On April 9, I will begin my eighth season as the radio and television broadcaster for the Dayton Dragons.Ã‚Â I will also begin my 28th year as a broadcaster in Minor League Baseball, continuing my career that started in 1988 with the Indianapolis Indians.
I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be employed at almost every level of the minors.Ã‚Â I have never added up the number of players that I have worked with over the last 27 years, but I would guess the number would be somewhere around 1,000.Ã‚Â As any announcer would tell you, you learn the game best by talking to the players and coaches and getting their unique perspectives.Ã‚Â I have discussed the art of playing center field with Torii Hunter, gained insight into setting up a hitter from Jake Peavy, and talked base stealing with Billy Hamilton.
That being said, my best resource for understanding what happens between the white lines has been the coaches I have worked with.Ã‚Â I spend roughly 160 hours per season on the team bus, sitting right behind the coaching staff.Ã‚Â That is the equivalent of four entire work weeks of confined activity.Ã‚Â Much of that time is actually spent on my laptop, handling some of my various job responsibilities such as writing the next dayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s press box notes, a feature story for the team program, or just responding to emails.Ã‚Â But there is also time to talk baseball.Ã‚Â Former Dragons pitching coach Tony Fossas sat directly in front of me on the team bus for five years, and every bus trip included a discussion on pitching and the Ã¢â‚¬Å“game within the gameÃ¢â‚¬Â.Ã‚Â Tony and I will continue to have those conversations long after his days with the Dragons.
Sadly, one of the most unique, interesting, and insightful coaches I have had the pleasure to work with recently passed away.Ã‚Â Ray Sadecki, an 18-year Major Leaguer, former 20-game winner and World Series champion, was my pitching coach with the Peoria Chiefs in 1992 as a Cubs affiliate.Ã‚Â He died at the age of 73 in November.Ã‚Â His view on pitching was truly memorable.
To say that Sadecki was Ã¢â‚¬Å“old schoolÃ¢â‚¬Â would be a gross understatement.Ã‚Â He reached the Major Leagues in 1960 and retired following the 1977 season.Ã‚Â He played before the era of pitch counts and radar guns, and he had no use for either.
Sadecki went 20-11 for the 1964 Cardinals and helped his team beat the Yankees in the series.Ã‚Â He was traded to the Giants for Orlando Cepeda in 1966 and later spent several years with the Mets, going back to the World Series in 1973.
Sadecki was an extremely well-spoken, intelligent, and polished person.Ã‚Â When he spoke, he presented logical, thoughtful explanations, and he carried himself with class.Ã‚Â At the time, I was a young broadcaster filled with my own opinions, but he recognized that I was also a great fan of the history of the game, and he shared many stories with me about working with Marvin Miller in the early Players Association days before ballplayers reaped the benefits of later generations of union strength, and he also offered many memories of his former teammates like Bob Gibson and Willie Mays.Ã‚Â I always thought that if Sadecki had wanted to write a book, he could have put together the most interesting history of this period in baseball ever written, but I think he felt that many of those stories were best kept in personal conversation.Ã‚Â He lacked the flamboyance to take his memories public.
Above all else, SadeckiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s views on pitching were the source of many of our conversations.Ã‚Â I had not spoken to him for many years prior to his death, but he must have absolutely hated the way pitching evolved into the 21st century.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We never counted pitches when I played, but I am sure I had games where I threw 200 pitches,Ã¢â‚¬Â he once said to me, and he certainly did not see anything wrong with that.Ã‚Â His opposition to the changes in pitching development was not based on some macho, Ã¢â‚¬Å“tough guyÃ¢â‚¬Â attitude, though he did value toughness on the mound.Ã‚Â His views were simply an expression of how he thought things should be.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have gotten to the point where we want to baby young pitchers,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.Ã‚Â Ã¢â‚¬Å“You build arm strength by throwing, not sitting in the tub.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Sadecki, even in his best years as a player, was a good but not a great pitcher.Ã‚Â But his list of pitcher teammates reads like a WhoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Who:Ã‚Â Gibson, Tom Seaver, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Lew Burdette, Curt Simmons, Phil Niekro.Ã‚Â Some of those names were hard throwers, some were not.Ã‚Â All were stars.Ã‚Â Sadecki valued the mental part of pitching much more than pure velocity.
