Former Spokane Indians manager Rob Picciolo, a beloved man who spent his entire adult life in professional baseball, died of a heart attack Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 64.
As a last-minute replacement fresh from nine seasons as a major league infielder, Picciolo directed the 1986 Indians to a 39-35 record. Then his 1987 team put together a dazzling 54-22 campaign to win the first of the city’s four consecutive Northwest League championships. Eventually, he completed two decades as an employee of the parent San Diego Padres.
First baseman Steve Hendricks, the league’s MVP, attracted the most attention for Picciolo’s title team. But the balanced squad topped the NWL in batting and fielding, finished second in earned-run-average and sent the other three infielders to the major leagues.
Widely known as “Peach,” Picciolo became San Diego’s minor-league infield coach for two years before joining the big-league club as first-base coach for manager Greg Riddoch, the man he had replaced four years earlier in Spokane. Ironically, Riddoch, a highly respected teacher of young players, wound up managing the Indians in 2005.
Picciolo was San Diego’s bench coach 1993-2002 and third-base coach the next three seasons. Then he joined the Angels organization, eventually serving 2010-13 as the bench coach.
Through the years, he earned a widening reputation as a friendly, kind man who, among other things, threw excellent batting practice.
Bobby Brett, managing partner of the Indians, was in his own first season when the Padres sent Picciolo to Spokane.
“He was a wonderful, wonderful man,” Brett said. “The one thing I do remember is how humble he was, a good person and a great family guy, a Brett Sports kind of guy.”
Several former Padres players said similar things for the San Diego Union Tribune’s obituary in the sports section. Broadcaster Ted Leitner topped them all.
“Baseball has never had a nicer man as player or coach,” Leitner said. “If you get to heaven and Rob’s not there, trust me – you’re NOT in heaven.”
As a player, Picciolo appeared in 731 major league games, primarily as a shortstop, for Oakland, Milwaukee and the Angels. The former first-round draft choice, who earned a journalism degree from Pepperdine University, batted .234.
He is survived by his wife, Debbie, and two adult sons.