Rob Dibble in particular has been vocal about how pitchers today are babied and waxing nostalgic about the 1980 Oakland A's starting rotation of McCatty, Matt Keough, Mike Norris, Rick Langford and Brian Kingman. They were five young stars, and together they graced the cover of Sports Illustrated on April 27, 1981 with a headline, "The Amazing A's and their Five Aces."
Here are the ages and key stats for the five in 1980:
- McCatty (26): 221.6 IP, 3.38 ERA
- Norris (25): 284.3 IP, 2.54 ERA
- Langford (28): 290 IP, 3.26 ERA
- Keough (24): 250 IP, 2.92 ERA
- Kingman (25): 211.3 IP, 3.83 ERA
To listen to Dibble, you'd think this was all just the way it should be, and that McCatty will hopefully lead the team to a throwback era where men were men and pitchers finished what they started.
Well, if you've been paying any attention to the last 40 years of sports medicine, you know where this is going. All five of the A's aces were done as effective major league pitchers within three years of that SI cover.
Norris declined for two seasons, had shoulder surgery after the 1983 season, and, but for a brief comeback at age 35 in 1990, he was done at age 28.
Langford pitched through pain (not very well) in 1982, had elbow surgery in 1983, and was done as a starting pitcher at age 30.
Keough started feeling shoulder pain in May of 1981 when he slipped on a wet mound in the middle of his throwing motion. He gutted out that season, but his ERA jumped to 5.72 in '82, and he was out of baseball at age 30.
Kingman didn't get hurt, but Martin, showing that he was as dumb about stats as he was about pitcher health, blamed Kingman for losing 20 games in 1981. He had a 3.83 ERA that year but got a minuscule 2.87 runs per game of support, and, of course, Martin made him pitch deep into every game, so he always got the decision. He apparently didn't get along with Martin (can't imagine why) and eventually got himself sent to the minors and then traded. He was out of baseball at age 29.
For McCatty, the shoulder pain started in '82. Here's how he described it to SI in 1983: "Nineteen eighty-two and-three were the most miserable years I've ever been a part of. I pitched when it felt like my arm was going to come right out of the socket. I'd have tears in my eyes, and in my mind I'd say to the guy at the plate, 'Hit this one, for God's sake, so I don't have to throw another.'" Still, he pitched. The injuries eroded his effectiveness quickly, and he was out of baseball by 1986 at age 31.
Now, it's certainly possible and in fact likely that none of this reflects on McCatty the pitching coach. When it comes to pitcher abuse, he played in the dark ages, and we've come a long way. If anything, I would guess his experience taught him just how dangerous it can be to pitch tired.
But when you hear Dibble and others complain about how wimpy pitchers are and how big player salaries have made teams too cautious, remember Oakland's amazing five aces. Talent is a terrible thing to waste, and I for one am glad that those "good old days" are long gone.