MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

McCatty cut from different cloth of pitchers

McCatty cut from different cloth of pitchers

SAN DIEGO -- Steve McCatty is in his seventh season as Nationals pitching coach. A former starter for the A's, he's the curator of one of the top starting staffs in the big leagues.

He must nurse, cajole, teach and keep each of these multimillion dollar athletes healthy. When one of them goes on the disabled list -- as Doug Fister did on Friday because of tightness in his right forearm -- McCatty also feels the pain.

But McCatty's teeth were cut in a different baseball era and another century. Only baseball aficionados know that McCatty's place in the game's history is historic. McCatty was a young starter among five under manager Billy Martin and pitching coach Art Fowler on the 1980 Oakland staff that not only pitched, but did it a lot.

Four of those five starters -- including McCatty -- pitched 14-inning complete games that season. Just think about that.

"You went out and pitched, that's what you did," McCatty said this week at Petco Park as the Nationals played a four-game set against the Padres. "We didn't worry about it. Who really knew about Tommy John surgery except Tommy John? You got hurt, but you just pitched basically until your arm exploded."

The numbers are phenomenal, particularly set against the current day of specialization where there's a reliever dedicated to a specific inning and a starter is asked to go about six innings or 100 pitches -- whichever comes first.

In 1980, the A's won 83 games. The starting staff comprised of McCatty, Mike Norris, Matt Keough, Rick Langford and Brian Kingman won 79 of them. The staff recorded 94 complete games, and that quintet completed 93.

In contrast, there were 57 total complete games among the 30 Major League teams in 2014, the Cardinals and Giants led with eight each. The Cubs, Mets and Rockies had one each. Clayton Kershaw led baseball with six during a season in which he was named the winner of both the National League's MVP and Cy Young Awards.

Sure, times are different, but so is the ethos. During that season now 35 years ago, Norris had 22 wins and completed 24 of his 33 starts; Langford won 19 and completed 28 of his 33 starts; Keough won 16 and completed 20 of 32; McCatty won 14 and completed 11 of 31, and Kingman finished it up by winning eight and completing 10 of 30 starts.

They were all in their mid-20s, ranging from 25-28. McCatty was 26 and in only his second full season.

"You wanted to do it. That's the way you were brought up," McCatty said. "You'd average 135 to 145 pitches a game. It's usually what I threw, I guess. That's what Art Fowler told me."

That kind of workload was not just akin to the A's, but the norm for the day. In 1990, Bud Black, now the manager of the Padres, hit his career high of 151 pitches tossing a complete-game victory over the Tigers at Tiger Stadium. Black had six games of 130 pitches or more in his career. That would never happen today.

"Probably not, if you value your job," McCatty said. "It wasn't the smartest thing, but I'm not going to knock anybody."

That 1980 A's team really didn't have a functioning bullpen. It's closer was Bob Lacey, who saved six games to lead the team, plus started and completed the other game among the 94.

There was a competitive element among the starting five as well.

"Oh yeah, if one guy did well, you wanted to do as well or better than the other guy," McCatty said.

The zaniness manifested itself with Martin asking McCatty, Keough, Langford and Norris to complete those 14-inning games. The latter three all won. McCatty was the sole loser in the last of them on Aug. 10 of that season when Dan Meyer of the Mariners led off the 14th inning with an opposite-field homer at what was then simply called the Oakland Coliseum.

McCatty lost, 2-1, although he allowed only six hits, walked four and struck out eight. It was years before electronically-recorded pitch counts, but Keough was in the dugout logging pitches by hand.

"Keough was charting, and he told me there was 207, 207 or 203," McCatty said. "I don't know if there were pitch counts back then, but Billy made us chart them."

There's no way of corroborating that figure. Even the box score of the game available through baseball-reference.com does not list a pitch count.

Suffice to say that the irascible Martin, fired five times as manager of the Yankees and eventually by the A's, used the touch-and-feel method as he went about managing these 14-inning games.

"I was given the option of coming out at one point," said McCatty, who vividly recalled the score, how he lost and the details of that long-ago game. "Like after the 10th inning, Billy asked me if I was all right. I said, 'Yeah.' Same thing after the 11th inning. When he asked me again after the 12th, I said, 'Look. I've already pitched 12. I'm getting something out of this damn game. Either I'm going to win it or lose it.' Naturally I lost, so that's the way it goes."

McCatty played his entire career for the A's, finishing with a 63-63 record, a 3.99 ERA and 45 complete games in his 161 starts. It ended in 1987 when his arm did indeed explode. A bone spur in his right shoulder basically ate right through the biceps tendon.

"I did something during Spring Training of 1982," McCatty said. "I know what it turned out to be, but at that point they didn't see it, couldn't see it. They didn't have the sophisticated imaging we have now. So I just kept going."

Until he go couldn't anymore.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.