OAKLAND — On Monday morning, around 60 or 70 young baseball players converged at Harold Alfond Fenway Park at Camp Tracy, ready to listen to advice and run drills with former major leaguers.

They heard Mike Torrez, who won 185 games in an 18-year major league career, tell them not to throw a curveball at such a young age (the campers are between the ages of 8 and 12). Near the end of the morning, they heard Bill Lee, who pitched for 14 years in the majors himself, give his always inimitable take on things.

Lee asked the youngsters how many had been told not to throw a curveball. Most raised their hands, so Lee asked who told them that. They answered “My Dad.”

“Is your dad an orthopedic surgeon?” Lee asked. “Orthopedic surgeons say throwing the curveball can hurt your arm. You know why they’re orthopedic surgeons? Because they can’t hit the curveball!”

Torrez and Lee were joined by major league alumni Luis Tiant, Kevin Buckley, Tom Burgmeier, Mark Clear, Jim Driscoll, Larry Gowell, Pete Ladd, Paul Mitchell and Chico Walker, as well as local coaches Greg King, Lars Jonassen and Don Plourde.

Torrez, who worked with the pitchers, continually expressed the importance of throwing strikes.

“Try to pick up a target,” he said. “Have a purpose in your mind where you’re going to throw the baseball — even when you’re playing catch.”

Later, Torrez talked about how he used to play a game with his father and brother, seeing how many strikes he could throw out of 25 pitches.

“If you can get it up to 20 out of 25 at your age, then you’re doing something,” he said.

When Torrez made his debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967, the average starting pitcher completed one out of every four starts. Last year in the majors, the average was one out of every 38 starts. Torrez himself had two complete-game wins for the New York Yankees in the 1977 World Series, and one of those was on three days rest.

“If I was a pitching coach, I’d go to a six-man rotation, because a lot of these guys are coming down with sore arms,” Torrez said. “In order to complete a game, you have to be mentally ready to do it. Back then when I broke in, if you couldn’t go nine, you weren’t a starting pitcher. That’s the way it was.

“I never had a sore arm and I threw a lot of pitches. I threw 120 pitches warming up before a game.”

Burgmeier also noted the differences in today’s game. He was a left-handed reliever with five teams between 1968 and 1984. For his career, he averaged almost two innings per relief appearance, which is almost unheard of today.

“Now we have the sixth-inning guy, seventh-inning guy, eighth-inning guy, and ninth-inning guy,” Burgmeier said. “When I played, and Mark too, and anybody who was a relief pitcher in that era, you came in and pitched until you weren’t getting them out. Three times in my career I pitched more than eight innings — in relief.”

Torrez bounced around from team to team for a few years in the 1970s. In 1976 and early 1977, he was with the Oakland Athletics when they were owned by Charlie Finley. That’s also when Torrez met future rapper MC Hammer.

“I think MC was the pipeline to Charlie anyway,” Torrez said. “He ended up hiring MC Hammer as our assistant general manager. I see MC on the plane with a suit on, and I’m going, ‘MC, what are you doing on the plane?’ He said, ‘You better be watching now, because I’m general manager now.’ He was like 17-18 years old. It was funny. We had a lot of crazy things going on there in Oakland.”

Also in the 1970s, Torrez was a teammate of Mike Marshall, who set still-standing records for games and relief innings in a single season, but also was traded several times.

“He was out there,” Torrez said. “Mike was a great relief pitcher. Mike had a screwball and it matched his personality.”

Tiant, of course, became famous in New England for his years with the Boston Red Sox in the 1970s. He won two complete games in the 1975 series, and also beat Toronto with a two-hit shutout on the last day of the 1978 season, forcing the one-game playoff that the Yankees won by beating Torrez.

It’s easier to forget that Tiant’s career was in serious trouble before those glory years with the Red Sox. Within a two-month span in 1971, Tiant was released by both the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves. He was 3-5 with a 4.17 ERA in the minors in 1971, then went 1-7 with a 4.85 ERA with the Red Sox.

But the next year, Tiant led the American League with a 1.91 ERA, and followed that up by winning 81 games over the next four seasons.

“It was a long journey,” Tiant said. “When I come back, it was a good thing, because everybody think I was dead. I had come back from my tomb.”

Tiant finished his career with a record of 229-172 and a 3.30 ERA. Tiant’s contemporary, Catfish Hunter, was 224-166 with a 3.26 ERA. Hunter was elected to the Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility. Tiant was on the ballot for the maximum 15 years, and never came close to election.

“What are you gonna do?” Tiant said. “I should be in the Hall of Fame, like a lot of other ones — Tommy John, Tony Oliva, Dave Concepcion, Jim Kaat. We should be in the Hall of Fame. We’ve got the numbers to be there. They’re putting people up there that die. That’s what they’ve been doing. That’s a bad thing. If they want to put me, fine. If they don’t, fine too. My Hall of Fame is my family.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

 

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