“A Life of Knuckleballs”: Just Missed the Cut, Part I

When I first wrote the manuscript for Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs, I had over 600,000 words, which, of course, made it unpublishable.

So, my publisher, McFarland & Co., requested me to cut the manuscript down, and because of that, many stories did not make the cut.

Over the next little while, I will be posting some of the original content that didn’t make it to the book. I call this, “Missed the Cut.”

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This one is from Tom Candiotti’s first month in the majors, with the stories about Pete Vuckovich and the Milwaukee veterans not making it into the book:

TCThe Brewers were still in contention even with the struggles of veteran Don Sutton—who despite pitching nine shutout innings against California on August 24th, was 0-5 with a 6.49 ERA in his last seven starts.

Even though the veteran wasn’t getting it done, the rookies certainly were, up to that point. Including Candiotti, the Brewers had four rookie pitchers who each played a big role in the team’s success. The quartet had 19 wins and 10 saves, led by reliever Tom Tellmann (nine wins, eight saves), Chuck Porter (six wins), Bob Gibson (two wins, two saves), and of course, Candiotti (two complete-game wins in two starts).

As it turned out, Milwaukee wouldn’t win another game in which Tellmann, Porter, and Gibson appeared until the final three days of the season. Tellmann would pitch well down the stretch (2.31 ERA) but the Brewers would go 0-9 in his final nine appearances of the season. They would be 0-4 in Gibson’s appearances—he was 0-2—until he defeated Detroit 6-2 in a meaningless start on the final weekend. As for Porter, he would be 0-4 with a 7.16 ERA—the Brewers would lose all six of his starts—before beating the Tigers 7-4 on the final day of the season.

As for Vuckovich, he wouldn’t make a difference when he made his long-awaited season debut on August 31st. The reigning Cy Young winner would last only 14.2 innings in three starts, going 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA. Meanwhile, in a complete reversal of Sutton’s September 1982 performance, the veteran right-hander would be 1-3 with a 3.80 ERA in his final six starts of 1983.

As Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell noted in late August, “The core of the Brewers’ suspect rotation—Sutton, Mike Caldwell and Bob McClure—has a combined 25-26 record and an ERA over 4.40. When you have to give 27 starts in the pennant race to Chuck Porter, Tom Candiotti, Bob Gibson, Jerry Augustine and Rick Waits, you’re in line for baseball sympathy” (Thomas Boswell, “Mighty Brewers Have Gone From Muscle to Hustle Team,” Washington Post, August 22, 1983).

Though Vuckovich would go winless in 1983, Candiotti, to this day, marvels at the clubhouse presence he exhibited that season. “Vuckovich, like the veteran players, made sure the rookies were paying attention to what was going on,” says Candy. “I’d be on the bench. He’d walk by in the ninth inning and say, ‘What did this batter do in his second at-bat?’ So I’d have to recall the pitch count and things like that. He kept me in the game, kept me watching all the time. That’s how baseball was back then. The veterans kept the young players in the game. All those guys made sure the rookies were paying attention and knew what was going on. And boy, I tell ya, if Pete was asking you a question, you’d better get it right!”

Candiotti also credits Vuckovich with teaching him a lot about pitching, especially pitching around hitters. “He taught me an awful lot, being able to pick the outs you wanna get. I was never taught to walk guys intentionally, like intentionally ‘unintentionally.’ But he sat down with me and went through things with me that I never knew.” For instance, many times a pitcher would walk a hitter apparently unintentionally, when actually it was almost intentional. If, say, there was a runner on second base and a tough hitter up, the pitcher wouldn’t actually give him an intentional pass, but would pitch carefully to him. If the pitcher got the batter out to chase pitches out of the strike zone, that was great. If he walked the hitter, that was fine too—his main goal was to basically not give the batter anything to hit. Candiotti, who never liked to walk hitters, learned to appreciate such a pitching strategy. He was grateful for having Vuckovich as a mentor in teaching him how to pitch in the majors.

“He wore me out, though,” Candiotti laughs. “I had to buy him this and that. This was kind of like my ‘welcome’ to the big leagues. Of course, that Brewers team was a veteran club. [Catcher] Bill Schroeder and I were two of the few rookies that year, until the September call-ups came up to Milwaukee. For a while there, Pete really wore us out. I know he wore me out. He wouldn’t let me in the trainer’s room initially. I was tested as a rookie. But once I passed the test, he was awesome. He was a great teammate to be around.” And how did Candiotti pass the test?

“Well, what happened was I was making my first major-league start. I went into the trainer’s room and Vuckovich was there. He goes, ‘What are you doing here, rookie?’

“I go, ‘I’m just gonna get some heat.’

“Pete says, ‘Get the hell outta here, rookie.’”

Candiotti didn’t let Vuckovich’s abuse bother him. He left the room, pitched Milwaukee into first place, and kept his distance from the veteran pitcher. Soon enough, Vuckovich approached the rookie to welcome him. “A few days later,” Candiotti says, “he comes up to me and goes, ‘You’re doing pretty well. You can come into the trainer’s room now.’ So after that, he was great. But if I’d fought him on it, he would’ve made my life miserable that rookie season.”

