Former New York Mets pitcher Bret Saberhagen talks about his MLB career, playing in New York, and modern-day baseball with Rising Apple’s Chris Rocco.
Arguably one of the greatest pitchers during his era, Saberhagen led the Royals to their first world series title in 1985 and was named World Series MVP after he pitched a shutout Game 7 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Following the season, he was named the American League Cy Young winner.
These incredible feats were done in just his second Major League season. After his magical ’85 season, where he went 20-6,” Sabes” had established himself as a true ace in the major leagues. He was one of the most dominant pitchers in all of the MLB until his retirement in 2001.
Saberhagen had good seasons between 1986 and 1988, but nothing like his 1989 season. In ’89, he finished 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA. Following a decent 9-5 start to the season, Sabes turned it on and finished the season on a torrid 14-1 stretch. He won his second American League Cy Young Award with the Royals.
In 1991, his final season with the Royals, Saberhagen threw a no-hitter which so happens to be the only Royals no-no since then. In the offseason, the Mets and Royals agreed to a deal that sent Saberhagen and Bill Pecota to New York in exchange for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, and Keith Miller.
Saberhagen spent three seasons in the Big Apple, compiling 24 wins over three seasons with the Mets. In 1994, Sabes had 14 wins during the strike-shortened season and had an excellent 11.000 ratio of strikeouts/base on balls.
Bret sincerely enjoyed his time in New York and still enjoys coming back to visit the East Coast from time to time.
On July 31st, 1995, in the midst of a lost season for the Mets, Saberhagen was traded to the Colorado Rockies, where he started 9 games. He helped them make the playoffs but ultimately lost in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, who went on to win the World Series.
Following his short tenure in Colorado, Sabes was out for the entirety of the 1996 season but made a comeback with the Boston Red Sox in 1998 and won comeback player of the year. He finished the season at 15-8 and then went 10-6 in1999. He retired from the MLB in 2001 and is now living happily in Thousand Oaks, California.
So without further ado, let’s chat with Mr. Saberhagen!
Chris Rocco: Considering you have many accomplishments and accolades to your name, which I’m sure you don’t need me to read them all off, what one achievement are you most proud of?
Brett Saberhagen: Being a team sport, and winning the world series in 1985 is definitely the prize that everybody shoots for and my favorite thing that I accomplished in baseball.
CR: You were dealt multiple times during your professional career. Unless something drastic changes soon, the Mets and probably even the Royals will be doing a lot of dealing come the trade deadline. What advice would you have for any players changing teams mid-season and what is it like to get dealt in the middle of a season?
New York Mets
BS: The biggest thing is, you got to remember that it’s a business and you can’t take it personally. There are two sides – the one side where you’re being traded from your team and kind of feel hurt, maybe unwanted, but you just gotta understand that both teams have holes that they need to fill. I was not very happy leaving New York but then when I heard that the Rockies found out on the flight that they traded for me, they were very excited and it sounded like they had a really nice, enjoyable flight once they found out. So you just can’t take it personally and just understand that it’s a business.
CR: Obviously there were no social media during the 80’s and 90’s. You couldn’t write something and with the click of a button, the whole world was able to see it. With that in mind, what were trade rumors like back when you played?
BS: Our trade rumors were more generated through – not social media – but through the media themselves. A lot of newspaper guys would come in and they would have different tidbits and that’s kind of how you found out a lot of things – through writing, newspapers.
CR: You spent a couple of years in orange and blue. Do you keep in touch with any former Mets players? Who were some of the locker room leaders while you were there?
BS: I still talk to Johnny Franco every once in a while. I’ll see Vince Coleman at different charity golf events so I will run into a few of the guys but as kind of sports goes, everybody goes to where they were from or they got family, they got kids, and so you lose track of them but it’s always great to catch up from time to time with them. We had a lot of leaders in that clubhouse, with a lot of veteran guys, such as Doc Gooden, Johnny Franco, Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla. A lot of guys that had spent time in New York and knew what New York was all about.
