Bret Saberhagen is one of the greatest pitchers in Royals history, pitching with the club from 1984 to 1991. He is the only two-time Cy Young Winner (1985 and 1989) and the only World Series MVP winner in franchise history. In his sixteen-year Major League career, "Sabes" won 167 games with a 3.27 ERA, attending three All-Star games. More recently, Saberhagen has been following the young Royals, and he is back in town working with Major League Baseball and Maytag on a charitable endeavor for the Boys and Girls Club. Bret was nice enough to take a few minutes and talk to us about baseball.
You had a tremendous run with the Royals, winning two Cy Youngs and being named 1985 World Series MVP. What impressed me about your career the most was your command. You hardly walked anyone and it seemed like you could just spot it on the corner and put it exactly where you wanted to every time you wanted. How did you develop that kind of command is that something that can be taught or are you just born with it?
Bret Saberhagen: It starts off with good, simple mechanics. The ability to have pinpoint control really starts at a young age, I don’t think you can develop it. You can hone in on the mechanics and simplify them and that will help. At a young age in my backyard I had a tire I used to throw baseballs through. I also used to have a cinder block wall in the back as well and I put a strike zone up. I would do my mechanics and throw the pitch and make sure it was in the strike zone. Also, when the ball would come off then I would field the ball so I was getting a couple of things done.
I hate walking guys. I would rather give up a hit than a walk to anyone. It was something I always tried to stay away from. For young kids, they should worry about control and not velocity. They want to throw the ball as hard as they can but they just don’t have that command. So worry about hitting your spots and not overthrowing it. At times when you overthrow, the ball doesn’t go as fast as you want and it goes over the big part of the plate and gets hit.
Pitcher injuries have been a big topic in the game with many young pitchers missing entire seasons despite pitch counts and better training and rehab procedures. Do you have any thoughts on how we can keep pitchers on the mound and out of the surgery room?
Bret Saberhagen: A lot of the elbow problems come from the breaking ball, and not necessarily the curveball, but the cut-fastballs, the sliders. When you start trying to do too much and make it break too much, you’re twisting instead of letting the ball come off your fingers. When you start twisting like opening a door-handle, that’s when you’re going to have those elbow problems.
It comes down to mechanics and throwing those pitches properly. I learned at an early age – at ten years old – to throw a curveball properly and never really had elbow problems. My problems were shoulder injuries more from the wear and tear of throwing a fastball - its not a normal motion for your shoulder to be doing. I tried to mess with the curveball at times and I was trying to do too much with the slider to make it break but after awhile I kind of shied away from that. I had a few pitching coaches that said "try the cutter or slider" but I was more of a fastball-curveball-changeup pitcher.
Is the cutter a pitch pitching coaches will try to steer pitchers to?
Bret Saberhagen: It depends on what your breaking pitch is. If its the curveball, I don’t think you need to mess with the slider. But if you don’t have a very good breaking ball, that’s when you want to learn the cutter. There’s not a whole lot of guys that can effectively throw a curveball and a slider. You usually see one or the other.
You got to throw out the first pitch before Game 7 of the World Series and I think fans got a big kick out of you coming back. What was that reception like and what is your current relationship with the team? Are you a fan? Are you working with them in any way? Will you throw out the first pitch at Game 7 this year?
Bret Saberhagen: My relationship with the Royals has always been great. I always feel like when I get back to Kansas City I’m coming home. My three older kids were all born in Kansas City at St. Luke’s. Its always great getting back here. I still do a lot of community work for the Royals. I’m actually doing a thing for Maytag right now which has brought me to Kansas City. They’re a sponsor of Major League Baseball and they’re working with the Boys and Girls Club and they’re the official washer and dryer of MLB so they’ve actually installed a washing machine in left field on top of the Royals bullpen and anybody on either team that hits a home run into it, they’re going to donate a million dollars to the local Boys and Girls Club in Kansas City.
I’ve always been very passionate about giving back and especially in Kansas City where I spent a good potion of my career. My foundation has always been geared towards youth so this has been geared towards youth as well. If any fans want to go to MLB.com and vote for the filthiest play each night, you have a chance to go to the World Series by partaking on that. So I urge fans to go to MLB.com and get your votes in.
Next week I’ll be back in town for an 1985 reunion with the Royals and then on September 1 the Royals are going to do something with the "Franchise Four". I get back in Kansas City a lot and I’ve been following what the Royals have been doing and I pull hard for them.
Let’s turn to this year’s team a bit, it seems like Dayton Moore has tried to replicate the kind of team you had in 1985 with guys that can put the ball in play, play terrific defense, with a tremendous pitching staff. The big difference seems to be that in 1985 the Royals had a great young rotation anchored by you of course, while this year the starting rotation has been a bit of a weak spot. How important is starting pitching come October and should Royals fans be concerned?
Bret Saberhagen: You saw what a front-line pitching staff can do in a series whether it be short or a seven-game series with Madison Bumgarner last year. Going out and getting Johnny Cueto this year, Dayton did a great job of picking him up. In a short series he’s going to be key. He’s a front-line pitcher that can keep you in the ballgame and in the post-season you have the best of the best and runs can be at a premium.
A lot of these guys have already played in the post-season in the World Series last year so they know what they need to do in a short series and they are in every aspect, a team. These guys came up with each other in the minors through the big leagues and now they’re experiencing some great times and its fun for Kansas City to really take them and appreciate what they’re doing.
Your bring up a good point about how they have World Series experience. Your team made it in 1984 when you made the ALCS against the Tigers. You didn’t make it to the World Series that year but of course the next year you won it all. How did that experience in ’84 help you in ’85? Were there nerves you had in ’84 that you didn’t have in ’85?
Bret Saberhagen: No, we just ran into a great Tigers team that 1984 season. We went into 1985 already fresh in our memories what we experienced the year before. We just had a great bunch of guys. The one thing that is very similar from the 1985 team to the 2014-2015 Royals is we were all family. We did stuff together on off-days and got together, it wasn’t like the saying "25 guys and 25 taxis". We did stuff together after the games. On off days families would get together and have barbecues and pool parties and we all really appreciated each other and pulled for one another and that’s the big similarity with the team playing right now.
The Royals this year have also gotten a lot of attention for some of the confrontations they’ve had with other teams. What does a confrontation/brawl do to a clubhouse? Is there still a place in the game for plunkings and brawls?
Bret Saberhagen: Its going to happen and you usually see it with the better teams. The better teams, everybody is trying to get at them and to bring them down. A lot of the altercations this year maybe could have been handled a little differently, but again you have your pitching staff sticking up for your players when they get hit, that’s the big thing. You never want, as a pitcher, to not have that respect from your position players where you’re not protecting them. It’s a fine line, but it does happen in baseball, to the Royals a bit more than any other team this year, but they’re playing well and everyone wants to bring them down.
Many thanks to Bret Saberhagen for his time. You can go to MLB.com/Maytag to vote for the "Filthiest Play" each night for a chance to win World Series tickets.