Boddicker shares unusual link with Kershaw

November 16th, 2017

First, I sent Mike Boddicker this text: "Hi Mike, long time no talk. Wanted to do a little story on the connection that you and share. You have a minute to catch up?"

By the time I called, he'd already thought about it.

"What the heck do I have in common with Clayton Kershaw?" he asked me right away. "I'll tell you: Nothing."

At first, you would think that Mike Boddicker, a soft-tossing right-handed pitcher from Iowa who, as he says, "you could catch with a wet Kleenex," and Kershaw, a huge Texas lefty with some of the nastiest stuff in baseball history, do not share anything.

But they do. They share a glorious little piece of trivia.

This year, Kershaw led the National League in wins and ERA but did not win the Cy Young Award. He finished second to the superb Max Scherzer, who led the league in various other categories. Kershaw became just the second pitcher since Cy Young voting began to lead the league in wins and ERA and not win the award.

And the first was …

"Oh," Boddicker says. "Right. OK. Now I get it."

Mike Boddicker was a much better pitcher than he ever lets on. In 1983, he was a sensation as a rookie for Baltimore. He won 16 games in 26 starts, had a 2.77 ERA, probably should have won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, which went to Ron Kittle. (As you will see, Boddicker was never lucky with awards.)

Then in the postseason, he was legendary. He pitched one of the best games in League Championship Series history against the White Sox, a shutout with 14 strikeouts. Then in the World Series, he threw another complete game, not allowing an earned run, as the Orioles went on to win the World Series.

But 1984 was his season.

"My changeup that year was probably the best I had my whole career that year," Boddicker said. "I was kind of like the year he won the Cy Young Award. You know he was unhittable. There was nothing you could do even if you knew it was coming.

"With me, everyone knew [the changeup] was coming. Hitters used to yell at me, 'Come on, challenge me!' Right. I'm going to challenge you with my 83-mph fastball. Forget that."

Boddicker had masterful command in 1984, particularly with that changeup, which would drop at the last second. With a great defense behind him, led by shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., Boddicker completed 16 games, threw four shutouts, pitched 261 1/3 innings, and yes, he led the AL with 20 wins and a 2.79 ERA.

"It was a good year for me individually, I guess. But it was really a disappointing year overall," Boddicker said of the fifth-place Orioles, who still won 85 games. "We lost a lot of close games, if I remember right, and it just wasn't a whole lot of fun. Sure, I won 20, but I remember it as kind of downer year."

He was right about the close losses. The Orioles went 20-28 in one-run games, which was the second-worst mark in the AL. But the larger note from that year is that none of it really mattered. The Tigers took that season from the very start. Detroit went 35-5 in their first 40 games and had an 8 1/2-game lead in the AL East before the end of May. They more or less maintained that lead all the way through the season and went on to win the World Series.

And so the big awards more or less had to go to someone on the Tigers. But nobody on the Tigers really had that extraordinary an individual season. Alan Trammell was probably their best position player, but he did not have nearly as good a season as, say, Ripken. Jack Morris may have been the Tigers' best starting pitcher, but it also could have been Dan Petry. Their seasons are virtually indistinguishable.

And so the voters latched on to Tigers closer Willie Hernandez. To be fair, Hernandez was excellent. He pitched 140 innings, won nine games, saved 32 and had a 1.92 ERA. But more to the point, he was the best story. He swept the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards.

Boddicker led the AL in wins and ERA and finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting.

"I'll tell you who should have won the Cy Young that year," Boddicker said. "Bert Blyleven. He really deserved it. He was on a bad team and his numbers were fabulous. I thought he should have won it."

Boddicker pitched for another 10 seasons, ending after the 1993 season, which he spent with the Brewers. He always finding new ways to get hitters out with his slower stuff, and while he never again was a Cy Young candidate, Boddicker had some good seasons, particularly 1990 for Boston when he went 17-8 with a 3.36 ERA. One of his favorite moments was when Hall of Famer Rod Carew -- who was a career 1-for-11 against Boddicker -- told reporters that his wife made him take out better garbage than Boddicker threw.

"I knew that I was limited," Boddicker said. "I was limited in velocity. But I had good command, decent movement. I always thought my job was just to get ahead of hitters and pitch as deep into the game as I could."

And he laughed. "Clayton Kershaw, huh? When you sent me that text, I asked my son-in-law, what could I share with Kershaw? We came up with nothing."