping both of us, as part of God's plan," said Johnny. "I like to feel I helped him along the way and it gave me the opportunity to be exposed professionally, to continue to learn and be around people who helped me progress.
"We still have a special relationship, to the point that when I had the opportunity [in Milwaukee], I told Josh. He said, 'Don't let me hold you back.'"
Jerry's career was more traditional. He went from playing to coaching and managing in the Orioles' system. He was on the big league coaching staff of Johnny Oates in Baltimore (1993-94) and Texas (1995-2001) and became the Rangers' interim manager in 2001 in place of Oates, who was diagnosed with brain cancer the ensuing fall. The interim tag was removed for the 2002 season. He also managed Cincinnati, and was a coach for the Reds and Red Sox before joining the Brewers.
"When I played, I knew I wanted to stay in the game, and in my five or six years, I tried to learn as much as I could," said Jerry.
Jerry and Johnny, after all, have been living their life through baseball since they can remember.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.