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An Interview with Former Royals Pitcher Bob Tufts

Former Royals left-handed pitcher Bob Tufts, who played for the team from 1982-1983.
Former Royals left-handed pitcher Bob Tufts, who played for the team from 1982-1983.

Bob Tufts was a left-handed pitcher who played for the Royals from 1982-1983. He appeared in just sixteen games for the Royals, but was involved in two of the biggest trades in franchise history. In spring training of the 1982 season, the Royals completed a blockbuster trade acquiring former Cy Young-winner Vida Blue from the San Francisco Giants along with a young left-hander named Bob Tufts in exchange for four players. Two years later, Tufts was dealt in a much less-heralded trade, but with much better results for the Royals when Kansas City received left-hander Charlie Leibrandt from the Reds. Tufts retired from the game after the 1983 season, but has since gone on to enjoy success on Wall Street in the equities business. He has since been an outspoken defender of player's rights against critics lamenting the rise of steroids in the game. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for Royals Review.

Royals Review: First, tell us a little about what kind of pitcher you were. What did you throw? What was your pitching philosophy?

Bob Tufts: I threw conventionally as a high school pitcher growing up in Lynnfield, Massachusetts - four seam fastballs, straight over the top and tried to throw hard with a curve that was a 12 to 6 type. I learned on my own to drop my arm angle and throw two seam pitches in college and throw everything for the middle of the plate - and below the waist - to let the fastball sink and go away from righties (in to lefties) and to change the curve to a slider, dropping it down and in on them (and away from lefties). Over time, my motion became - well - an oddity and helped me become deceptive and a decent relief pitcher despite the lack of velocity.

My philosophy would not fit the modern WHIP statistics and I probably would not have been drafted in this era. I didn't strike out enough batters, gave up lots of ground ball singles while pitching to contact as a low ball pitcher. As long as I had a good third baseman and shortstop, I could do very well getting righties to try to pull fastballs tailing away or sliders that jammed them. I did try to strike out lefties by using more sliders that were set up by fastballs tailing in on their hands and learned to throw some fastballs in on righties to tie them up.

RR: You began your career with the San Francisco Giants, what were your impressions of that organization and how they developed pitching?

BT: The Giants - like most teams - believed that you draft pitchers that throw hard and that they can be taught finesse like locating pitches and change-ups or breaking pitches. My view is that this takes some self-realization and God rarely sorts out the good bodies and good heads on the same player and that this type of scouting and player development is wishful thinking.

Some pitching coaches merely went along for the ride. Don McMahon openly admitted that he hung around pitchers that were doing well to look good and shied away from those doing poorly. You were pretty much left on your own to try to figure it out. Some of the best advice that I received was from the Giants bullpen coach John Van Ornum and the Phoenix (then the top Giants AAA affiliate) trainer Harry Jordan, who watched every Phoenix game and was able to spot a flaw that others missed.

RR: At the age of 25, after only a brief stint in San Francisco, you were dealt in a blockbuster deal with former MVP Vida Blue for four players, including future All-Star Atlee Hammaker. Was it a shock to be involved in the deal and what were your thoughts about coming to Kansas City?

BT: Yes. Giants GM Tom Haller had told me that I would be part of the 1982 team as a set-up man. I was slightly stunned, as I had been part of the organization since 1977 and knew nothing about the KC team except for Rich Gale (who had played baseball and roomed with my brother Bill at the University of New Hampshire), and Rich had already been traded to the Giants during that off-season.

I flew to the Royals minor league camp for the last week of spring training in 1982 and was greeted with a speech by minor league director Dick Balderson, who talked about how getting married had ruined a prospect (I was recently engaged to be married in November of 1982) and from other minor league coaches that stressed how the major league team needed hard throwers (so why did they trade for me?). Ouch!

RR: What differences did you detect between how things were done in San Fran and how things were done in KC?

BT: There was an expectation of winning in the Royals organization. Frank Robinson had just begun to try to put that stamp on the Giants team. And as demonstrated by the Royals Academy and an early acceptance of computers, the Royals were more open to new ideas and techniques.

RR: What was Dick Howser like as a manager?

BT: Dick was fairly quiet and not demonstrative. Even though the organization was open to new ideas, he liked having veteran players as opposed to younger untested players, which is odd considering the composition of the 1985 championship team.

RR: Did the Reds say they wanted you as an addition to their pen or were they just looking for depth? How did you perceive the Royals handling of you?

BT: I have no qualms about how the Royals treated me. If you do not get lefties out and are throwing in the low 80's, it's time to move on.

When I was traded, GM John Schuerholz sent me a very nice letter, but at the time I just did not care and stashed it away. I found it last year and sent him a note thanking him for the sentiments and telling him that my daughter Abby wants to have a career in baseball (she interned for the Red Sox and after graduation last month went to work for the Phillies). His response was "she'll probably have a longer career than you did". Classic!

