Saberhagen 'fortunate' to have played

Saberhagen 'fortunate' to have played

KANSAS CITY -- It's been a long time since Bret Saberhagen was a rookie, but he is again this year, at least in Hall of Fame terms.

Saberhagen, who gained his greatest fame with the Kansas City Royals, is among 17 first-year former players on this year's ballot for enshrinement at Cooperstown.

"It's a great honor to be a part of the big picture," Saberhagen said from his home in Southern California. "I've always been a guy that never really took baseball for granted. It was something that I wanted to do, and I cherished it."

The enduring snapshot of Saberhagen is from 1985, when, at 21, he was a 20-game winner and the Most Valuable Player in the Royals' World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

He won the American League Cy Young Award that season and also in 1989, when he went 23-6 with a 2.16 ERA, 12 complete games and four shutouts. On Aug. 26, 1991, he pitched a no-hitter to beat the Chicago White Sox, 7-0.

However, the following winter, the Royals traded him to the New York Mets. He also pitched for the Colorado Rockies and Boston Red Sox, finishing his 16-year career after the 2001 season with 50 more victories than losses, 167-117, and a 3.34 ERA.

"I could have had a lot better numbers, but the big thing, if I had been healthy, would have been helping out another team win a championship. That's the big thing," Saberhagen said. "A lot of guys want to get to the Hall of Fame and so forth, but if it happens to me, it's great. If it doesn't, it's not going to change my life. I'll never be one of these guys lobbying or politicking to get to the Hall of Fame. The numbers that I put up are the numbers that I put up -- it is what it is."

Saberhagen's post-Kansas City years were marked by injuries, which restricted his time on the mound. Still, he went 14-4 for the Mets in 1994 and was a combined 25-14 in 1998-99 for the Red Sox.

Saberhagen feels that a heavy workload in his young days with the Royals -- he pitched 257 innings in 1987, 260 in '88 and 262 in '89 -- might have been a factor in his right shoulder problems later on.

Not that he has any regrets.

"I just feel fortunate to have played baseball," he said. "There are so many people who would have loved to have played the game and gone out there and put a uniform on day in and day out and never did."

Saberhagen saw postseason play five times and was an All-Star three times, winning the 1990 game at Wrigley Field.

In addition, he was a prankster who visited "joke shops" as the Royals traveled across the country. In Oakland one day, he planted a rubber snake on the field that made umpire Durwood Merrill leap into the air.

The 42-year-old will have surgery in mid-January to repair an ACL torn playing basketball.

"That's what happens when you get older," he said.

These days he's head coach at Calabasas High School, where his son, Dalton, is a freshman and a left-handed pitcher, first baseman and outfielder.

"My first year we were 4-21, last year 10-15, this year we plan on being a little bit better," Saberhagen said.

Once a year, his team meets Chaminade High, coached by former teammate and fellow pitcher Mark Gubicza. So far they've split their two games.

It's Gubicza and all the other men with whom Saberhagen played that dominate his memories of the game.

"That's the thing that I'll always remember. Nobody can ever take that away from me, regardless of whether the Hall of Fame comes around or doesn't come around," he said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.