Righetti deserves place among best pitching coaches
NEW YORK -- At some point before or during the Yankees' home game against the Blue Jays on July 4, the Yankee Stadium scoreboard is bound -- read: obligated -- to salute the anniversary of the no-hitter Dave Righetti threw against the Red Sox in 1983. An annual salute to Rags is warranted for that achievement, on the 53rd birthday of one George M. Steinbrenner, and others.
The no-hitter stands as Righetti's highest-profile accomplishment during his 10-plus seasons in the sun in the Bronx. He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1981 and he established a since-obliterated big league record for saves in a season, 46, in 1986. Righetti saved 223 games in a sequence of seven seasons when the Yanks were something less than the perennial October participants they became in the '90s.
Strangely, Righetti's resume as a player seemingly obscures the success he has experienced in the second phase of his baseball life. He is a critical component in the glory run of San Francisco Giants, the guiding hand for a pitching staff that fueled the Giants' three-in-five World Series championship rampage. Rags hardly is an unknown: In October 2010, '12 and '14, his name was mentioned prominently and frequently. Yet Righetti seemingly is excluded from conversations involving the most accomplished and influential pitching coaches of the past 50 years. Without question, he is one.
Perhaps Righetti's hybrid identity -- Yankees closer, Giants coach -- works against his recognition in the latter role. Even with all the recent success San Francisco has enjoyed, Righetti's image as a no-hit starter and a reliable closer with the New York Yankees of Steinbrenner takes precedence.
Dave Duncan, Tony La Russa's pitching lieutenant with the White Sox, A's and Cardinals, had a modest career as a catcher. His primary identity is as a pitching coach, and he was a good one. So, too, was George Bamberger, who created an assembly line of Cy Young Award winners in Baltimore after sips of coffee as a pitcher with the Giants and Orioles. Ray Miller never pitched in the big leagues before he replaced Bamberger in Baltimore and then served as the Pirates' pitching coach under Jim Leyland. His image is that of a teacher.
Rockin' Leo Mazzone was more widely recognized for his rhythmic dugout movements than for anything he ever did as a player. Next month, when John Smoltz is inducted into the Hall of Fame, the list of Cooperstown pitchers tutored by Mazzone will increase to three. Dave Wallace appeared in merely 13 big league games before he became a respected pitching coach trusted by the Dodgers, Mets and Red Sox.
Then there is Mel Stottlemyre, as brilliant a pitcher as almost any man who has turned to coaching. But years spent on Joe Torre's flank and his effective work with the Mets teams of the 1980s have pushed his pitching prowess to the background. Stottlemyre's TV time next to Torre exceeded the time he spent in any spotlight in his pitching days.
The spotlight does find Righetti occasionally, of course, though a few moments of searching are sometimes required. He is most comfortable in the shadows, but he's been too effective in his role of 15-plus seasons to hide. And as long as his pitchers continue to roll out no-hitters -- one each year beginning in 2012 -- well, Rags might become a baseball household name outside of New York and the Bay Area.
Consider Righetti's resume with San Francisco: He ushered two-time National League Cy Young Award Tim Lincecum into the big leagues, he's guided the careers of Matt Cain and World Series wonder Madison Bumgarner. He guided Ryan Vogelsong and uncovered the potential of Yusmeiro Petit. He found closers after Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo.
Of course, the pitchers have the talent, and they have done the heavy lifting. But to hear manager Bruce Bochy is to hear more salutes to Righetti. "Rags does his job as well as our pitchers do theirs," Bochy says.
It is the tandem of Dick Tidrow, the Giants' assistant general manager, and Righetti that has created and maintained a pretty steady flow of young pitching talent to the big league roster. Tidrow picks 'em, Rags polishes 'em.
"They've both got great eyes," Bochy says. "Dick finds the raw material. And Rags brings them along once they get here. We've got good development people, too. Rags knows his guys. He sees things. And he diagnoses problems so quickly. He's got the touch. When he goes out to the mound, he's got, what, 30 seconds to make his point? He comes back, sits down and we pretty much expect that things will be all right."
It doesn't always work smoothly, of course. Injuries -- see Cain this year and last -- interfere with the flow. Trades -- see Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran -- interrupt with the flow. But the Giants seem to have what Earl Weaver called "deep depth." And when the cream rises to the top, Righetti is a good part of the reason it did.
"My job," he says, "is not to screw 'em up."
So far, so good.