Steve McCatty’s ascension was almost as fast as his decline.
The right-handed starter made his debut for the Oakland Athletics in 1977 as a 23 year old. Three years later McCatty was the centerpiece of a pitching staff that claimed to have ‘Five Aces” in him, Rick Langford, , Brian Kingman, Matt Keough and Mike Norris.
The Five Aces carried the Oakland A’s in the late 70’s and early 80’s, to go from a cellar dweller to a competitor in the American League West perennially. Led by notorious manager Billy Martin, the Five Aces made the idea of a bullpen essentially useless as they all ate inning after inning after inning.
In 1980 McCatty went 14-14 with a 3.86 ERA. In 31 starts he had 11 complete games and threw a total of 221.2 innings. 8 of those 11 complete games were recorded in McCatty’s last 11 starts of the year, where he won four of his last five games. The Five Aces often refused to be taken out of the game, and Billy Martin wasn’t going to force them. This was evident on August 10th of that year when McCatty pitched the entirety of a 14-inning game against the Mariners, only to end up on the losing side 2-1.
McCatty was tenacious and only got better in 1981 as he was arguably the best pitcher in baseball before the players strike. He went 14-7 with a 2.33 ERA at the age of 27. While the season was ended early, he still recorded 185 innings in only 22 starts, 16 of which ended in complete games. 1981 saw McCatty lead the league in wins with 14, shutouts with 4, and saw him finish second in Cy Young Voting behind Rollie Fingers.
Things fell apart quickly for McCatty however, and the rest of the Five Aces. In 1982 McCatty’s arm started to throb. Not wanting to lose his spot in the rotation McCatty pitched through the pain. Opting not to have surgery, he just decided to work through the pain and slowly became a full time starting pitcher again by 1984. His fastball was gone, as was most of his ability to make outs consistently.
By 1984 he was the last of the Five Aces to remain in the league, and by 1985 he was gone himself.
While McCatty’s career was certainly brief, there was no question he enjoyed himself while he was in the big leagues. Often considered a mast prankster, he will always be remembered in Oakland as the guy who lit Billy Martin’s shoe’s on fire during the middle of a game.
Perhaps McCatty’s most famous moment came not on the mound but a the plate when Martin sent the pitcher to bat with a toy, 15 inch, wooden bat. The act was a protest during an exhibition game played in a National League stadium that wouldn’t allow the designated hitter rule. Umpire Jim Quick refused to allow McCatty to hit.
Upon retirement he worked as a radio and television personality for the Oakland A’s, and eventually with ESPN. In 2002 McCatty served as pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers.
McCatty has been described as a no nonsense style pitching coach who likes to give his pitchers freedom and space. In an interview with MASN last night aired during the game, McCatty spoke about letting pitchers implement their own game plan, but making sure they had a reason for their pitch selections.
To me this seems like the type of pitching coach many established pitchers would love to pitch for. He’s a former starting pitcher who understand the psyche of pitching in big games, and big situations. He appreciates the stigma of being called out of games and the importance of self-confidence on the mound.
However it troubles me to think what that kind of mentality will do for young pitchers who may need more guidance that space. It will be interesting to see how effective McCatty will be for the Nationals, all we can do is hope for the best and pray that he will show our youngsters the way.