August 12, 2009
Dave Righetti broke into the big leagues in the biggest way possible, with the Bronx Bombers, when he was barely out of his teens. It wasn't long before he was pitching in a World Series, throwing a no-hitter against the Red Sox and setting the single-season record for saves.
Thirty years later, Righetti is still working in the majors as the Giants pitching coach, a position he's had for 10 seasons. On a recent swing through the Midwest, "Rags" took a break for Answer Man, who first wanted to know about the events of July 4, 1983.
David Brown: Does someone ask you about the no-hitter virtually every day?
Dave Righetti: Quite a bit, especially around July 4. I try to be a little bit insightful but it's hard to sound like you're not just repeating yourself. The expansion of electronic media since the game — the shows on the MLB network, or the YES Network carries it or anything "classic" — has given it more exposure. In the last five years, it's really picked up a lot more steam.
DB: Does it seem like everybody "was there in person" for it?
DR: You get a lot of that. I get a lot of fake stubs — and you can tell. It's OK. I never lead on, or anything, I just go ahead and sign it.
DB: Can you believe Wade Boggs, who hardly struck out, struck out twice in that game? Should that game have been sent to Cooperstown just for that?
DR: [Laughs]. I don't know what he was hitting at the time, but it was probably pretty good. I've told people this: I really wasn't even thinking "strikeout" there. My biggest concern was him topping the ball and getting it between me and first base. We had to have a cover play, so I was concerned about that quite a bit. You always figure on Wade making contact — I just happened to throw a good pitch, I guess.
(Here's a video link of the last out)
DR: Adrenaline really carries you in those situations. Not only that, but I told myself what was going on. Until they got two outs [in the ninth] I wasn't going to worry about it. The object was to win the ballgame and get as close as I could for [Goose] Gossage to pitch in the ninth. Once I started the ninth, I wanted to get some outs. I didn't want to have problems right away and then have Goose come into a stressful job.
So, until it got to two outs, I really didn't go for it. Even the first batter of the inning, [Jeff] Newman, I ended up walking him but I threw him about eight straight fastballs. [Glenn] Hoffman I got a grounder on a breaking ball and [Jerry] Remy hit the first pitch.
Boggs was different. I was going to throw him pitches that were going to be on the edges. They were either in or on the corners.
DB: You and [Graig] Nettles went to Atlantic City during the All-Star break to chill out; you gave good luck at the tables?
DR: Nah, I was a young guy and wasn't much of a gambler. We just went to get away. We didn't know what to do with ourselves. I can't remember what hotel it was, but they invited us out. We didn't do much. Nettles had pinkeye, conjunctivitis, so he really couldn't get out in the sun. And it was July 4th and the Beach Boys were playing right there on the Boardwalk. The place was hopping a little bit.
DB: Could Graig Nettles and Dave Righetti, famous Yankee ballplayers, really get away from it all in Atlantic City?
DR: Yeah, actually, we ended up going to see some comedy. We saw David Brenner. We went to Shecky Greene's show.
DB: Take my wife. Please!
DR: [Laughs] No, that's Henny Youngman. What was neat was, because the Post always came out late at night, Shecky already had the headlines, and had a New York Post of the game and he showed it up on stage. Somehow, typical New York. It was an afternoon game and I think it was an 8 o'clock show. He had me stand up. It was a little embarrassing but it was pretty neat.
DB: You guys ever give Nettles crap about his first name, like in he can't make up its mind whether it wants to be Craig or Greg?
DR: Nah, nah. Get another question. That's his name you're talking about. It's probably personal to him.
DB: OK. ... Eh... What's Nettles doing these days?
DR: You know what? I don't know. Last I heard, he was doing some scouting or helping out with the Yankees. I think he might have moved back to Tennessee, where his brother lives.
DB: Remember happened in your next start, after the break?
DR: Hmm. Do you know?
DR: I think it was in Texas or Kansas City. KC. And I pitched almost 11 innings.
DB: Yeah! You went 10 1/3 innings. Can you believe that?
DR: And we ended up losing on a crazy play. A steal attempt by Pat Sheridan. He stole second, the ball hit Sheridan in the head and rolled into right-center. He got up and scored. Lost 2-1 or 1-0 or something.
DB: These days, you guys wouldn't entertain having a pitcher do something like that, would you?
DR: No, especially considering that was the third or fourth game in a row I had gone the distance. It was quite a bit or work and I felt it later on in the season. It's all about winning and KC was a rival, somebody we had to beat. But you get into the 11th, on the road, and you're starting, you're not going to get a win.
He goes, "I want you to face [George] Brett." Brett was the leadoff hitter in the 11th. So I got him out, but you go all that way and all you get is a no-decision. That wasn't part of the plan.
DB: Was that Billy Martin?
DB: You could fill a book with this but, what was he like?
DR: Well, he was a winner. I enjoyed playing for him, especially those early years. You knew he was going to be aggressive. He gave me the ball and let me pitch. He had confidence in me and when a manager of that stature feels confidence in you, you feel it more yourself.
DB: There's been a lot reported about Tim Lincecum(notes) and his mechanics, that he learned them from his dad and he's unique and how does anyone but his dad coach him, etc. You were reported saying that you "leave him alone" or you don't really do much with him. Is that how it really is?
