An Interview With Mike Pagliarulo About the ’95 Mariners, ’89 A’s, and Billy Martin

A few years ago, after I’d written some articles for a website, Dugout Central, that he owned at the time, I talked with Mike Pagliarulo, the ’80s and ’90s third baseman for the Yankees, Twins, and other teams, on the phone. The bulk of the interview was about the 1991 Minnesota Twins, and that part was published in a Twins season preview magazine. But we also talked about some other things I was interested in learning from Mike. Here are those exchanges, organized into three subjects:

The 1995 Seattle Mariners

Q: I wondered what you saw in the Mariners that year in September as they made their comeback, whether there was a sense of them having changed from earlier in the season.

Mike: Yes, we had, in the final series there in Texas, we stopped the Mariners from winning the division, won the last two games against them. Johnny Oates, God bless his soul, he was our manager. The Mariners, they were a very well-balanced team, power from the right side, the left side, good pitching, ran the bases very well, they really knew how to play the game. They had dangerous hitters, could score a bunch of runs in a minute.

Q: What was it like facing Randy Johnson, someone who, at 6-10, he’d be throwing the ball a half-foot higher up than most pitchers. Was it hard to change your eye level and pick up his pitches?

Mike: You have to change, make an adjustment according to the different pitchers, so you’ll see the ball better out of his hand. With a left-hander like Johnson, I’d try to hit everything off the left-field wall. You had to have a plan for the opposition.

Randy was very deceptive, with a lower arm slot, you fought to pick up the ball. There was always a battle going on, facing him. I’d come up, struggle to see how the ball’s moving, and all of a sudden I’d be saying hey, what the heck, what happened, I’m down 0-1, 0-2.

Q: That year, you were playing against Lou Piniella, one of your former managers with the Yankees. Could you say something about his qualities as a manager?

Mike: He’s a super guy, just one of the greatest. He’s one of the most brilliant men at teaching hitting mechanics. It was fascinating to play for him with the Yankees. I was fortunate to get the chance to learn from him.

The 1989 Oakland A’s and S.F. Giants

Q: To start off, I figured I’d ask if you remember the near-perfect game the A’s threw against the Yankees on May 26 in New York?

Mike: No, I don’t. What was that?

Q: The one guy to get on was Rickey Henderson, on an infield single, and then the very next hitter, Steve Sax maybe, hit into a double play. That was the only runner of the game.

Mike: Huh. That’s funny, I don’t know that game at all. We had an injury, someone-Winfield-was out with a bad back in 1989. That year my elbow was a mess. I tried to play, but it wasn’t fully recovered.

Q: What was your response when you learned of Rickey Henderson’s trade to the A’s?

Mike: In New York, we had all come up with each other in the Yankees’ tremendous minor league system. Played on the same teams, winning teams. And some guys from the organization, they had played with Rickey for 5 years. He was one of the guys, a great teammate, a phenomenal athlete, so it was hard to see people like him go.

Q: I was reading through some articles from the time, where the Yankees management was saying that Rickey’s legs were going, he wasn’t that great a player anymore. He’d been struggling a bit with the Yankees, but did you guys have any sense of him running down?

Mike: No, I wouldn’t say he was running down. When you play with a good teammate, you never want to see them go, whether they’re going well or not. You rely on each other day and day out, so you never expect someone to be traded. You never think in those terms. Rickey was a real impact player, he helped the whole lineup.

Baseball is the ultimate team game, your teammates affect how you play offense and defense, what kind of pitches you get to hit-look at the Red Sox this year [2008], J.D. Drew batting ahead of Manny Ramirez, and how well he did. There are so many variables, it’s hard to say which one it is that impacts whether you do well.

Q: What was your impression of Greg Cadaret and Eric Plunk? Because when I went through those articles about the trade I saw Cadaret saying that at least in New York he’d still be able to talk about hunting and fishing with Plunk in the bullpen. Were they out of place in the Bronx?

Mike: [laughs] Well, some players don’t feel very comfortable in New York. It can be a rude awakening for some players, they’re out of place. Some, they adapt, but I was always real comfortable there, didn’t have to get used to New York.

Q: What, for you, were the biggest reasons why the A’s were so good in ’88 and ’89?

