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November 29, 2009

Prospectus Q&A

Mike Boddicker

by David Laurila

The word "crafty" is normally reserved for southpaws, but Mike Boddicker fit that description as well as anyone. In a big-league career that stretched from 1980-1993, the right-handed Boddicker made his living tantalizing hitters with a dizzying array of off-speed offerings, rarely topping the mid 80s with his fastball. Featuring one of the best curveballs of his era and a mesmerizing "fosh," he first made a name for himself in 1983 when he helped the Orioles to a World Series title by going 16-8 with a 2.77 ERA in the regular season; he then allowed just one unearned run in 18 post-season innings. A year later he led the American League in wins [20] and ERA [2.79]. Overall, the native of Norway, Iowa went 134-116, 3.80 with the Orioles, Red Sox, Royals, and Brewers. In 2,123 innings, he never allowed a grand slam, a career mark topped by only Jim Palmer [3,948 innings], Mike Krukow [2,190], and Joaquin Andujar [2,153].

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David Laurila: According to The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, you had the best curveball of the 1980s.

Mike Boddicker: No. It wasn't; Bert Blyleven's was the best. My curveball was a good curveball, and I changed speeds on it a lot, but Blyleven's was from the forehead to the toes. It was nasty. As for mine, guys knew that I was going to throw it, but the reason I was able to get them out was that I changed speeds on it quite a bit. Even when they knew Blyleven was going to throw his, they still couldn't hit it.

DL: How many different curveballs did you throw?

MB: I just changed speeds, is all I did. I'd choke it to slow it up, and fingertip it to tighten it up and make it shorter and harder. I'd also come from some different angles: I'd go over the top; I'd go three-quarters; I'd go down from the side. Through a period of time, it was going pretty good for me. Still, to me, after watching everybody's curveball, Blyleven's was the best, and Tom Gordon's Flash Gordon's was pretty good, too.

DL: Who helped you to develop your curve?

MB: Actually, I taught myself the curveball in Triple-A. I started out as a sinker/slider guy. The year that Steve Stone won the Cy Young for the Orioles, he was throwing curveballs and four-seam fastballs, and I thought that if it worked for him-and I watched enough games to see that it was effective-it would work for me. There were a lot of sinker/slider pitchers at the time, so I thought it might be my ticket. In that first half of the year, in Triple-A, I got my lunch handed to me. I got hammered. But I finally figured it out, and in the second half I had real good success with it.

DL: Was there anything unique in the way you threw it?

MB: What I taught myself, basically, was to use my fingertips to snap my fingers. I'd grab the ball in my hands and snap my fingers to get the tight rotation that you need. Once I got that feel, it was fairly easy. It was just about getting a release point.

DL: Along with a great curveball, you also featured what was dubbed a foshball. What is the story behind that pitch?

MB: When I got to college, I did not have a changeup. I really hadn't needed one, because I threw low 90s, upper 80s when I was in high school, with a good breaking ball. I didn't need it, but when I got to college, that changed. My pitching coach in college was a guy named Fernando Arango, who later became the head coach at Cleveland State after he left Iowa. He was trying to teach me a changeup, and I couldn't get a feel for one to save my life, so he said "Why don't you try a forkball?" Well, it would pop out of my hand, out of my fingers, and it ended up being just like a circle change, and I could control it. I used it sparingly because I didn't need it that much until I got to the big leagues, and then I started using it more and more and more. And when we got to the World Series in '83, Ray Miller, our pitching coach, named it the foshball, because in Baltimore, we used to call a changeup a dead fish, and a forkball plus a fish is a fosh. So, I didn't name it, and all it really was, was a glorified changeup.

DL: You're saying that the pitch itself wasn't that unique, it just had a catchy name?

MB: Well, it was kind of unique. I ended up teaching it to Bruce Hurst, in Boston. It's a lot of finger pressure where you use your thumb to you push down your thumb to make it pop out of your fingers, and it spins. Actually, when you release it, it comes out almost exactly like a circle change, but it was a lot easier to control, at least for me. Some people just don't have a feel for a circle change.

DL: You were teammates with Scott McGregor. How would you describe him?

MB: I had the pleasure of following him in the rotation, in Baltimore. He didn't throw as hard as I did, he just showed his curveball, but he had pinpoint location all over the strike zone with his fastball, and he had one of those changeups that just disappeared. Guys couldn't hit him.

DL: In 1983, you and McGregor were a combined 34-15. There probably haven't been many one-two punches who threw with less velocity than the two of you.

MB: Oh my gosh, yeah. That's a good question. I don't think anybody has ever had guys who threw as slow as us, consistently, as a one-two in the rotation. But I think that we're going to find that baseball is getting back to guys who can't throw 95, but can locate and change speeds. It's going to get back to that, because we're seeing a lot of kids who throw hard but can't get people out. The guys that are successful, the good pitchers, are the guys who locate. I mean, I pitched with Clemens in Boston, and he was just dominating, but when he didn't have his location, he'd get beat.

DL: In 1986 you had both the worst ERA and highest strikeout total of your career. Was there a correlation?