DR: You're probably referring to a Sports Illustrated article from, I think it was, two years ago. At the time, it was like, "What do you do with him?" Well, it was spring training and everybody's got a big routine they use to get into shape. In a sense, it's what you do with everybody. You don't want to crowd these guys too much; you've got to let them breathe. There's enough pressure in this game.
With coaching, there's still a lot more to it than that. You monitor every guy and his habits, making sure he does what he needs to do. It's really no different from any other pitcher I've ever had ... I get that question a lot because of that quote.
DB: You were 19 or 20 when the Yanks first called you up. How intimidating was it in that clubhouse?
DR: Very much. I was just traded from Texas and they lockered me between Ron Guidry and Dick Tidrow. Luis Tiant's running around, Jim Kaat, Tommy John. Ed Figueroa. All these guys that either won 200 games or were close. I wondered, "Jeez, when's my time going to come?'
DB: Was Reggie Jackson nice to you?
DR: Oh, sure. We had some common interests. The Yankees didn't do a lot of that stuff — there wasn't any hazing. It's never been done there. If I kid gets out of line, they just basically get rid of him. I kept my mouth shut.
As far as Reggie, I knew he liked muscle cars. I was into cars. We were both California guys in a sense, since he had been with the A's. The only other time he said much to me was after he hit me in batting practice with a line drive [laughs]. He's like, "You all right?" That was it [laughs].
DB: Toward the end of '83, the Yankees actually had a starting rotation of all lefties. Did you guys all start to look alike?
DR: Well, Shane Rawley and I probably did, but you're also talking Guidry and Tommy John and myself, so we didn't look much alike. Who else was out there? Bob Shirley and Ray Fontenot? We really went all lefties?
DB: In July, August and September. You guys won 90 games, so...
DR: Yeah, and they were big on lefties because of how the field was laid out. I'm sure it made some right-handed hitters comfortable, especially those who didn't get to play very often.
DB: Who was the most left-handed thinker you ever played with?
DR: Maybe Al Leiter. Lefties are a little bit different in general. You know what? Steve Trout. You can mark that. He said some strange things.
DB: What was it like on the bench, during the George Brett pine tar game, to be waiting for the other shoe to drop?
DR: It was gonna work; that's why we were gonna do it. We had just played them in Kansas City and we weren't going to do anything unless he hurt us. I guess, in Billy's mind he hadn't hurt us bad enough until that point. As soon as the ball was hit, our guys from the dugout were screaming about it: "Get that bat!"
Their bat boy had picked up the bat and was walking away from home plate and [Rick] Cerone went and got it. We knew we were going to do it. Kind of felt weird about it. It turned out to be a strange deal.
DB: Would you describe the Yankees of the late '80s and early '90s as all of the circus and less of the success usually associated with the franchise?
DR: To me it wasn't ever a circus because I was too busy trying to play. But you can call it a circus every year. That's the press, it's the attention paid to everything the Yankees do. They dominate the written and electronic world because it's New York City. We just assumed it was normal.
DB: This spring a YouTube video popped up of a report on a minor league game in 1982 where you pitched against Mark Fidrych. What do you remember about that? Why were you in the minors the year after you were Rookie of the Year?
DR: I was in the minors, probably, because I deserved it. He wasn't rehabbing, he was there pitching. I got sent down for exactly 19 days. Back then, if you stayed 20, you lost an option. They brought me back, but I couldn't go to arbitration [after the season] because I lost those days.
DB: Those rotten...
DR: Might have been a little bit of strategy on their part. But they sent me down because we were losing at that time and was overthrowing and could sense me trying too hard. They told me, just go down there and relax and pitch.
Problem is, the first game's against Fidrych and they filled up Pawtucket's stadium, McCoy. I don't know what it held originally — maybe, 4-5,000 people — but it seemed like the whole world was there all night. TV cameras, people from New York. It was a big deal. So much for going down and relaxing.
It was cool to see Bird pitching again and fun to pitch against him and we had a good time with it. We ended up spending some time with him a little bit after the game. Everybody in baseball loved Bird.
DB: You averaged about 100 innings your first five seasons as a closer. Was that too many?
DR: Too many?
DB: In terms of coming back to get you later in your career?
DR: Oh, it definitely got me. It was what you did as a professional. You're getting paid to play and they do what they ask you to do. Who knew if it was too much or not? By the time I was 31, I wasn't dead-arm, but I probably lost 4-5 mph. Looking back, compared to what we do now? Jeez, if we did that now, they'd probably fire people, letting a guy throw 100 so-called innings. Again, it must have seemed normal then, ‘cause that's what we did. Did I wish it was handled differently? Probably a little bit.
DB: Do you remember the day John Kruk retired?
DR: How do you remember that?
DB: Grew up a White Sox fan.
DR: Did you? I actually got Kruk's autograph. I've only got a couple autographs and Johnny's was one of them — the day he retired.
DB: You, Kruk, Atlee Hammaker, Chris Sabo, Rob Dibble; all kinds of guys played on the '95 White Sox. Did you know Kruk would retire right after he got a final hit?
DR: No, he had told Robin [Ventura] and, I think, Kirk McCaskill. There was a core if guys — Mike LaValliere, Kirk, myself and Johnny — that would do stuff together. I think that's probably how we knew. He must have said something to somebody.
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