He still laughs at how Vuckovich walked 102 batters with 105 strikeouts during the 1982 season and still won the AL Cy Young Award*. While Vuckovich was second in the league in wins—finishing 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA—he was also second in bases on balls. “Now, I think back and I wonder—and I’d joke about it with him—‘How did you win the Cy Young with those numbers?’” Candiotti says with a grin. “He had over a hundred walks! I’d joke about it with Pete, like, ‘That’s one of the strangest things how you won that award!’”

Another veteran who helped Candiotti along that first season was catcher Ted Simmons, who’d assign him homework. “Ted once got me to do a report about the ball-strike counts on which most baserunners ran,” he says. “You know, which counts runners go the most. Or he’d quiz me on pitch selections during a game. It was great. And of course, he called a knuckleball for the first big-league pitch I ever threw. He knew how to help me out as a young player. It was a huge thing for me.”

*One could make the argument that Toronto’s Dave Stieb was robbed of the Cy Young in 1982. Vuckovich, who made 30 starts, pitched 223.2 innings with nine complete games, including one shutout. Stieb, meanwhile, started 38 games, completed 19 of them, tossed five shutouts, and threw 288.1 innings. He led the AL in innings, complete games, and shutouts, and was tied for third in games started. He was 17-14 with a 3.25 ERA, walking 75 and fanning 141.

 

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A whipping boy for each team…

On Wednesday, news broke that the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani might require Tommy John surgery, and I had an interesting discussion with a friend about baseball.

Now, I’ve thought all year that the Angels were a team capable of sneaking into the playoffs, and I said this on TSN1040 earlier in the summer even when Seattle had jumped out to a huge lead in the wild-card race. I’m no fan of either ballclub, but I just thought the Mariners were pretenders and the Angels might be a team to catch them.

Regardless, I said from day one that there was too much hype about this Ohtani kid. He’d suffered injuries in Japan prior to coming to North America, and from what i understand, the schedule in Japan is not the same as the 162-game grind in Major League Baseball. So, for me, the fact that Ohtani has had injuries this season is no surprise.

Then, the discussion became the fact that I’ve often criticized Ohtani on the Angels and James Paxton on the Mariners. And Doug Fister, on every team he has pitched for. I acknowledged the fact that on every team, there’s probably a favorite whipping boy for me to pick on.

But I then commented that Mark Shapiro, the president of the Blue Jays, would not be such a person for me – despite the fact that many Toronto fans whom I know like to crucify him.

Why would I not pick on Shapiro? Simple. As a journalist-type, as a writer, I don’t have any bias when it comes to liking or hating various teams. I try to look at it as being objective. I root for people, individuals who have been kind enough to help me along the way.

The writing journey that I’m currently on first began when I was writing Tom Candiotti’s biography. At that time, I emailed or sent letters to players, managers, and executives who had had dealings with Candiotti during his career. General managers and managers such as Joe Klein, Art Howe, Pat Gillick, Doc Edwards, Fred Claire… and Shapiro responded and were receptive to my interview requests.

For me, I don’t forget that. I certainly appreciated their time and the fact they were willing to spend a few minutes chatting with me about that book.

So, in my book, Mark Shapiro is a first-class human being, a guy that I would root for. At the end of the day, it’s not about wins and losses. It’s about the human side of things. Mark Shapiro, in my book, is a Hall of Famer – to me.

I don’t forget these things.

Now available on Amazon.com + Rowman & Littlefield website…

Not much to say about the Super Bowl – the Eagles won, the Patriots lost, and life goes on. No matter what others say, the Super Bowl loss does not diminish New England’s run since 2001. It doesn’t tarnish anything that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have accomplished in New England. There will always be haters, so why waste time arguing with them?

In the meantime…

The 1988 Dodgers: Reliving the Championship Season is now available on Amazon.com and the Rowman & Littlefield publisher website.

The 1988 Dodgers2

Here’s a review from Boston Globe‘s Bob Ryan:

Orel Hershiser IV…Kirk Gibson…the irrepressible Tom LaSorda…you know all about them. But Rick Dempsey, Mickey Hatcher, and Danny Heep—aka “The Stuntmen”—not so much. Now, thanks to K. P. Wee’s The 1988 Dodgers: Reliving the Championship Season, you will. This is the story of a very improbable and, yes, lovable bunch, the last LA Dodger squad to win a championship.
— Bob Ryan, Boston Globe, ESPN

The book is due to be released in August 2018, but all you sports fans out there can pre-order now! What a great gift for the baseball fan in your family!

Have you gotten a Christmas gift for the sports lover in your family?

Well, Christmas is a couple of weeks away, so have you bought a gift yet for the sports lover in your family?

If not, then why not one of these two books?

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The hockey book is about the Boston-Montreal rivalry from 1988-1994, when the Bruins won five of the six series played between the two clubs, ending a streak of 18 consecutive playoff series losses to the Canadiens. Click to purchase this book here.

The baseball book is a biography of Tom Candiotti, the former knuckleball pitcher who pitched in the 1980s and 1990s. Candiotti won 151 major-league games and this book highlights his career. You can purchase this book here.

Get them for the sports lover in your family! 🙂