Dave Righetti had one of the most valuable collectibles a kid could ask for – a Joe DiMaggio autographed baseball. And like any normal kid, he took it outside and played catch with it.
“We had that ball on the street. Can you imagine that?” The former Yankee All-Star and current San Francisco Giants pitching coach said.
Fortunately, Righetti still has many valuable items from his career, but his collection is minus the baseball and basketball cards he grew up with. Like many other young men, his collection was a victim of his mother’s house cleaning.
“My mother cleaned out my closet when I left to play pro ball,” Righetti said. “Then my cards were gone. Back then, I collected the NBA cards, too. She even got rid of my dad’s minor league uniforms, gloves, everything. It was just to clean the house because there was no room. Nowadays, it seems like we don’t throw anything away.”
Righetti’s father, Leo, was a star shortstop with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.
As a Yankee, “Rags” rubbed shoulders with many all-time greats, especially on Old-Timers Day.
“I wanted to get special pictures of guys with me and them together,” he said. “Moose Skowron and Hank Bauer were friends of mine. They made it easier to get to Mickey Mantle. They’d say, ‘Go ahead! Get your picture with Mick, DiMaggio, Maris.’ So I’ve got those. I’ve also got balls from certain games.”
One of the memorable games was his 1983 Fourth of July no-hitter against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Of course, there’s also his American League Rookie of the Year Award from the strike-shortened 1981 campaign when he posted an 8-4 record with a league-leading 2.05 ERA, helping the Yankees reaching the Fall Classic.
As fate would have it, that turned out to be his only World Series appearance. By the mid-1980s, the Yankees had an overabundance of starters, and Righetti was thought to be more valuable coming out of the bullpen. True to form, he was highly effective there, too, chalking up 31 saves in his first year as a closer.
In retrospect, however, it’s possible that the switch hurt the Yankees overall, because they went through the longest World Series drought in franchise history, failing to return until 15 years later in 1996.
Righetti wasn’t to blame, though, as he performed masterfully and won back-to-back Rolaids Relief Man of the Year awards in 1986 and ’87. These, too, are prominent among his collectibles, along with articles picked up during his two All-Star Game appearances, also in ’86 and ’87.
Righetti’s move from the rotation to the bullpen enabled him to accomplish a rare feat. He was the first player in major league history to pitch both a no-hitter and lead the league in saves. Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersly matched it several years later.
Leaving the Yankees
With the Yankees in decline, however, Righetti left New York following the 1990 campaign and signed with the Giants as a free agent. He had 24 saves in 1991, the eighth straight year with at least that many to his credit. With New York, he’d never had less than 25 saves, and had 31 or more four times.
In 1992, he accepted middle relief roles and spent the last two years of his career (1994-95) with the A’s, Blue Jays and White Sox.
During his 16 years, Righetti racked up 252 saves and 82 wins, compiling a 3.46 ERA in 718 games.
Righetti doesn’t consider himself an autograph hound, but has picked up some impressive items along the way.
“One of my most prized possessions is an Elvis Presley autograph,” he said. “Most of the things I have are pictures with friends – “Pags” (Mike Pagliarulo), Don Mattingly. I have those hanging up in our rec house.”
He also has Joe Montana’s Notre Dame football jersey and a hockey sweater from Chicago Blackhawks great Stan Makita.
“I got to play golf with Stan,” he said. “I didn’t even ask for it. He sent me a jersey. It’s fun when you can meet other athletes and entertainers. It’s nice to meet them.”
To Yankee fans, of course, Righetti’s autograph is a prized commodity, too. Breaking in as a starter, he hurled the first Yankee no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. In 1986, he set a major league record with 46 saves, which still stands as the AL record for southpaws.
The mound was lowered in 1969, a full decade before Righetti’s big-league debut, but its impact is still being felt, perhaps now more than ever.
“I’d like them to raise the mound back up,” Righetti said. “If they did, you’d find less arm injuries because the ball comes into the zone much flatter than before. That’s why you see a lot of people drafting these tall kids. They aren’t necessarily good pitchers, but they’re tall, lanky kids and they can get the ball going downhill a little bit. And they’re turning them into slider-sinker-splitter guys. All three of those pitches are hard on the arm. There’s nothing easier on your arm than a four-seam fastball and curve ball.”
Randy Johnson, at 6 feet 11 inches, had a lengthy career because he could rely heavily on an overpowering fastball.
“For the most part, I always thought guys like Tom Seaver were the right size,” Righetti said. “Those 6-foot-1, 200-pound guys. Nowadays, they’re much taller, and they’re not the same kind of athletes, to be honest. They don’t use their legs as much, and it’s a lot harder on their arms because of it.”
Perhaps the difference in styles explains why pitch counts are so prevalent today. At 100 pitches, most managers yank starters regardless of the score or game situation.
“They’re being paid so much money now that you can’t afford to get guys hurt unnecessarily,” said Randy St. Claire, the Washington Nationals’ pitching coach. “You want them for the whole year. You want them fresh. Also, the ballparks are different. They’re much smaller. Everybody wants offense. Look at home runs – the way they’ve gone up – and ERAs. There are so many factors. It’s a controversial issue.The game definitely has changed.”
This puts extra pressure on pitching coaches, who are responsible for the health and well-being of high-priced hurlers. Righetti is among the best in the business, however, because he was a starter and reliever so he can relate to both types of pitchers and understand exactly how to help them.
Now entering his ninth season, he is the second-longest tenured pitching coach in San Francisco Giants history, surpassed only by Larry Jansen (1961-71).
During his term, Giants hurlers have posted a 4.13 ERA, fifth-best among all NL staffs and sixth-best in the majors.
For Righetti, coaching in San Francisco is a perfect fit. The Giants were his favorite team while growing up in the Bay Area, and Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey was his favorite player.
“Rags” and his wife, Kandice, live in Los Altos, Calif., with their triplets — Nicolette, Natalee and Wesley, who were born July 19, 1991.
To no one’s surprise, Righetti has quietly had a major role in the community, with a number of charitable organizations.
He’s on the board of directors for the Jean Weingarten Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf, has been involved with various Cerebral Palsy organizations and contributes to Ronnie Lott’s charitable foundation, as well as Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Baseball has given Righetti many benefits, and this is his way of giving something back in return.
With the Giants, he imparts invaluable knowledge to what could be one of baseball’s most balanced rotations in 2008. Barry Zito finished a disappointing 11-13 last year, but he is still one of the best southpaws in the game, while 2006 No.1 draft pick Tim Lincecum is a rising star. Noah Lowry led the Giants with a 14-8 record last year, and Matt Cain is the team’s workhorse (200 innings pitched), whose 7-16 record was more the result of poor offensive support than shortcomings of his own.
The Giants might not be quite ready to win an NL West flag, but with Righetti helping the team’s pitching staff and a few key acquisitions elsewhere, the club should definitely be headed in the right direction toward a postseason berth.
Righetti was interviewed by Ed Lucas, a blind sports journalist from Jersey City, N.J. For more information, visit www.edlucas.org.
The article was written by Paul Post, a freelance writer from Glens Falls, N.Y.; firstname.lastname@example.org.