June 18, 2018

Touring the Bases with Ray Sadecki

October 4, 2009 by · 5 Comments 

Ray Sadecki threw 2,500 innings in 18 major league seasons with the Cardinals, Giants, Mets, Royals, Brewers and Braves. He took the time to sit down for a Seamheads.com interview over the phone from his home in Arizona.

Who were your baseball heroes growing up?
When I was growing up, I was born in 1940, we were in Cardinals territory. My early days, baseball was strictly on the radio and I was a Stan Musial fan. The Polish part is coincidental. Major league ball wasn’t the most important thing in the world, though, because it just wasn’t there, it was a fairy tale. My first major league game was the Browns with my dad.

Did you feel pressure being signed to a big bonus out of high school?
Mostly among my peers, I felt pressure. When I was sent out to Class C Northern League [in 1958 in Winnipeg], my concern was how I would be accepted by my peers. I was a 17-year-old joining a team with 24, 25, 26-year-old veteran minor leaguers. I don’t think the press really pushed it, though they mentioned it every game, but luckily I did well so there was no reason to really pick on me.

Have you ever thought of how your career or life might have been different had you gone to college?
You have to remember, the college programs were zilch in those days. They didn’t have indoor facilities; you were lucky to start playing baseball before school was about out. Another thing people forget is that freshmen were ineligible to play. It worked out well so I don’t think about that much. College probably wasn’t as big a deal just in life. We were still post-war people who thought, “Hey, go get a job.”

What would your advice be to a young Ray Sadecki?
I think the main thing from my era and in my case, they handed me the ball and I went and pitched. The name of pitching is innings, that’s how you learn, and the name of hitting is at-bats.

For instance, in my case I played Class C ball, then I went to winter instructional league. I pitched over 200 innings at the age of 17. I’m a believer in that. I was no specimen with any special body—we all did that, all the journeymen and the guys who didn’t make it.

For some reason today the guys are stronger and better coached and better fed and with their video rooms, and someone came up with the 100 pitch count. I’d like to get out there and tell the kids to get out there and pitch. It’s not their fault. There’s no substitute for innings, innings, innings.

So you feel that all that work early in your career helped you?
Absolutely, and the main thing is no one was counting pitches or innings. They gave you the ball and you did accordingly. I was an average pitcher—if I were better I would have thrown more.

They handed me the ball and it was trial and error. You didn’t look over your shoulder for a setup man; you were the pitcher until you couldn’t get them out anymore. Now, they put a 50-pitch limit on a 17-year-old—you can’t hardly get through two innings with that if you throw hard and you’re wild.

In 1962, you got the reputation as somewhat of a malcontent. To what extent did that label stick with you?
They fade away, but it’s certainly true that I had a clash with management. Maybe I was who I was. I wasn’t a bad guy. I wasn’t an extra tough guy but I was stubborn. All I ever asked for was the ball.

It’s an interesting thing; you’ll see this in a lot of walks of life. You can take pitcher A, and I might be him, and you say, “How come you’re not using me?” And the manager says, “Get out of here, I make the lineup.” Now pitcher B comes in and says, “Hey, how come you’re not using me?” And he walks out and the manager says, “Boy, I like that pitcher B, he wants to play.”

Maybe it was something about my attitude that people didn’t like, maybe it was my youth, and I wasn’t supposed to chime in as much as a 19 and 20-year-old, but it happens. Certain coaches at all levels in all games always seem to have a whipping boy. Anyway I survived it. It wasn’t always easy or always fun. I don’t think that anyone has looked at me as a no-good-nik or anything.

When everything was all said and done, I never spent one day on the DL in 18 years in the big leagues. Yet through all those years I had many coaches question my training habits: “You’re not running enough” or “You weigh two pounds too much.” I said, “Whatever I’m doing works for me. Your guys who run so much are on the DL twice a year.” And there you go again, “Ray’s a bad guy, he’s being bullheaded.”

Later in your career, especially after being traded to the Mets, you were seen as a mature veteran presence in the clubhouse. What changed?
It may come with maturity. See, that particular deal, of which we had no control in those days, I went from the Giants to the Mets. When I was with the Giants I was the youngest pitcher on their staff, and the next day I was the oldest pitcher on the Mets staff. In Gil Hodges’ words, and I love the man, “Ray, I don’t know what we’re going to do with you. We’ve got the finest young pitchers in baseball.” And I’m 30 years old; he’s addressing me like I’m 40 years old. I was in my prime.

One of the biggest compliments anyone paid me—someone called me a staff saver. “He’s a spot starter, a short reliever, a long reliever if you need him, and if you don’t need him, you can sit him for two weeks.”

