Monday, September 29, 2014

Card #113: Steve McCatty

Who Can It Be Now?
Steven Earl McCatty was born on March 20, 1954, in Detroit, Michigan. McCatty attended high school in Troy, Michigan, where he was an All-League, All-Detroit North, and All-Oakland County baseball player and also played basketball. 

Despite all the recognition locally, major league scouts did not warm to McCatty's talents. As a result, he was not drafted. Instead, the Oakland A's picked him up as an amateur free agent before the 1973 minor league season. McCatty was assigned to Lewiston in the Northwest League and pitched mostly in relief that year. Then, in 1974, he spent a second season at Lewiston and started 15 games. 

The A's liked what they saw, so they pushed McCatty to the Single-A California League at Modesto. Oakland did not have a lot of talent at Modesto that year, and, to be fair, McCatty didn't exactly look like a great find there -- 4-8 record, 4.57 ERA (league ERA of 4.12). 

Even so, the A's pushed McCatty to Double-A Chattanooga for the 1976 season. Whether it was a matter of fortuitous scoring or just plain luck, McCatty looked decent in a relief role there -- 2 starts in 36 appearances with a 5-4 record and a 3.16 ERA (deflated by 17 unearned runs out of 44 total runs allowed). That performance earned him a short look at Triple-A Tucson in 1976 as well. Not too bad for an undrafted free agent.

The Oakland A's entering 1977 were in full fire sale mode. Charlie Finley had thrown a fit about free agency generally. He and Bowie Kuhn were at odds over Finley's ability to sell player contracts and, more to the point, the amount for which such contracts could be sold. When Finley couldn't sell all the contracts, he started "trading" for minor leaguers and cash. In any event, after the 1976 season, the A's lost Sal Bando, Don Baylor, Bert Campaneris, Nate Colbert, Rollie Fingers, Willie McCovey, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Larry Haney, Billy Williams, Gary Woods, Glenn Abbott, Ron Fairly, Ken McMullen, Jim Todd, and a host of others to "trades" and free agency. This opened up the door for all the young players in the Oakland system. 

This helped guys like McCatty who, under normal circumstances, might not have been promoted otherwise.  McCatty spent 14 games in Double-A in 1977 before a 1.93 ERA convinced the A's to promote him to San Jose in Triple-A.  In San Jose, McCatty got battered around, but, no matter -- he received a September call-up in 1977 and made the first appearance of his major-league career in a losing effort against the Milwaukee Brewers.

McCatty's 1978 season was not much different. He spent most of the year in Triple-A -- this time in Vancouver. This time, though, McCatty was called up for a mid-season look through June and July. He didn't pitch terribly or terribly well either, and the A's didn't exactly trust him too much -- McCatty appeared in only one game in which the teams in the game were 2 runs apart.

In 1979, McCatty once again did not make the club out of spring training. But, when the A's needed a pitcher at the beginning of May, the call went to Triple-A Ogden and McCatty joined the A's bullpen. He made his first major league start on May 27 against the Milwaukee Brewers and held them to just 1 run on 6 hits and 3 walks in 8-2/3 innings. Even so, the 1979 A's were a terrible team under manager Jim Marshall, who was fired after that season. McCatty finished the year with pedestrian numbers -- 4.22 ERA (19 unearned Runs) in 185-2/3 innings, giving up 207 hits, walking 80 and striking out 87.  

Then, 1980 happened. Billy Martin took over as the manager, and Art Fowler was his pitching coach. Some people claim that Fowler taught his pitchers a spitball. Others claim only that Billy and his competitive fire would make any team a better team. Perhaps a pitching philosophy was at play, as one of Martin's defenders (his biographer, David Falkner) claimed. He argues that these guys all were incredibly efficient breaking-ball pitchers who pitched to contact. For what it's worth, neither I nor Rob Neyer believe that.

For his part, McCatty did not necessarily receive the brunt of Billy's "pitch them till their arms fall off" philosophy. McCatty also didn't pitch all that well in 1980. At the age of 26, he went 14-14 with a 3.86 ERA, completing 11 of his 31 starts. His control was his biggest bugaboo -- he walked 99 hitters in 221-2/3 innings against 114 strikeouts (the only year he topped the 100 K mark). He was, in essence, a very average pitcher.

Then 1981 came along. Even though McCatty really wasn't the ERA title winner, he was (longer explanation here). McCatty tied with Jack Morris, Dennis Martinez, and Pete Vuckovich for the league lead in wins with 14. McCatty threw 16 complete games (second in the league) and 4 shutouts (league leader) while allowing just 140 hits over 185-2/3 innings. He was even 9th in the league in strikeouts with 91.  These overall numbers led to his coming in second behind Rollie Fingers for the AL Cy Young Award and, to be fair, WAR says he should have won it.

