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December 14, 2008

Prospectus Q&A

Richard Dotson

by David Laurila

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Currently the pitching coach for the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, Richard Dotson had a solid, albeit unspectacular big-league career from 1979-1990, winning 111 games and making the American League All-Star team in 1984. Dotson's best season was 1983 when he went 22-7 with a 3.23 ERA, helping lead the White Sox to their first post-season appearance in 24 years. A first-round pick by the Angels in 1977, Dotson went to Chicago the following winter in the six-player deal that also included Brian Downing and Bobby Bonds. Now 49 years old, Dotson has coached in the White Sox organization for each of the past six seasons.

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David Laurila: Comparing eras, how did pitching in the 1980s differ from today?

Richard Dotson: From my perspective, gosh, the cutter is a little bit bigger pitch now than it used to be. I mean, there were guys who threw somewhat of a cutter, or a small slider, but I see that as being used more now. I'd say that the style of pitching in the '60s, '70s, and '80s included a lot more drop-and-drive type of guys, sort of along the lines of Tom Seaver, as far as his delivery to the plate-you know, the emphasis on using your legs. We still try to use the legs, but as far as the posture of the pitcher, at least here with the White Sox, we try to emphasize staying taller and creating an angle to the plate instead of actually kind of almost pushing the ball, which certain guys can do. Other than that, pitching is what it is.

DL: What was your pitching style?

RD: I was a fastball, curveball, changeup pitcher before I got hurt. I pitched inside a lot more than guys do now; I guess that was just my style, because it's what I was good at. And definitely working back and forth and messing with the timing of the hitter. I actually had a good curveball, but it wasn't something that I used a lot when I was behind in the count. But I had a pretty good changeup, so I could throw changeups behind in the count, and I could beat you with my fastball. So I would pitch in, changeups away-things like that.

DL: How did you develop your changeup?

RD: The reason I got to the big leagues at age 20, I think, is that we had a pitching coach that came to Chicago in spring training in 1979. His name was Fred Martin, and he had been with the Cubs for a number of years. I think Fred is credited with teaching Bruce Sutter the split-finger fastball, which became such a boutique pitch. Fred came over in 1979, and I don't remember if he was the big-league pitching coach or the minor league coordinator, but he ended up dying; he passed away that year. But Fred came over, and I remember that it was Ross Baumgarten, myself, Steve Trout, all these guys, and it was the first time I had heard of the circle changeup, which is a big pitch now. But back then, I had never heard of it. Fred had us all lined up on the six pack at Sarasota, and he was showing us how to throw the circle changeup. I went back to Double-A that year, and the second half of the year that pitch itself is what got me to the big leagues. Before that, I was a fastball/curveball pitcher, and like I said, my curveball was something I had control issues with; big curveballs are harder to control. The changeup gave me something off-speed, where I could get somebody 3-0 and throw three or four changeups in a row; I could throw it for a strike.

DL: In 1983, you threw a one-hitter in a game you lost 1-0. What are your memories of that performance?

RD: I think I walked six guys in that game, too. I had a no-hitter for seven and two-thirds. We were playing Baltimore, in Baltimore, and Danny Ford-I didn't get the ball in as much as I'd like-and Danny Ford, who was a right-handed hitter, sliced it down the right-field line. I think that the old stadium in Baltimore was about 309 down the right-field line, and he hit it right at the foul pole and into the stands. I think that Tim Stoddard came in for them in the next inning and struck out three guys, and the game was over just like that.

DL: Do you consider that game among the highlights of your career, despite it being a loss?

RD: No. I mean, it was a fun game to pitch in, to have that, but I had other games where I almost had no-hitters. I had a [near] no-hitter against the Yankees for about the same period of time; I walked a guy, and then I think Danny Pasqua took me deep. So just the fact that you have a no-hitter, per se-any time you win a game, I don't care what it is, that's a highlight. I don't know if I remember one particular game. Maybe when I got called up in 1979; my first start was against the Angels and I gave up five or six runs, though I didn't get the loss. Then, in my next start, my first big-league win was a complete-game shutout against the Oakland A's, with my family there; that was a big thrill. And starting out the 1980 season, I made my first start against the Orioles who were coming off the World Series, and I threw a complete game to beat them. So you do remember certain things, but it was just fun to be able to go out there and compete at that level.

DL: You had 14 complete games in 1984, which is far more than today's pitchers throw.

RD: Yeah, it seems like that has kind of changed a little bit. You had the Billy Martin era there, with Oakland, where they had four or five starters with over 20 complete games. I don't know if the theory was that your starters are your best pitchers, so you let them go longer in a game? You didn't have the so-called specialty guys, like where you'll have a left-hander just to come in to face a left-hander. I don't know if it was because the bullpen wasn't as strong as it could have been, if that was the reason that guys got to stay later into the game. Here in the minor leagues, of course, we have a pitch count. It seems like even in the big leagues-it's very rare that you'll see complete games, unless you have a low pitch count. I don't know if it's the health of the pitcher that they're considering, or the fact that people feel that they can kind of make these moves. I came up with Tony La Russa, and Tony makes a lot of pitching moves. He'll go righty-to-righty and lefty-to-lefty; he'll keep using it. It's just the strategy that managers use now, compared to back then where if your starter is your best guy you'll let him get the outs.

DL: In 1984 you threw a 10-inning complete game in a 6-5 loss, allowing nine hits and six walks. Why were you allowed to stay in for the entire game?