Mike: The A’s, they had those two big guys (McGwire and Canseco) coming up. I was talking to La Russa one day not long after he got hired by the A’s. When was that, 1986 or so? (It was.) And he had a pretty good plan for what to do with the team. They had Ron Hassey, a good friend and teammate with the Yankees.

On the A’s, everyone knew their role, what their job was, and that’s a compliment to La Russa. He ran a pretty tight ship, everyone had a place they fit into, and there was a really good mix of young and old players. Every good team I’ve been on has had that characteristic. It’s a prerequisite for winning. And they had really good coaches.

Lansford, he was a steady, steady, steady player, a real tough out. Stewart, I don’t remember how I did against. But he was like Clemens: the ultimate challenge for a hitter. You want that so much-that challenge, and the great ones, they’re great challenges. The A’s were very prepared, they always gave their best game.

In ’89, we had a coach, Dallas Green, we went outside the organization to get him, and people said, “this guy’s not a Yankee”-he wasn’t Billy (Martin) or Piniella or Yogi Berra. So it was different: he had some trouble adjusting, it wasn’t easy there.

Q: And then you got traded to the Padres not long after Rickey went to Oakland. What did you remember from playing against the Giants late that year? You guys in San Diego were running right alongside the Giants for the division title.

Mike: I remember Matt Williams having a great year, and that guy in left field, Mitchell, just everything they had (offensively). You’d look up and boom! there’s the ball flying out of the yard. The Padres had a tremendous team, one of the most talented sets of players I’ve seen. We had Jack Clark, Bip Roberts, Alomar, Santiago, Gwynn, but we were missing one pitcher.

Billy Martin’s death on Christmas day, 1989

Q: How did you respond to Billy Martin, first as your coach on the Yankees, and then upon learning of his death?

Mike: I loved Billy Martin. That was a very sad day for me. I burst out crying when I heard the news.

He was the kind of guy who wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought of you. If I got one hit in a game and hit a couple other balls well, but they were caught, what he’d say to me was, “You dumb-ass dago, you can’t get more than one hit.” Billy was very honest.

I remember one day, a game against the Angels. It was 1985, my first full season. In the eighth inning I fielded a bunt, threw the ball to second, and the throw pulled the man off base. When I got back to the dugout, Billy was waiting on the top step, screaming at me, “What the hell were you thinking out there? That wasn’t the right play.” I didn’t back down; I told him, “It was the right play, I just didn’t make the throw.”

A little while later Clete Boyer, our third base coach, says Billy wants to see me in his office. I’m thinking I’m going to get sent down, but Billy said, “Hey look, maybe you were right about that play.” He didn’t say “You’re right,” but he said maybe I was right. He was willing to admit he was wrong. Of course he added, “You dago son of a bitch, I’m only saying this because you’re Italian.”

Billy could see the field so completely; he knew what everybody was doing. My manager with the Twins, Tom Kelly, was like that. One day I made a step on third and throw to first double play, and back in the dugout T.K. said, “Maybe you should have stepped on the base with your other foot, it would have put you into better position to make the throw.” T.K. did the same kind of ribbing as Billy, just a little quieter. I’m half-Irish, and it’s funny, one day T.K. said the exact same thing Billy had: “I’m only saying this because you’re Irish. Now get the hell out of here.” Billy and T.K., they noticed everything. Sometimes you didn’t necessarily like it, but they noticed everything.

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 8:42 am  Comments (2)  
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Rickey Henderson and the 1980 A’s

In June 1980, Rickey Henderson, a second-year player for the Oakland A’s, said: “I came up here about this time (June 23 to be exact) a year ago [1979], all excited because I’d made it to The Show. A week here and I said, ‘Hey, this is worse than Jersey City and Double A.’ The only people who came to the park came to cheer opposing teams. The manager [Jim Marshall] didn’t care; he had just learned to accept losing. I couldn’t believe it. But after 30 games, I understood. Of those 30 games, we won four.”

The A’s had hired Billy Martin in February 1980, and Rickey said: “It used to be that once the game was over, no one wanted to think about baseball at all. Now, win or lose, we think about it and ask questions now. You have to give Martin credit for instilling that kind of enthusiasm.
“This was a team that was given up for dead a year ago, that was ignored at home and jeered on the road. Now we have some of the loudest, craziest fans anywhere. Even the players can tell you we’ve drawn more people than a team that plays in New York (the Mets).”