After you had success early in your career, some people suggested you could have a Hall of Fame career. Did that have any effect on you?
My early numbers were outstanding. Not many players, especially in that era, even got an opportunity at age 19. Warren Spahn, the winningest left-handed pitcher of all time, won his first big league game at age 25 or 26. I got an eight-year head start on him. My numbers were as good as Greg Maddux I think for the first few years, right alongside with Bob Gibson.

I didn’t have that attitude about the game [and getting into the Hall of Fame]; I just loved it. Just give me the ball. I was learning in the big leagues. Naturally you wanted to make a little money, but there wasn’t a lot of money out there.

I was convinced my stuff was good enough [early in my career], but I was walking too many people. For a period I took a little off my fastball to not walk people, and that was the wrong approach. The coaches said, “You just throw the ball and we’ll learn to corral it.”

In 1964 I won 20 ballgames, we won the World Series, and I was offered a $4,000 raise, at a time when I was making $18,000. Do you know how many years you have to have like that to make $40,000? It’s almost like they didn’t want you to succeed when you were young because they couldn’t afford you.

You never even think about it until it’s all said and done. I played 20 seasons and never doubting that I would play the next year on a one-year renewable contract. Nowadays they say you need security: “He can’t play because he doesn’t have that long-term security.”

What do you remember about your first big-league game (May 13, 1960 against the Pirates)?
I was going to pitch before that, and I was waiting for that turn on pins and needles, and they changed it and pushed me back. It seemed like ages. I thought [after the game, a loss], “Hey, they didn’t exactly beat me to death.” I was wild but not ­wild wild—I was wild in the strike zone.

And what about starting Game 1 of the World Series in 1964?
The excitement of the World Series was pitching against a team you hadn’t pitched against before. I knew nothing about the Yankees—no clue. I’m not saying the scouting reports were good or bad, it’s just your own knowledge.

I was having a good year and I had no real fears of any kind. I had the anxiety and excitement of getting going, and I didn’t pitch that well.

Of all of the hoopla when we won and beat the Yankees, the thing I remember a lot is that for the whole season, almost to the end, we were not in the pennant race. We didn’t really have a chance to panic or choke. We weren’t even drawing fans, and that’s when the Phillies fell apart. You don’t quite go to the ballpark thinking, “This is a big one tonight.” [The Phillies] only needed to win one game to win it all, really. It was not a true pennant race.

When you’re on a staff with a dominant pitcher like Bob Gibson in St. Louis or Tom Seaver in New York, what effect does it have on the other pitchers?
You’re watching guys on their way to the Hall of Fame. But you have the feeling, if you’re right behind them in the rotation, these hitters are going to take it out on someone. [The ace] might get them 0-4, but then they’re 4-8 against the rest of us. You can’t pitch the way they pitch.

When I went to New York, Seaver and Ryan were on the staff. We’d have a meeting about the other team’s hitters, we’d say, “How we gonna pitch him?” And they’d say, “I’ll blow him away with fastballs.” The next guy, “Eh, bust him inside with fastballs,” the next guy, “Give him fastballs.” And I’d say, “Well, that’s all well and good for you, but what about the rest of us?”

One day Seaver got roughed up and I mopped up for him. He and I were in the locker room after, and he said, “You want to walk back to the hotel?” He didn’t want to meet with the press and I didn’t blame him. He was telling me how lousy his fastball was, his control was lousy, his breaking ball wasn’t worth a damn, and I was just listening, then we got across the bridge and I said to him, “That’s the stuff I take out there every time—half your fastball and half your curveball. You want me to feel sorry for you? That’s me at my best.”

They all pitch like that, the good ones. I pitched with several Hall of Famers. As a rule, though, when they didn’t have their good stuff they still beat you. They rarely got a butt kicking. Marichal rarely did, but when he did he went home and went to sleep and came back like it never happened. He knew it wouldn’t happen twice.

In 1968, you developed what you called a slip pitch. What was that, and why did you start throwing it?
I never had a real good change of any kind and it just became a different kind of off-speed pitch. It wasn’t a curveball and it wasn’t a fastball. It didn’t do any tricks but it helped me at that time. I kind of mixed that into the middle of things and you could see hitters shaking their heads like, “What the hell was that?”

Kids these days are a lot more polished with their changeups. Our era didn’t throw as many. When I coached I recommended [the slip pitch] to people who didn’t have anything else. It’s a poor man’s split-finger. You grip it between forefinger and thumb, just throw it and pull down on it.

You bounced around a lot in the last few years of your career. What was that like for you?
I no sooner got [back to St. Louis] than we picked right back up fussing about money. Here they traded Torre straight up for me, he was making $100,000 and I was making $30,000. That was the first or second year of arbitration so I went to arbitration and it was here’s that bad guy Sadecki again, but I went and I won $52,000, and immediately they knew they didn’t want me for $52,000, so I was gone right away.

