Dennis Lewallyn grew up a Yankee fan in Pensacola, Florida, cheering on his favorites, the M & M boys of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. After 48 years in the game, he can return to Pensacola knowing that he's influenced the game in a tremendous way.
The Atlanta Braves initially drafted Lewallyn out of high school in 1971 in the 3rd round. He chose instead to attend Chipola College, which has since become a junior college powerhouse, and was the 8th overall choice in the 1972 January secondary draft to the Dodgers. After 11 years on the mound and 37 years as a coach or coordinator, Lewallyn comes full circle, retiring as a pitching coach within the Atlanta Braves minor league system.
Lewallyn was known for his sinker and moved quickly to the major leagues after 3 years in the minors. He made his major league debut in 1975 with the Dodgers, and he would split the next six seasons between Los Angeles' AAA affiliate in Albuquerque and the major leagues, getting his MLB shot in 1980 with the Texas Rangers after a mid-season trade. A similar split happened in 1981 between Texas in the minors and Cleveland in the majors before splitting 1982 between Cleveland's AAA and big-league clubs.
In 8 consecutive seasons in the major leagues, Lewallyn was typically a short call-up to the major leagues, totaling 80.1 innings over 34 games, three of those starts. He finished with a 4.48 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and a 22/28 BB/K ratio. Including 4 games pitched while he was coaching in the Dodgers system in 1987, Lewallyn appeared in 12 minor league seasons, totaling 407 appearances, 164 of them starts, with a 4.04 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 1,499.2 innings.
Lewallyn also played extensively in Latin America between seasons and continued this even after his playing seasons were over. This experience would come into play significantly in his coaching career.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Lewallyn worked as a minor league pitching coordinator from 1983 to 1994. He served in multiple roles through the Dodgers system during that time, but he is considered a mentor to many of the Latin arms that flourished in the Dodgers farm system in that era.
Tremendous names came through the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system in that time: Pedro Astacio, Darren Dreifort, Sid Fernandez, Juan Guzman, Orel Hershiser, Darren Holmes, Ken Howell, Pedro Martinez, Ramon Martinez, Jeff Nelson, Chan Ho Park, and John Wetteland.
Most baseball fans know that the Arizona Diamondbacks began their major league play in 1998, but many do not understand that the minor league play for the organization began in 1995. Lewallyn was one of the first hires for the organization, working as a pitching coordinator in 1995 and then again from 2002-2006.
In between his time as coordinator, he served as pitching coach at various levels for the Diamondbacks. Directly under his tutelage, he worked with Byung-Hyun Kim, Javier Lopez, Brad Penny, Jose Valverde, and Oscar Villareal.
As pitching coordinator, his ability to relate to Latin players was again noted, and he was in the position to oversee the development of Chris Capuano, Brandon Webb, and more.
From the Diamondbacks, Lewallyn moved into the role as a pitching coach for the Cubs' Double-A team in Tennessee from 2007-2010. The Cubs promoted him to the minor league pitching coordinator role for 2011-2012.
With Tennessee, he was able to work with Chris Archer, Jerry Blevins, Andrew Cashner, Jeff Samardzija, and more. His two seasons as coordinator allowed him to oversee the development of Kyle Hendricks and others.
At the turn of the decade, Dennis began to look to the end of his career and began to look for a role that could keep him near his Pensacola home. The Atlanta Braves provided this opportunity. Lewallyn served as the pitching coach for Double-A Mississippi since 2013, save for the 2017 season, when he requested to work with the High-A Florida.
While many of those pitchers have not yet had a chance to establish themselves as a major leaguer, considering he began working with the Braves in 2013, the fact that he has worked with 40 (!!) pitchers while with the Braves organization in the last seven seasons before they'd ever thrown a pitch in the majors that have now reached the majors is an impressive number. There are still many more that will likely reach the major leagues in the next 3-5 years that worked with Lewallyn recently and will reach the major leagues, very likely bringing that number past 50, an incredible number to consider.
Certainly, it's obvious that when you spend nearly 50 years in the game that you would influence several coaches. Lewallyn's direct influence has been noted and even mentioned by outsiders on the coaching of some big league coaches who had an opportunity to learn under Lewallyn while players.
Even though they were established major leaguers when they came to the Dodgers, Ray Searage and Mike Maddux each have shown influence of Lewallyn's focus on fastball-first pitching, using the control and manipulation of the fastball as the starting point for success, working with a pitcher to get to the point of success with his fastball and building from there. Dave Wallace has mentioned in television interviews that he learned from Lewallyn's influence.
Sources have told me that Lewallyn was presented with an opportunity at the Atlanta Braves pitching coach job after the 2016 season when the team dismissed Roger McDowell and knew many of the young arms that Lewallyn had tutored would form the core of their future pitching staff. He declined as he knew he wanted to stay in the area of his home rather than the travel of a major league job.
He may not have ever held a major league pitching coach job, but Dennis Lewallyn influenced the way major league baseball was coached by directly coaching top arms and also influencing excellent future pitching coaches.
Though he may no longer be coaching, Lewallyn serves on the board for the Mordecai Brown Legacy Foundation, which has a mission to keep the game alive for youth through opportunity and education on the game's history, so he'll very likely stay involved in promoting the game and encouraging young players to pursue the game.
Enjoy retirement, Dennis, and thank you for all you've done and given to the game!