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From fired to fired up

Ex-Padre Magadan a hit with Sox so far

Jason Varitek and new hitting coach Dave Magadan (right) watch batting practice Sunday; the Sox offense produced in April. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

Even with Manny Ramírez providing only intermittent assistance, the Red Sox return home tonight to face Oakland with an offense that ranks first in the American League in on-base percentage (.353), first in walks (111), second in runs (125, one behind surprising Tampa Bay), and third in slugging percentage (.426).

Not a bad first month's work for new hitting coach (and one-time member of the A's) Dave Magadan, though he is as apt to take credit for those numbers as he would the four consecutive home runs hit by Ramírez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, and Jason Varitek nine days ago in Fenway Park.

And there's no chance Magadan, who hit only 42 home runs in 4,159 at-bats in a 16-season big-league career spent with seven teams, will be taking bows for that fireworks show.

"I told those guys, 'Whatever I did, you do the opposite,' " joked Magadan, whose one-season high for home runs was six, in 1990 with the Mets, the team that drafted Lou Piniella's cousin and godson on the first round in 1983, after he led the nation in hitting at the University of Alabama with a .525 average and was voted the Golden Spikes Award as the best college player in the country.

"It was one of the most exciting things I've ever been a part of, and involved in, especially with that crowd," Magadan said. "I think if Wily Mo [Peña] would have been a little more patient with his pitch, he might have hit one out, too, the kid [Yankee rookie pitcher Chase Wright] was so shellshocked."

Power was not Magadan's game. He hit .300 every season he spent in the minors with Mets, but in 1,520 minor-league at-bats, he hit four home runs, or as many as the Sox quartet hit in 10 pitches.

"But I hit a grand slam in the Double A playoffs," Magadan said. "I didn't hit one the whole year, then hit one in the championship game."

Magadan, however, had a playing résumé ideally suited for an organization that puts a premium on plate discipline and on-base percentage. A lifetime .288 hitter, Magadan hit as high as .328 one season -- 1990, when he replaced Keith Hernandez as Mets first baseman -- had a career on-base percentage of .390 and never had a season in which he had more strikeouts than walks until 2001, his final season, when as a part-timer with the Padres he had 20 whiffs and just 12 walks.

Magadan, who also played third base, may have reached the height of his popularity with the Marlins, who claimed him from the Mets in the expansion draft. Playing in his native Florida (he was born in Tampa), the bilingual Magadan (his parents are Spanish) had his own McDonald's ad, his own radio show, and was a fan favorite for a team that was playing surprisingly well when the Marlins made a startling trade: They acquired Gary Sheffield, who at that time was still a third baseman.

"I wasn't stunned," Magadan said. "I was probably hurt more than anything, because I was playing close to home, I really loved it there, we actually were playing good.

"I was doing my radio show three times a week. They'd call me to wake me up, then I'd do the show about 20 minutes later. So they called me and the producer said, 'Have you heard?' I go, 'No, what?' We had a day off that day, and the producer says, 'There are rumors they're trading for Sheffield.' I go, 'Oh, yeah, let's wait and see.' Sure enough, they traded for him."

Three days later, Magadan was traded to Seattle. The Marlins got him back that winter, but it wasn't the same, and Magadan spent the balance of his career as a backup/platoon player for the Astros, Cubs, Athletics, and Padres.

Magadan segued directly from the playing field into a staff position, signing on as the Padres' minor league hitting instructor. He was promoted to the big-league staff a year later as hitting coach for manager Bruce Bochy, a job he held until general manager Kevin Towers summoned him to a meeting last June 15.

"I thought he was calling me in to discuss a player move," Magadan said. "He calls me into Bochy's office and it's just me and him. It didn't look right. It didn't hit me that he was going to fire me, but it didn't look right."

Moments earlier, an upset Bochy had come out of Towers's office. He was on his way to deliver the same message to the players that an ill-at-ease Towers was about to drop on Magadan: He was fired, a move Bochy would say publicly a couple of days later that he had no part in making.

"I was probably in there 30 minutes," Magadan said. "I don't even remember what I said. I was in such shock.

"I didn't have even the slightest indication. I knew we weren't hitting at home. We were hitting on the road, we weren't hitting at home. That's the same thing we'd done the last three years, the same thing they did after I got fired.

"I can't control that guys didn't like hitting at home. I just can't control that. I'd met with Sandy [Alderson, the club president] two weeks before, and Sandy was like, 'You're doing a great job. Whatever you need -- videotape, whatever it is you need that you feel will enhance what you want to do -- let us know, we'll get it for you.'

"Two weeks later, I was driving home."

At the time, the Padres, who play in pitcher-friendly Petco Park, were last in the league in hitting, with a .252 average, but a game out of first place in the NL West. They would finish the season 11th in hitting. This season, more of the same: they're fifth in the league in hitting on the road, but 15th out of 16 teams at home with a .229 average and .300 on-base percentage.

When the Sox made a change at hitting coach after the season, firing Ron "Papa Jack" Jackson, like Magadan in San Diego, Jackson said it came with little warning. But Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who was with the Padres when Magadan was both a player and minor league coach, acted quickly to replace Jackson, offering the job to Magadan even though his mentor, Towers, had seen fit to fire him.

So far, it has worked out well for the Sox. A month into the season, you might even call it a home run.