Our pitching staff that season in Peoria was not a staff of future stars, but Sadecki worked with all of them.Ã‚Â Four did eventually reach the big leagues, most notably Terry Adams.Ã‚Â I noticed that Sadecki spent a lot of time talking to his pitchers in addition to bullpen work. Curious as to what that was about, I asked Sadecki this question:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you could take your top three starters here (a Single-A team), and give them your understanding of how to pitch, how to set up hitters, what spots to hit, and so on, how much of a difference would it really make?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They would go straight to the Major Leagues,Ã¢â‚¬Â he responded.Ã‚Â He was totally unconcerned with their radar readings.Ã‚Â He needed the numbers to put on the report that he sent back to the Cubs, but that was the extent of his use for such information.
Our pitching staff that 1992 season, without a real ace, posted 17 complete games.Ã‚Â By comparison, my first six years with the Dragons, with many great arms, featured a combined total of three complete games.Ã‚Â That is how pitching development has changed. Ã‚Â Sadecki, by the way, tossed 79 complete games over his first nine seasons in the Major Leagues.
Sadecki certainly favored a bulldog mentality on the mound.Ã‚Â He felt that mental toughness would overcome any obstacle.Ã‚Â He believed the ability to work out of jams was a critical element for any pitching prospect.Ã‚Â Sadecki relied on instincts and a feel for the moment to determine when the time was right for a pitching change.Ã‚Â While todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Minor League pitching coaches are given strict pitch limits to implement with their staffs (often 85-90 pitch maximums for starters), Sadecki would never have been comfortable with such an artificial measurement tool.
Unfortunately, SadeckiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s views were not universally shared, even in 1992.Ã‚Â That summer, the Cubs fired their general manager, and at seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s end, Sadecki was out of a job.Ã‚Â I remember watching discussions that year when Sadecki would explain his throwback philosophies to an opposing teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pitching coach, and then seeing the awkward moment that would follow as that pitching coach politely listened without agreeing with these theories of discarding pitch counts and radar guns.
The next season, Sadecki was hired by the Giants as a roving Minor League pitching instructor, but after one season, his time in professional baseball was over.
A few years later, I was announcing games for the Mobile team in the Southern League and noted that the opposing pitching coach was Rick Langford, the former member of the Oakland AÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s who fired complete games in an amazing 22 consecutive starts in 1980.Ã‚Â That is still truly mind-boggling to think about.Ã‚Â The entire AÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s staff that season had 94 complete games with a four-man rotation.Ã‚Â In 2014, the Major League lead in complete games by a TEAM was eight.Ã‚Â I approached Langford for a radio interview and wondered if his views on pitching development would be similar to those of my old friend, Ray Sadecki.
Langford immediately doused those thoughts, quickly and clearly stating that, no, he was not a proponent of what he had been a part of in 1980 under Billy Martin, and no, he did not believe in developing pitchers in that manner in the present day.Ã‚Â Langford, I am sure, had been asked the same question many times before, and he continued to answer it in a way consistent to continued employment.
Still a few years later, in 2000, I was still in Mobile as a Padres affiliate.Ã‚Â That year, the organization brought in former Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons to oversee the farm system, and his views were about as polar-opposite as those of Sadecki as you could possibly get.Ã‚Â For each game, Simmons provided each of his minor league managers with a pre-printed card.Ã‚Â The card had spaces to list every member of the bullpen corps, each written into a designated role for that game, such as closer, set-up man, middle-man, long man, etc.Ã‚Â The card also stated the required usage of every role.Ã‚Â For example, in the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or less, the closer was required to be in the game.Ã‚Â If the score was tied in the ninth on the road, the set-up man was required to be in, but in a tie game at home, the closer had to be in the contest.Ã‚Â The manager had virtually no decisions to make.Ã‚Â It was all set up for him before the game even started.
There was one more rule on the card that would have driven Sadecki truly bonkers, referred to by the pitchers as the Ã¢â‚¬Å“three-run trap.Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ‚Â By rule, the starter was allowed to record 15 outs.Ã‚Â If the starter was still in the game after the fifth inning, and our team had a lead of three runs or less, Simmons gave the starting pitcher no margin for error.Ã‚Â If even one runner reached base, the manager was required to remove the starter, and insert the player on the card listed as the middle man.Ã‚Â I never had the chance to discuss that team rule with Sadecki.
Ray Sadecki was one of hundreds of interesting personalities I have known in baseball, and one I will never forget. Ã‚Â Rest in peace, Ray.