In 1977, I still felt like I could make a club. I went to spring training and I made the Mets—I was cheap help, $25,000. They had some players on the DL and I knew I was probably the first in line [to go], but I went down there and it didn’t last long. I said goodbye and I had no gripes. By the time the Mets released me, I didn’t even try to find something else. My arm was healthy but I was done.

Who’s a batter who you had a hard time with?
Jim Hickman, who played with the Reds and the Cubs. He hit three home runs off me one day—three home runs off of three different pitches. He was a hard out for me. I saw him not too long ago.

Who do you still stay in touch with from your career?
I talk with Ernie Broglio some, and Mike McCormick. I used to be pretty close with Dick Dietz [before his death in 2005]. Not as many guys from the Mets. I was kind of a limbo Met—I came the year after they were the Amazin’ Mets, so I kind of didn’t belong. All the old-timer games are for the ‘69 Mets and I just missed out.

What did you do after retiring in 1977?
While I was still playing baseball, I was offered a job to stay in the game. I had two young kids, 7 and 11, and immediately I knew I didn’t want to go travel anymore if I didn’t have to. Then it was really easy to make when I learned the job only paid $5,000. I went home. I’d been 20 years at it, I was happy from that end, to come home.

Luckily, I found a sales job with an office products company, and made more than I made playing in the big leagues. I had no education but I had no problem selling something. I dabbled in sales from 1977 to 1990, raised the kids [his son, Steve, pitched for Vanderbilt and in the Rangers’ farm system].

They were both in college and I was going through a divorce [in 1990] when a couple of my buddies got beered up one night and called me and said I should get back in the game. They said, “It’s not great, but it’s better than it used to be.” I said, “Okay, tell me some more. I don’t have an excuse now, my kids are in college and I’m going through a divorce.”

So, long story short, I took a job coaching with the Cubs from 1990 to 1993, then in 1994 I went and coached for the Giants [as a roving instructor]. I really enjoyed working with the kids. I was a little hardheaded; I didn’t agree with a lot going on. I entered the game not like I left the game—now we were into weightlifting, strength and conditioning, arthroscopic surgery, 50-pitch limits. I had trouble adjusting, and I spoke out.

I lost that job in 1994—it was the strike year and they very respectfully said, “We don’t even know if there’s going to be baseball next year, so we’re going to cut back.” It’s rough getting out there riding them buses again and banging around. I enjoyed working with the kids but I didn’t like … I still don’t like the game as a fan today.

You don’t have many ex-major league people coaching anymore. You can’t afford to pay them and they don’t want to go ride the bus, and I don’t blame them. Player development isn’t quite what it used to be because you’re not getting the ex-big leaguers involved. A George Brett isn’t going to show these kids how to hit; a Randy Johnson isn’t going to go teach in the minor leagues. Even if they do, it’s in the big leagues, and I question that. Baseball’s missing out on that.

I know baseball is being run by computers and Harvard executives, and it’s tough. It’s tough to sit in the meeting when the computer is going to argue with me. They say you need a radar gun; I don’t need a radar gun to know if this pitcher is good enough. I don’t need a stopwatch to know if he can run. I hope I’m not sounding like an old fart croaking here. Things change, I understand that. But every now and then someone slides and gets his pants dirty and they say, “Oh, he plays like the old days”—because the other guys play without getting their pants dirty.

Thanks to Mr. Sadecki for his time, and to baseball-reference.com for stats.


5 Responses to “Touring the Bases with Ray Sadecki”
  1. Mike Lynch says:

    Excellent! I really enjoyed this!

  2. Dave Rouleau says:

    Very good interview, Justin.

    Sadecki seems like a gentleman…. I’m glad there wasn’t too much of the usual “It was better during my time because…”

    Good job.

  3. jay kuzmic says:

    play with ray in kc…he lived 5 houses from me..ray had something special..people could see it..thats why he signed out of ward high in kc….we could play at the park all day and not get tired..saying he could get a lot of innings in was right..he never seemed tired…too much micro and 100 pitch count and all that crap…give me the ball he would say and away we went…thanks..jay jay

  4. jay kuzmic says:

    all the things he said..like pitch count..let the guy pitch..i think if a guy gets 5 mil a year..let him pitch..played ball with ray for many years as youngster..he lived 5 houses from me…good guy…jay jay

  5. Doyle Williams says:

    My wife’s uncle and I watched Ray pitch a no hit, shutout at what is now Ray Sadecki Memorial ball park. As I recall he drove in the only two runs with a double in this remarkable game when he was 17 and getting ready to sign a $50,000 bonus with the Cardinals. I believe his no hitter game we witnessed was with Milgrams Ban Johnson league. A memorable experience for me, a 24 year old father of our first child at the time. A few weeks later I happened to join up with Alex Keltner, our A’s star pitcher on an archery range in Swope Park and he advised me that he was probably going to sign with the Cardinals which greatly saddened me. Great interview with Ray. I love the way he talks about human nature and life.

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