At the same time-June 1980-a guy from Massachusetts said: “It’s like the Fenway bleachers were in the early 70s. The bleachers are $2. For afternoon games, you sprawl out in the sun, drink beer and watch this team, and you’re converted. They run, they hustle, they do all kinds of strange things like triple steals and suicide squeezes. It’s about the only place you can go where there’s passion. I came here and heard people tell me the only way baseball could sell would be to put hot tubs in the bleachers and serve granola bars at the concession stands, but the A’s are changing all that. What happened with Wild Bill (Hagy) in Baltimore last year is happening here. All the regulars in the bleachers say they’ve been waiting for something like these guys. Billy Martin just came and lit the spark.”

On July 19, the AP reported: “Rickey Henderson stole home for the second time this season in a three-run eighth inning that gave the Oakland A’s a 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians today.

[Rick] Waits (7-9) walked Jeff Cox with one out in the eighth. Henderson followed with a double to left, and Dwayne Murphy walked to load the bases. Essian followed with a sacrifice fly to center that scored Cox and moved Henderson to third.

With Armas at bat, Waits threw to the first baseman, Mike Hargrove, and appeared to have Murphy picked off at first. As soon as Waits threw, Henderson broke for home and beat Hargrove’s throw to Ron Hassey at the plate. The steal of home was the seventh by the A’s this season.”

On May 28, the A’s stole home twice in the same inning: Dwayne Murphy and Wayne Gross did it, in the first inning, apparently. The A’s had seven steals for the game.

An aside: The straight steal of home pretty much never happens anymore, and that’s been true for at least 20 years. But Rickey Henderson said, ”Billy always felt it was an easy base to steal. When a pitcher goes into a windup long enough, you can pick him. But if you’re on third, not many pitchers go into a windup anymore.” And, in 1989, the New York Times said: “Ty Cobb stole home a record 50 times in his career. Max Carey did it 33 times for the National League record. Cobb, Eddie Collins and Joe Jackson were among nine players who stole home twice in the same game. Vic Power, as the Cleveland Indians’ first baseman in 1958, was the last to do it twice in the same game. Lou Gehrig did it 15 times in his Yankee career, Babe Ruth 10 times. Twenty years ago Rod Carew, then with the Minnesota Twins, did it seven times, tying the major league season record that Pete Reiser of the Brooklyn Dodgers established in 1946.”

Then, on September 28, 1980, the New York Times reported: “Rickey Henderson of the Oakland A’s stole four bases today to increase his season total to 96, equaling Ty Cobb’s American League record set in 1915.

Henderson stole second base in the third inning and again in the fifth. He then stole second and third on consecutive pitches in the sixth inning to equal the record. For Henderson, it was the third time he had stolen four bases in a game this season. He has attempted to steal 122 times.”

The two preceding stories give a taste of the aggresiveness with which the A’s played in 1980. Billy Martin is most famous as a Yankee, but in 1980, he came to Oakland as spring training began and guided the A’s to an 83-79 after going 54-108 in 1979. It was a 29-game improvement that set the stage for an even better 1981 season. Overworked A’s pitchers helped prevent anything like a dynasty from developing for the early ’80s A’s, as you can learn about here, but Billy and Rickey perhaps saved the Oakland team from moving to Florida or Denver because of their dynamism.

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Nolan Ryan’s 5000th Strikeout

Quotes from Nolan Ryan and Rickey Henderson about Ryan striking out Henderson for his 5000th strikeout on a 3-2 count on August 22, 1989:

Ryan: “The off day yesterday gave me a lot more time for things to build up. I was nervous at the start, but then I settled down.

I didn’t want to walk Rickey Henderson, so I went with the fastball. If somebody asked me before the game what pitch I would throw, it would have been a fastball.”

Henderson: “I asked the catcher (Chad Kreuter), ‘If I did strike out, could I take the ball out to him?’ He wouldn’t let me.”

And: “I don’t think nobody could have hit that pitch. He got me on the best pitch he threw.”

Ryan: “It was nice that my teammates came out there to congratulate me. In that situation, nobody knows how to act.”

Henderson again: “After the game he told me, ‘It had to be somebody, but I’m sorry it had to be you.’ It really is an honor. Roger Clemens throws hard, but Nolan has more success with what he does. Nobody in baseball can do what he’s doing.”

Published in: on December 3, 2008 at 4:21 am  Leave a Comment  
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