Bret Saberhagen turned 20 early during his rookie season in 1984, which ended with his Royals losing to the Tigers in the American League Championship Series. The next year, the Royals were not only in the postseason again, but Saberhagen, at age 21, started and won Game 7 of the
Bret Saberhagen turned 20 early during his rookie season in 1984, which ended with his Royals losing to the Tigers in the American League Championship Series. The next year, the Royals were not only in the postseason again, but Saberhagen, at age 21, started and won Game 7 of the World Series against the Cardinals. A month later, he won the AL Cy Young Award.
By the time Saberhagen's career ended, he was a three-time All-Star, a two-time Cy Young Award winner and a member of five teams that made the postseason, including two with the Royals. It was a quick rise, as he jumped from Double-A in the summer of 1983 to the big leagues in the spring of '84.
When Saberhagen looks back at being a rookie with teammates like Dan Quisenberry and George Brett and a manager, Dick Howser, who was so special, he now realizes how fortunate he was.
Saberhagen talks about his quick rise to the top in this week's Q&A.
MLB.com: When you reflect on pitching in the postseason in each of your first two years and winning the World Series in 1985, do you appreciate what happened more today than you did at the time?
Saberhagen: Yeah, you realize that it's not as easy as it seemed to be. But I was 20 years old, I didn't know better. [Game 7 of] the World Series was the most nervous I've ever been before a game, just because of the fact that if we win, we're champions, if we lose, I feel like I let my teammates down, our fans down, the front office down.
MLB.com: There was a lot of pressure on you in that Game 7.
Saberhagen: You have butterflies and the anxiety, but once you throw a few pitches and get into the flow of the game, you go and do what you're supposed to be doing: trying to keep your team in the ballgame. There's something to be said about going to the postseason, and the older that I got, the more I realized how difficult it really is to get there.
MLB.com: You might not realize what it means to be a regular in the postseason at that age, but I would assume being 20 and coming straight out of Double-A was something you did appreciate.
Saberhagen: What made it easier for me coming up at that young age was Mark Gubicza came up that year, too. We were teammates at Double-A, and we were roommates in Kansas City. It made that transition a lot easier, and George [Brett] took us under his wing. And Buddy Black and Charlie Leibrandt were awesome mentors. It just was a pretty good fit for me, but you've got to go back and thank Dick Howser for giving me that opportunity and having the confidence in me at that age to be one of the guys. I was hoping to make the Triple-A team. Right before Spring Training broke, Dick Howser called me in. I assumed that he was telling me I was going to go to Triple-A, and then when he said I was going to the big leagues, it was like, "Really? You're not [messing] with me?"
MLB.com: You came up big twice in the '85 World Series. The Royals lose the first two games to the Cardinals, then you pitch a complete game, giving up one run, to win Game 3. Then, the team is down, 3-1, and wins Games 6 and 7, with you pitching the complete game in Game 7.
Saberhagen: John Tudor started [for the Cardinals]. He already had two wins and was going for the third, and Joaquin Andujar came in after him.
MLB.com: How nervous were you?
Saberhagen: I don't think I felt my feet touching the ground until about the third inning.
MLB.com: Yet, you pitched that shutout. How big were the runs early?
Saberhagen: It was great. I think that's for anybody. If you can go out there and shut them down for a few innings, and once your team puts a few numbers up on the board, it's a big relief. You don't feel like just one mistake that you might make is going to cost you the game, which, when you're in a 0-0 ballgame, just one mistake can actually cost you winning that game. Any time you get a few runs, I think any pitcher feels a little sigh of relief.
MLB.com: The amazing thing, you guys came back from a 3-1 deficit in the AL Championship Series and the World Series. You didn't do it the easy way either time.
Saberhagen: I think that's what made the World Series a little easier. I wouldn't say it was easy by any means, but we just came off a series in which we were down, 3-1, and we came back and won. We felt like we could do it again. We felt that they had the pressure on them to try to win that last game. They didn't want to go back to Kansas City. They wanted to close us out in St. Louis. Didn't happen. Once we got back to Kansas City, the home fans, we felt pretty confident.
MLB.com: One thing that really stands out now about that '85 World Series was you pitching twice and working 18 innings. Charlie Leibrandt worked 16 1/3 over his two starts. And Danny Jackson worked 16 innings over his two starts.
Saberhagen: I guess there's more ways than one to skin a cat, so to speak. Again, the game has changed in that aspect, where you've got so many great arms that are in the bullpen now that just can light it up. When you have that ability to do it with so many different guys in the bullpen, it makes a manager's job a dream job where he can just call on anybody at any given time and have guys with great breaking stuff, offspeed stuff, a 95-plus fastball.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.