Entering 1982, then, McCatty was turning 28 years old -- the beginning of the prime of a pitcher's career. To avoid arbitration and free agency, the A's decided to sign McCatty to a four-year contract with two option years. It turned out poorly. McCatty started having arm troubles and went on the DL in 1982 for those troubles. Newspapers even then -- Murray Chass in particular -- questioned whether Billy Martin burned out the A's staff in 1980. By July 4, McCatty visited Dr. Frank Jobe and learned that he had slight adhesions in his shoulder. He received a cortisone shot and came back later that year.

Still, after 1981, McCatty's career went spiraling downward into an abyss of bad pitching, behavior issues, and shoulder problems.  In the end and for their investment, the A's got 561 innings out of McCatty over 4 seasons with a 24-30 record, a 4.48 ERA (4.91 FIP), 264 walks against 230 strikeouts, and just 10 complete games. After the 1985 season, McCatty was let go. 

The next spring, he tried to make the Chicago White Sox. He was still bitter about being released by the A's and made this comment:
Sandy Alderson (A's general manager) calls me up and asks how my golf swing is. Then he says, "We're not going to pick up your option." I thought of all the times I was told not to throw, then two days later I'd be out there. They couldn't even face me. Thirteen years with the team. I think they owed me more than "how's your golf swing, see you later." It was just a bad situation.
McCatty did not make the White Sox that season, and ended up on waivers after putting up a 9.64 ERA at Triple-A Buffalo. He pitched the rest of that year and in 1987 for the independent San Jose Bees in the California League before calling it a career.

Mustache Check: The picture isn't the best, but he does not have one on any of his other cards in this set so I'm saying no mustache.

Family Ties
McCatty's son Shane McCatty was drafted in the 34th Round of the 2009 June draft out of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, by the Washington Nationals. It appears that Shane is no longer pitching in the Nats' system, though, since his last stats came in 2012 and were pretty bad -- 7.17 ERA in 21-1/3 innings in High-A and Rookie Level ball at the age of 25.

McCatty's younger son Luke McCatty is a redshirt junior at Oakland University. Last season, Luke pitched 7 innings in 8 appearances after making 11 appearances the year before. 

The Verdict 
Okay, it's not much, but it did make me laugh. In 1984, McCatty -- along with pitcher Bill Caudill and coach Clete Boyer -- were arrested in Cleveland for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The reason: the threesome did not want to leave their hotel bar at the hotel at which they were staying when the bar was closing.

While IMDB doesn't have any reference to it, McCatty's biography on the Washington Nationals website claims that he "served as technical consultant for Disney movie 'Angels in the Outfield'." I'm wondering why IMDB does not list that, since they even list the "Transportation Department" for the movie, including the driver.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Because he was a contender for the Cy Young in 1981, I was definitely aware of McCatty at that point in time. He always did really well against the Brewers too, it seemed. His career numbers support that as well. In 17 games (13 starts), McCatty had a 2.39 ERA, a 7-5 record, 1 shutout, and gave up just 93 hits in 101 2/3-innings. Considering he finished his career at 63-63 with a 3.99 ERA, that's a pretty significant difference.

After his retirement, McCatty started worked in broadcasting for three years as a broadcaster for the Oakland A's and, then, as an analyst on ESPN for a season. So, I could have done a "This Is Radio Clash" item for him too. But I liked the idea of him getting arrested for not wanting to leave the bar.

In 1996, McCatty got his first job as the pitching coach for the Visalia Oaks in the Detroit Tigers' system. He made it to the Majors as the pitching coach in 2002 with the Tigers in its car-crash of a 55-106 season. After that, the Tigers cleaned house, and McCatty hooked on with the Ottawa Lynx in the Baltimore organization.  

Then, in 2006, he joined the Washington Nationals organization, where he has been ever since. As you may know, McCatty has been the pitching coach for the Washington Nationals since the end of 2009. He has been a constant for the Nationals since that time despite the fact that the Nationals have gone from Manny Acta to Jim Riggleman to Davey Johnson to Matt Williams as their managers.  

In that time and through the power of the Internet, McCatty's pitching staff discovered that McCatty modeled in swim trunks for Playgirl. As a result, they made t-shirts. I guess it's the baseball equivalent of a sorority party t-shirt. This happened last year, so perhaps that's why the Nationals didn't make the playoffs last year -- they were distracted by McCatty's manliness all season.

Let's hope for their sake that the distraction won't resurface in this postseason.


  1. Love those Cactus League spring training pictures! I think that's Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

  2. Not wanting to leave the bar when it is closing is a frequent problem in my town as well.