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Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday…Bret Saberhagen

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What do Bret Saberhagen, Amos Otis and Kevin Appier have in common?  All three played for both teams in this year’s world series the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets, and now all three on spotlighted here on Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday…

Bret Saberhagen was drafted out of high school by the Kansas City Royals in the 19th round of the 1982 Major League Baseball Draft and made his major league debut on April 4, 1984. He made an immediate impact, compiling a 10–11 record and a 3.48 ERA. The Royals made the postseason but lost to the Detroit Tigers. Saberhagen pitched well in his first postseason start, giving up two runs in eight innings.

In 1985, the 21-year-old Saberhagen established himself as the ace of the staff. He went 20–6 with a 2.87 ERA and won the American League Cy Young Award. He led the Royals to a World Series championship and was named MVP of the World Series, pitching two complete games, including a shutout in Game 7. He was also the subject of much media attention during the Series as his wife gave birth to his first son, Drew William, on the same night of the infamous Don Denkinger call.

Saberhagen developed an odd pattern of successful seasons in odd-numbered years (1985, 1987, 1989, 1991) and poor performances in even-numbered years. In 1986, he was 7–12 with a 4.12 ERA. In 1987, another odd-numbered year, Saberhagen had an excellent year, going 18–10 with a 3.36 ERA. That record, however, was disappointing because Saberhagen had entered the All-Star break with a 15–3 record and another Cy Young Award seemingly in the bag. He pitched in the 1987 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, but he suffered a shoulder injury that hampered his second-half performance.

In 1988, the pattern continued as Saberhagen went 14–16 for the Royals with a 3.80 ERA, the second most losses in the American League. The following year, 1989, he brought back his old brilliance by compiling a record of 23–6 with a 2.16 ERA, leading both leagues with 12 complete games, and finishing third in strikeouts. Before his July 26, 1989 start against the Boston Red Sox, Saberhagen had a record of 9–5. Over the next two months, he compiled a record of 14–1 with four shutouts. Only once in a game over that period did a team score more than two runs. He also led the league in innings pitched, complete games, and strikeout to walk ratio. For his efforts, Saberhagen won his second Cy Young Award as the American League’s best pitcher.

Despite a 5–7 record, Saberhagen was selected to the 1990 American League All-Star team, primarily due to his 1989 performance. He rewarded the selection by being the winning pitcher in the 2–0 American League triumph. Saberhagen pitched only one game after the all-star break before being shelved for most of the rest of 1990 with an injury.

In 1991, Saberhagen went 13–8 with a 3.07 ERA. On August 26, he no-hit the Chicago White Sox 7-0 at Royals Stadium; to date, the no-hitter is the last thrown by a Royal.

On December 11, 1991, Saberhagen was traded along with Bill Pecota to the New York Mets in exchange for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, and Keith Miller.

He posted several solid seasons, winning 14 games for the New York Mets in the strike-shortened 1994 season and won 15 games for the Boston Red Sox in 1998. Also in 1994, he had more wins than walks. No other pitcher (as of 2005) pitching more than 150 innings had accomplished this feat since 1919.His stint with the Mets was not without controversy; on July 27, 1993, Saberhagen sprayed bleach into a group of reporters. After admitting his role in this incident, Saberhagen donated one day’s pay to charity and apologized to fans and the media.

Bret appeared as himself in the 1994 Brendan Fraser movie The Scout. In the movie, he is hired by former NY Yankee’s scout AL Percolo (Albert Brooks) to pitch to Al’s phenom prospect Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser). Unfortunately for Bret’s “character”, Steve takes every pitch long.

In 1995 he joined the Colorado Rockies as a much-heralded ace. While the Rockies made the playoffs as the National League Wild Card team, Saberhagen lost his only start, Game 4 of the NLDS when the Rockies were eliminated by the Braves on their way to a World Series win.

Saberhagen didn’t pitch at all in 1996 due to injury but attempted a comeback with the Boston Red Sox and went 15-8 and 10-6 in 1998 and 1999. He won also the Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year in 1998, and the Tony Conigliaro Award.

After missing the entire 2000 season, Saberhagen attempted a comeback in 2001 but pitched in only three games. He retired at the end of the season.

Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday spotlights…Bret Saberhagen.

MLB debut
April 4, 1984 for the Kansas City Royals
Last MLB appearance
August 7, 2001 for the Boston Red Sox
MLB statistics
Win–loss record 167–117
Earned run average 3.34
Strikeouts 1,715
Teams
Career highlights and awards

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