On April 9, I will begin my eighth season as the radio and television broadcaster for the Dayton Dragons.  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.  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.  As any announcer would tell you, you learn the game best by talking to the players and coaches and getting their unique perspectives.  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.  I spend roughly 160 hours per season on the team bus, sitting right behind the coaching staff.  That is the equivalent of four entire work weeks of confined activity.  Much of that time is actually spent on my laptop, handling some of my various job responsibilities such as writing the next day’s press box notes, a feature story for the team program, or just responding to emails.  But there is also time to talk baseball.  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 “game within the game”.  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.  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.  He died at the age of 73 in November.  His view on pitching was truly memorable.

To say that Sadecki was “old school” would be a gross understatement.  He reached the Major Leagues in 1960 and retired following the 1977 season.  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.  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.  When he spoke, he presented logical, thoughtful explanations, and he carried himself with class.  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.  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.  He lacked the flamboyance to take his memories public.

Above all else, Sadecki’s views on pitching were the source of many of our conversations.  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.

“We never counted pitches when I played, but I am sure I had games where I threw 200 pitches,” he once said to me, and he certainly did not see anything wrong with that.  His opposition to the changes in pitching development was not based on some macho, “tough guy” attitude, though he did value toughness on the mound.  His views were simply an expression of how he thought things should be.

“We have gotten to the point where we want to baby young pitchers,” he said.  “You build arm strength by throwing, not sitting in the tub.”

Sadecki, even in his best years as a player, was a good but not a great pitcher.  But his list of pitcher teammates reads like a Who’s Who:  Gibson, Tom Seaver, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Lew Burdette, Curt Simmons, Phil Niekro.  Some of those names were hard throwers, some were not.  All were stars.  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.  Four did eventually reach the big leagues, most notably Terry Adams.  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:

“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?”

“They would go straight to the Major Leagues,” he responded.  He was totally unconcerned with their radar readings.  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.  By comparison, my first six years with the Dragons, with many great arms, featured a combined total of three complete games.  That is how pitching development has changed.  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.  He felt that mental toughness would overcome any obstacle.  He believed the ability to work out of jams was a critical element for any pitching prospect.  Sadecki relied on instincts and a feel for the moment to determine when the time was right for a pitching change.  While today’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, Sadecki’s views were not universally shared, even in 1992.  That summer, the Cubs fired their general manager, and at season’s end, Sadecki was out of a job.  I remember watching discussions that year when Sadecki would explain his throwback philosophies to an opposing team’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 A’s who fired complete games in an amazing 22 consecutive starts in 1980.  That is still truly mind-boggling to think about.  The entire A’s staff that season had 94 complete games with a four-man rotation.  In 2014, the Major League lead in complete games by a TEAM was eight.  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.  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.  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.  For each game, Simmons provided each of his minor league managers with a pre-printed card.  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.  The card also stated the required usage of every role.  For example, in the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or less, the closer was required to be in the game.  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.  The manager had virtually no decisions to make.  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 “three-run trap.”  By rule, the starter was allowed to record 15 outs.  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.  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.  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.  Rest in peace, Ray.

12 Responses

  1. Tom Gray

    May he RIP. I remember him from the 1960’s. That was a Golden Era for modern baseball. Almost every team had a HOF superstar or two.

    • Art Wayne Austin

      The Reds thrived under the new draft system originated in June 1965 but had a baseball talent genius in Bobby Mattacks who jump started the Reds in the late 50s and early 60;s before the draft. Compare Bobby’s signees with any other during this period and you’ll come up short. Robinson, Pinson, Maloney, Curt Flood, and Tommy Harper with all becoming stars in the bigs.
      I had a chat with Bobby in 61 while he was also the baseball coach at McClymonds high school. I had to ask him about Pinson’s ability to hit a line-drive single directly at the outfielder and stretch it into a double. He noted this ability was the rule instead of the exception while he was in high school and minors.
      Montreal used Bobby’s talents as he continued his brilliant career until demise recently.

      • Tom Gray

        Great point. Scouting was so important before the MLB draft started in 1965.

        One of the Reds’ biggest misses was Brooks Robinson in 1955. He narrowed his final 2 choices to the Reds and Orioles but chose the latter because he thought it would be a quicker path to MLB. And it was for him.

  2. cfd3000

    Fascinating stuff Tom. Thank you. Another reason why RLN is such a great place to be a Reds fan – for a little while, we get to ride the bus with you. Really interesting info on Ted Simmons’ method. Even if I thought that was the best way to win games (I don’t) it’s really hard to imagine that’s the best way to develop young pitchers (or managers). Isn’t that a big part of the point of the minor leagues? More reports please Tom!

    • sultanofswaff

      Simmon’s worldview is pretty common. I think it informs much of the ‘by the book’ groupthink that insulates managers and coaches from criticism. As I said before, Bryan Price didn’t get his job because he was some new age radica, but because he is a card carrying member of the boy’s club.

  3. WVRedlegs

    Very nice story. I remember Ray Sadecki from the late 60’s and early 70’s. I remeber one of his baseball cards. That Ted Simmons approach sure sounds alot like the Dusty Baker approach. Both from the same era.
    When you mentioned he favored a bulldog mentallity, the first thing that went through my mind was, wouldn’t it be nice to be a fly on the wall if you got Sadecki and Orel Hirshisher, another bulldog, in a room together to discuss pitching.
    Tom, I believe you are going to have alot of good things to broadcast in Dayton games this upcoming season. Dayton should have a nice roster this year. I thought I might try to get to a couple of Dayton games this year, but now with the A+ team in Daytona, FL my thinking has changed course to beachin’ it and baseball.

  4. Tom Nichols

    The Simmons “pitching plan” as it was called at the time worked much better with a deep bullpen and relatively weak starting pitching than vice versa, because the starters were out of the game early. The plan was not popular with the manager or the starting pitchers, as you might imagine. I remember one game, our starter, Adam Eaton, just sailed through the first five innings, throwing something like 48 pitches and allowing maybe two or three base runners. He gave up a lead-off bunt single in the sixth, and by rule, our manager, Mike Basso, had to take him out. Eaton gave Basso a look that said “are you kidding me” as he came to the mound to take the baseball and Basso literally broke out laughing, but that was the rule.

    The “bullpen card” was posted each day and every reliever knew his role and exactly when he would be in the game, and I actually think that helped them to some degree. I remember looking at the card one day and noting that it had a notation at the bottom for the policy for the 18th inning should the game go that far. I remember smiling at the time, thinking, “well, if this baby goes 19 innings, our manager is on his own.”

    • lwblogger2

      And position players are pitching!!

  5. lwblogger2

    Great stuff Tom. Brings back some memories of talking baseball with folks who’s livelihood was baseball. I very, very seldom get the chance to have those conversations these days. Looking forward to reading more of your stuff and hopefully I’ll catch a few broadcasts too.

  6. Tom Reed

    Well done. Brings back the days when people sat around hotel lobbies and talked baseball among other things. Today it’s usually sitting around and checking the electronic gadgets.