MB: The reason was that we didn't catch a lot of balls, and we didn't score a lot of runs, so you hit that period where you think you have to strike a lot of people out if you want a chance to win. And I wasn't a strikeout pitcher, to be honest with you, there's no way that I would have been considered a strikeout pitcher. I had my games, and I'd go after people when I really needed a strikeout, but it seemed like, in '86, I needed strikeouts a lot. We weren't catching the ball when I did force contact, so I got to the point where I was trying to strike more people out than I probably should have.

DL: Like Jim Palmer, you never allowed a grand slam. That's pretty remarkable, given that you threw 2,123 innings.

MB: That's where I patterned myself. For Palmer, that was his big thing, and when I got to spring training my first year, people were talking about it, how he had never allowed a grand slam in his whole career. I asked him about it, and he said that one is better than four, so if the situation was bases loaded and I didn't have to give in, I'd give up one run, but I wasn't going to give up four. But there's still got to be a lot of luck involved, because throughout the course of a career, you're going to have the bases loaded all the time. I was just lucky enough not to have given up a grand slam.

DL: When Palmer sat down for an interview with Baseball Prospectus earlier this year, he repeatedly made mention of how many of the home runs he gave up were solo shots.

MB: That was a Baltimore thing. It was okay to give up solos. You could give up solos, but you don't want to give up three-run shots. And that was Baltimore's theory as far as scoring: three-run homers. That was Earl [Weaver], you know, pitching, defense, and three-run homers.

DL: What was your best season in the big leagues?

MB: Personally, 1984 was my best year. Team-wise, it was 1983. I'd much rather take that '83 season, any time, because we won the World Series. But in 1984, my stats were really good. I won 20 games; I won the ERA title; I was up there in innings pitched. There were a few different stats where I led the league, or was second, third or fourth in all of baseball. That was the year that Blyleven was just nasty. I still can't believe that he's not in the Hall of Fame. Holy cow. He's my all-time favorite pitcher: Bert Blyleven.

DL: Were you essentially the same pitcher with the Red Sox, later in your career, that you were when you started out with the Orioles?

MB: I was maybe a little bit different. I threw a lot of innings over the course of my stint with the Orioles, although I did with the Red Sox, too. The difference with going from the Orioles, when I did, to the Red Sox, is that [Boston] had a much better team. They scored a lot of runs and they were better defensively. You could make mistakes and not have to worry about it as much. That made pitching a lot easier.

DL: You were famously traded to the Red Sox, in July of 1988, for Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling. How do you view that deal, all these years later?

MB: Well, at the time it was good for Boston, I guess. I mean, we went to the playoffs two of the three years I was there. If you look at it in hindsight, would you trade me for Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling? No way. But you don't know. When I was there, we got Larry Andersen and gave away Jeff Bagwell to Houston, but [Andersen] was a big difference-maker for us getting to the playoffs. So you just don't know at the time. And Andersen and Schilling weren't very successful at the time of the trade. There was potential there, and they did pan out down the road, but there were no guarantees that Boston would have kept them anyway. You know, everybody says to me, "You got traded for Schilling and Andersen? That was a bad trade." I tell them, "Yeah, but at the time it really wasn't. " Overall, yeah, but it's really kind of hard to say.

DL: When you went to Boston, you joined the "Morgan Magic" Red Sox that went on the incredible run after [Joe] Morgan replaced John McNamara as manager in mid-season.

MB: Yes, and I actually helped start that. I pitched [for Baltimore] in the first game they won at home, in the stretch where they won all those games. I faced Roger Clemens. Then, later on, I was a part of it pitching for the Red Sox. So yeah, it was pretty neat.

DL: Oil Can Boyd was on that team. What he like as a teammate?

MB: Can was funny. And he still is. Everybody says that Can is still around, and that he's still the same old Oil Can. But he could pitch, and that's all we cared about. We had a whole group of guys that were different. Sometimes we didn't get along, but when we hit the field, everybody was on the same page and we won.

DL: What else is memorable from your time with the Red Sox?

MB: Well, there was one thing that really helped me when I got to Boston. The trade was tough, because I had spent my whole career in Baltimore. When I got to Boston, I wasn't really sure of anything, but I found out later that Clemens and Hurst were kind of pushing for them trying to get me, because they needed another pitcher. When I walked into the clubhouse, I looked over at Bill Fischer's locker, he was the pitching coach, and I saw the radar gun. It had about an inch-thick coat of dust on it, and I thought, "This is my kind of place." And 'Fish' was great. No matter what kind of stuff you had in the bullpen, no matter what the situation was, by the time you left the bullpen and got ready to start that game, he made you believe that nobody could beat you. To me, that was a sign of a great pitching coach.

DL: Despite your success in Boston, you opted to sign with the Royals as a free agent near the tail end of your career. Why?

MB: I'm from the Midwest. I'm from Iowa, originally, and I had spent 10 years out on the East Coast. I had lost my dad at 10, and at the time my mom was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. She wasn't doing real great, so I kind of wanted an opportunity to get back home to see my mom more. And it worked out great, because in '93, she passed away. Everything I did, there was a reason for it. It worked out perfectly, although career-wise it probably wasn't [perfect] to come to Kansas City, but personally it was. I love the game, but there's more to life than what happens on the field. Basically, I went home.

5 comments have been left for this article.

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