Tekulve talks baseball

STEUBENVILLE – Kent Tekulve has been around Major League Baseball for a long time.

He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates after graduating for Marietta College in 1969, made his major league debut in 1974, is currently President of the Pirates Alumni Association and is also working as a television broadcaster.

He’s seen many ebbs and flows in the game.

“For the longest time there were players using PED’s and the game was you have to have something that’s not on the list or you have to have something they can’t test for,” said Tekulva, who was the guest speaker at the Steubenville Rotary Club luncheon Friday at the YWCA. “The last four or five years, they’ve really got a handle on it – getting it removed from the game.

“As we saw the other day with the Hall of Fame ballotting, it’s still there and we’re still having to deal with it. It’s been a tough 15 years or so dealing with all of that stuff.

“On the other side of the coin, during that period of time, what Major League Baseball was able to do with their marketing and promotions and everything else, the industry as a whole has grown unbelievably big than it was 15 or 20 years ago.

“Yes, there’s a bad part to the last 15 or 20 years, there’s also been a really good part for everybody who shares in that increased revenue. There’s been a great increase in the game over that same period of time in a different area.”

Tekulve played for 16 seasons in the majors, from 1974-85 with the Pirates, 1985-88 in Philadelphia and was with Cincinnati when he retired in July, 1989.

“I was not surprised at all that any of those guys who played during that period of time didn’t get in, especially the ones that are now known to have been involved, or there’s a pretty good reason to believe they were involved,” Tekulve said of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Hall of Fame balloting, where no one received enough votes to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Former Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio had the most votes in his first year of eligibility. The man who finished with 3,060 hits appeared on 68.2 percent of the ballots. He was 39 votes shy.

Jack Morris finished second with 385 votes, only three more than 2012.

“Guys like Morris, who had continued climbing the ladder, typically they would continue on from what they had last year (in votes),” said Tekulve. “This is one of the rare times where a player had the percentage that they had a year ago, who didn’t get enough votes to get in this year. That part of it did surprise me.

“The steroid-era players, no, that’s going to take a long time for the writers to get their heads around it and figure out what to do with it.”

Former all-time saves leader Lee Smith was sixth with 272 votes, an 18-vote drop from a year ago.

“I will say this in defense of the baseball writers, relief pitchers are probably the hardest group to judge,” said Tekulve, who finished his careeer with 184 saves and appeared in 90 or more games three times, including being the oldest in major league history to do so at age 40.

“In the last 50 years or so, there’s been so much evolution in, No. 1, just having relief pitchers – guys who are designated to do so and that started with Elroy Face back in the 50s, one of the rare guys who was actually a reliever.

“The role has continued to evolve. When I was playing in the 70s, the closer was the guy who pitched from the seventh inning on, anywhere three runs up or under. Things were different then and it evolved into something else.

“When Bruce Suter came along, the one-inning save became popular, and it has continued to evolve. Teams have seven relievers instead of five.

“To make comparisons for the writers, relievers, even in different decades, is really tough to do and feel your doing justice to guys in each one of those decades. It’s a hard thing to figure out.”

Relief pitching has now evolved into a seventh-inning guy, a long reliever, a set-up man and the closer.

“I think specialization came about because it was necessary for baseball,” said Tekulve, whose three saves in the 1979 World Series tied the mark set by Face in the 1960 World Series. John Wetteland in broke the record in the 1996 Series. “Baseball doesn’t get all the good athletes anymore. The talent pool, particularly in the pitching area, has dropped down a little bit. The only way you get those guys who are kind of in the middle to be able to perform better is to give them the match-ups.

“So, when you went from five relievers to seven, it changed the game and changed what was expected in each and every player. Before, we got match-ups, but it was the first player you faced in the game, after that, you were on your own.

“If I came in against a right-hander and the left-hander was up next, I didn’t take the walk and the left-hander came in. You would have been out of pitchers by about the fourth inning if you did that.

“I think the way they do it now is the best way to do it considering the talent pool who have to work with across Major League Baseball and inside each individual organization.”

The Pirates are facing a season in which giant steps were made back to respectability the previous two years, both under manager Clint Hurdle.

Each year, though, the Buccos went into a tailspin they could not get out of.

“He gets it,” Tekulve said of Hurdle. “But, there have been other guys along the line who got it. We’ve reached the point where we think the mangers, front office people and coaches are the ones who win games and we’ve lost the view that the fact the players are the ones who go out on the field and play.

“Clint Hurdle can be the best in the world at what he does, this team is not going to get any better until the players play better. He can’t do that because he can’t swing the bat anymore. He can’t throw the ball. Yes, they’re valuable, but no one, no one is more valuable than the players on the field.

“You’ve got to have a lineup nowadays that is solid top to bottom. Everybody in the lineup contributes something, then you have to put all those pieces together to make the picture work the right way. It’s the same thing you have to do with the pitching staff. You’ve got to get all those pieces lined up so that they work together.

“What we’ve had here over the past two years – the lineup has been getting better. There hasn’t been enough bench, though, that the depth has been very good. When you have to make a pinch-hitting move, you really don’t have anybody to send up there that is going to scare anybody.

“If you have to make a pitching move early on, you don’t have anybody that is really going to scare anybody.

“The depth of the organization needs to continue to get better and right now, of premier importance, is the starting players who are out there – the McCutchen’s, the Walker’s, the Alvarez’s – they have to stay healthy.”