When I was told that I had been traded (by Joe Sparks, the Omaha manager), he only told me that he thought the Royals could have gotten more for me. But it was a deal that took two players who were frozen (used up our options and unable to be called up by their teams) and at least get some perceived value in return. Little did I or anyone know that my shoulder was history - stupidity and a high pain threshold I guess - I eventually had the labrum, calcium deposits, rotator and capsule fixed in 1999. In sum it was an addition by subtraction deal - trading no value for hopeful value - and KC won.

The Reds told me nothing. The AAA manager was Roy Hartsfield, who was not a great communicator. Ironically that Indianapolis team finished last in the AA, but had a few interesting players - Eric Davis (for the last month), John Franco, Jeff Russell, Greg Harris, Ron Robinson, and Tom Lawless.

The Reds organization sent someone along to watch our team during a road trip to Wichita and Denver in July - we only won two games out of twelve, so who knows what reports made it back to Cincy. Once that road trip was up I pitched very sparingly in the last few weeks of the season.

It's funny, the Royals organization was biased towards drafting and developing hard throwers, but they made the playoffs in 1984 and 1985 with Bud Black and Charlie Leibrandt - with Dan Quisenberry in the pen. Definitely not the hardest throwing pitchers in the league.

RR: The Vida Blue deal ended up being a bad one for the Royals as Blue only had one productive season and he was accused of bringing a drug culture to the organization that wrecked the club when he, Jerry Martin, Willie Aikens and Willie Wilson were arrested on drug charges. You have mentioned that because you were part of that clubhouse, your name was tainted by association, leading to you essentially getting blackballed out of baseball. Can you talk a little about that, and did you ever hear anything directly on that point, that teams were avoiding you because of that association?

BT: The Vida Blue deal - well, at least my part, eventually got Charlie Leibrandt to KC. Don't make me responsible for the rest of the trade!

As for the drug situation, I am unfortunately familiar with the collateral damage that can result from such rampant and ill-informed speculation about drug usage, be it for cocaine or steroids. I will keep the names of people out.
Having pitched for the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals in the early '80s. I played on teams with numerous players who were all sentenced for cocaine possession - and others mentioned in the Pittsburgh cocaine trials.

Despite my best efforts to continue playing baseball in 1984, I was unable to find a place in the major leagues or even at the minor league level. I had a AAA deal with the Angels disappear, and KC wanted no part of me. The only serious interest was a AA deal with the Padres. No one in baseball wanted a left handed reliever at the AA level or above? Odd.

In early 1984, I ran into a Royals official who passed along an apology to me from one of the players. When I asked why, he informed me that I had been blackballed after having a poor 1983 season. An inaccurate conclusion was reached that since I played with these offenders and my performance differed markedly from the prior season, I may also have been involved with drugs. And, a federal judge told me that my name was mentioned during the investigation of the Royals players in 1983.

These wild and baseless accusations even followed me through business school at Columbia University and during my interviews with Wall Street firms, costing me potential jobs.

RR: You post regularly at Baseball Think Factory, a sabermetric-oriented forum. Do you follow any of today's modern stats and what do you think about their infiltration into the game?

At first I was not amused by the new statistical methods, connecting their origins and logic to the geniuses that brought down Wall Street via derivative trades. But upon further reflection, it is merely another way for fans to enjoy the game of baseball and a useful tool to try to quantify player production. In any business, you want the marginal revenue generated by an input to be greater than the marginal costs associated with it. As salaries increase, teams have to run themselves like an actual business and not as a charity, and these are useful tools in the process.

People at BBTF can take themselves too seriously, but fans can take the game too seriously as well.

RR: Do you have any thoughts about how teams handle pitchers today and is there anything they could be doing differently to increase stamina and/or avoid injuries?

I wonder of we have reached the physical limit of how hard (and for how long) a pitcher can throw nearly 100 mph. Look at a picture of a pitcher's arm just before they deliver a pitch. laying flat and snapping forward. The body is not meant to do that repeatedly during a game and over twenty years.

A minor league teammate, Gorman Heimueller, is the Phillies' minor league pitching coordinator, and his methods to try to maximize results are interesting. Each of the fifty to sixty pitchers has their own program - it is not one size fits all. They are evaluated by modern statistics and visited every month to check on their progress, given "homework" and interviewed about their successes and failures. It is almost like a Montessori school curriculum!

I also look forward to the day that we can drop our biases against psychiatry/psychology and the use of the brain in performance improvement. Coaches too often brush off players as "not mentally tough" without considering that perhaps there are methods and skills that can be taught to address this area. Visualization skills have been used by golfers and basketball players shooting free throws - why not for baseball?

According to my doctors (I have been treated for cancer - multiple myeloma - for the past three years), we are just starting to learn more about the brain, its function and how to treat its diseases. Perhaps sports will adopt these discoveries early and not reject them due to some flawed "macho" image that athletics possesses?

Royals Review would like to thank Bob Tufts for his time and wishes him the best of luck in battling cancer.