RD: It was against Kansas City, I believe. I gave up a grand slam in the first inning, so I was down 4-0, but I had a chance to win the game in the 10th. It just so happened-and I remember this-there was a ground ball to the right side of the infield, and I got a late break to the ball, and the runner beat me to the bag. But that's just the way that it was. I was really competitive, and I was pitching pretty well then. After that first inning where I gave up the four runs, I shut them down for the next eight. [Editor's note: Dotson is recalling a game where he pitched 10 innings in a game that the White Sox lost 6-5 in 16 innings. The 10-inning complete-game loss referred to in the question took place 11 days earlier against the Texas Rangers.]

DL: Was La Russa not as quick to change pitchers at that time?

RD: Well, that was 1984, and I had had Tony from 1979 until then. I think it was a feel thing, a gut feel that Tony had. And at that point I was on a pretty good roll, so Tony trusted me in the game. He knew that I was going to compete, and it wouldn't be that I'd walk a guy and then fall apart. The year I won 22 games, I think I led the American League in walks. And believe me, as a pitching coach I wouldn't want my pitchers to pitch the way I did, but the fact is, when I did walk somebody, to me it didn't matter, because I was going to get the next guy out. Defensively we had a really good team, and I wasn't going to succumb to the crap that I got myself into. Do you know what I'm saying? I had a mental mindset where I wasn't going to give in. If I got behind a hitter, I wasn't going to give in and throw something over the middle of the plate. I was still going to continue to try to make my pitch, and so be it if I walked him. I'd just worry about the next guy.

DL: You hurt your arm in 1985. What changed after your injury?

RD: What happened is that I had a circulatory problem, and they had to cut my pec minor in half, which I guess is an accelerating muscle, so I didn't throw as hard. It felt like I had to learn to throw again. But the bigger change after I had surgery, really, is that I dropped the curveball. I couldn't throw the curveball anymore, or my arm hurt, so I learned to throw a cutter. Jim Fregosi and Dick Bosman taught me that one.

DL: You were teammates with La Marr Hoyt and Floyd Bannister. Can you talk a little about each of them?

RD: I came up with La Marr in the minor leagues; I played in Double-A with him. He had won 20 games if I remember correctly, in A-ball with the Yankees, and somehow we got him from them. And he just developed. La Marr always had a great feel for his breaking ball, and he had a nice sinker and a good changeup. I think his changeup got better from the minor leagues to the big leagues, but the thing that amazed me is that not only did La Marr have great control, he had a great feel for his breaking ball. He kind of threw like a slider, and he could change speeds on it, he could change angles on it to make it a bigger one, a deeper one, or one that would cut across. La Marr could pitch. He was a good friend-he still is-and the man could pitch.

DL: How about Bannister?

RD: Floyd Bannister was one of those guys, I remember, who was highly touted. In college, he was unbelievable, so it was like he was an underachiever I guess, by some people's standards. But Floyd had really good stuff, as a left-hander: he had a great curveball, a really good fastball, a changeup, and he was just a good competitor-a very good competitor.

DL: Bannister's son, Brian, is looked at as one of the most cerebral pitchers in the game. Was his father similar in that respect?

RD: I think that his son takes that from his dad. Floyd is a very intelligent man, so yes. Floyd had good stuff, and sometimes you'll think, especially as a pitching coach-sometimes stuff is a curse, in a way. Growing up, you learn to just beat guys, because physically you can. It's because of your fastball, or because your breaking ball is so good, and sometimes you might develop a little bit later as far as the pitching aspect goes. It's easier to go out and just physically beat somebody than actually trying to set them up.

DL: Brian Downing, who was in the deal that brought you to Chicago, was a patient hitter who would try to set up opposing pitchers, seeing a lot of pitches and working counts.

RD: When you get to the big leagues, you notice that guys take pitches and that they look for zones; they're not up there just hacking at the first pitch like you'll see in the minor leagues. I talk to guys now about it. You'll go up to the big leagues and make a pitch, and you'll think, 'Gee whiz, how could he take that pitch?' A lot of times they're looking for something in a certain area, and they're waiting for you to throw it. That's what they do. A good hitter is going to be patient and he's not afraid to get behind in counts; he's not afraid to get two strikes looking for that pitch. Brian Downing was like that.

DL: Can you talk a little about getting traded to the White Sox in 1977?

RD: That was kind of a surprise. I was a first-round pick, the seventh pick in the country in 1977, out of high school. I went to the Angels and played rookie ball, went to instructional league, and that December I was traded to the White Sox in the Bobby Bonds trade. It was a great thing for me, because the Angels, at the time, had a ton of money, with Gene Autry. They went out in the free-agent market. They were kind of loaded in the minor leagues, but the guys down there couldn't go anywhere because they'd just buy guys for the big-league team. Going to a Bill Veeck-owned White Sox team, with a limited budget, gave me the opportunity to get to the big leagues quicker, I think. And here I am, still coaching with the White Sox, and as far as I'm concerned... I'm pretty loyal. I know that Jerry Reinsdorf is loyal, and it's been a pleasure to be a part of the Chicago White Sox for 17 or 18 years.

DL: Any final thoughts?

RD: It's nice to have had the career I had, and to have pitched in the big leagues and to have met the people that I did. It's wonderful. I took 12 years where I wasn't in the game, and I got back in the game in 2002. I just think that it's a blessing, and I thank God for the opportunity to still be a part of this game, because it's a great game. At one time, I guess that I didn't always want to be a baseball guy, I thought I wanted to do something else. But really, this is what I am, and I'm very fortunate to do what I do.

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