CR: And now it’s no secret that playing in New York City is difficult. What was it like to play in the Big Apple and do you think it’s any different today?
BS: I can’t speak on what it’s like now since I’m not in and around there, but New York fans expect the best. They expect to win, nothing less. They are very knowledgeable fans, which East Coast, in general, have a passion for sports – all sports. And especially the Mets, Yankees, baseball-wise, there’s a lot of rivalries there. But the expectations to win are very high.
CR: As the debate rages on whether or not the National League should adopt the designated hitter, there are pros and cons in both arguments. National league fans like the complexity it brings to the game, but others say that injuries occur, which they do, as we saw with Jacob deGrom earlier this season. What are your thoughts? Should the National League adopt the DH?
BS: Well, I like having them kind of separate themselves by that, but I really enjoy the DH and again pitching in the National League, you will have a better ERA because you are facing a pitcher and also the normal nine hitter that you would face in the American League. So you’re facing a lot stronger of a hitting team in the American League. But I love the fact that – I enjoy hitting when I was younger. I loved playing shortstop and swinging the bat. But once you get to the big leagues and that it was nice to not have to focus on hitting, you could just focus on pitching so I prefer having a DH over swinging the bat.
CR: In today’s baseball, it’s extremely rare to see a complete game. There is a much bigger emphasis on pitch count and innings pitched than when you were on the mound. Considering you pitched more than 255 innings each season between 1987 and 1989, how did this affect your durability and success in the years thereafter?
BS: Well I had three shoulder surgeries and probably a lot of hits came from pitching a lot of innings at an early age and at 21 years old in 1985, I think I accumulated 260+ innings and I wouldn’t change anything. I think I had 72 complete games before I had my first shoulder surgery. I might have had one after, maybe I had 71, maybe one complete game after my shoulder surgeries. But it was just unfortunate where I couldn’t throw as many innings as I did prior to that. I really enjoyed the game – I wouldn’t change a thing. As far as career-wise, I prefer going out and throwing a lot of innings and just kind of finishing what you started. Being there on the field, celebrating a victory after pitching a great game is one of the best feelings you could get as a pitcher.
CR: Now I have to ask since I’m a big Keith Hernandez fan – did you ever face Keith?
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BS: I don’t recall ever facing him, he was National League, I was American League. Possibly Spring Training but he was pretty much done by 1991.
CR: I know you’re more of a West Coast kind of guy, but when you come back to the East Coast, specifically New York, what’s your favorite place to visit?
BS: Well I enjoy the city – I could never live in New York City – I’m more of a country guy. I like being out on a boat, that’s why I lived on Long Island on the South Shore while I was living and playing in New York. But I always love getting into New York City. It’s always fun driving in New York City. But loved coming in for a show and some great meals and the Palm was always one of my favorite places to go to in the city to have some dinner.
CR: We can’t end without talking about your incredible 1985 season. You finished 20-6 with a 2.87 ERA and won your first World Series and Cy Young award as well as getting the World Series MVP. In addition, your first child was born. Take us through your magical 1985 season.
BS: Well that’s the best way to put it. It was magical. Being my first year solely as a starting pitcher. In 1984, my first year, my rookie year, I was kind of back and forth from the bullpen to starting and so getting a full year under my belt was great. Chasing down the Angels towards the end of the year, winning a big series at home to get us into the playoffs and then beating, coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Blue Jays and winning that series – the American League Championship series and then the same thing in the World Series against the Cardinals – being down 3-1 and winning the world series. It was kind of a magical dream come true type of season, especially it being only my second year in the big leagues. And then Drew, my first child being born prior to game six, it was just very, very special and very memorable and one year that will always stand out for me.
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On behalf of the Rising Apple team and Mets fans everywhere, thank you to Mr. Saberhagen for giving us some insight into your career and life.