New Hampshire is not exactly a hotbed for major league baseball players. But Nashville Sounds pitching coach Rich Gale was born in Littleton, New Hampshire
and found success in the big leagues.
"I think I probably hit a scout's car with a snowball and broke a window maybe to impress him," joked Gale. "The weather is not adaptable to baseball due to a short season. I joke about this, but I did throw a lot of snowballs, rocks and stuff as a kid. Fortunately I was a big athlete and was lucky to get noticed."
Gale went to the University of New Hampshire on a basketball scholarship and the six-foot-seven inch right-hander also played on the baseball diamond-weather permitting.
"The thing that probably made the biggest impression on people that got me noticed was playing in the Cape Cod League in 1974," said Gale. "I had a real good season. I got a tremendous amount of exposure playing against top college competition. In college, we were in the old Yankee Conference in New England. We had some good players from there, but it is not like some of the Southern and Western schools."
The Kansas City Royals, in the fifth round of the 1975 First-Year Player Draft, would select Gale. Gale's first assignment was in Sarasota of the rookie league. At age 21, he was 3-1 with a 2.73 ERA appearing in nine games (four starts) in 33 innings pitched.
"I had to make an adjustment in professional baseball," said Gale. "It wasn't so much the college adjustment; it was going from New Hampshire to Sarasota, Florida in June, July and August. I'm not use to that weather down there. Unfortunately, I got hurt just before I left and was not able to throw. I came very close to getting released after that rookie season."
In the following years, Gale was assigned to Waterloo (Single-A), Jacksonville (Double-A) and Omaha (Triple-A). Gale began the 1978 season in Omaha where he was 1-1 in three starts. Then he got the call young baseball players pray for.
"It was Friday night in Omaha when I was told John Sullivan (Omaha manager) wanted to see me. I had a feeling that something was up. I started to get pretty excited and caught my toe putting on my pants and almost fell into my locker. He told me I was to pitch that Sunday in Kansas City against the Milwaukee Brewers. I had at least been in Kansas City's spring training that year so I knew the guys.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
"To put on a big league uniform for the first time, to say I was excited was an understatement. The first batter I faced was Jimmy Gantner. The first pitch I threw was a fastball about 95 mph and he hit it past me at about 105 mph just to my left. I'm thinking that was a hit and I turned around and Frank White picked it, one-hop off the tuff and threw him out. I thought 'ohhh, that's Frank White, OK. This is the big leagues. That's why he wins Gold Gloves.'"
Gale said that he was strictly a power thrower and wasn't a pitcher. His two pitches were a fastball and power slider. In 1978, Gale pitched a memorable game where he tossed a one hit, 5-0 shutout against Texas on June 13 at Royals Stadium. Al Oliver got the lone hit in the fourth inning.
"Whitey Herzog (Royals manager) was amazing at the charts he kept on the hitters," Gale said. "We took a lot of hits away from people because of our defensive positioning. If you look at the chart on Al Oliver, it was almost totally dark up the middle. He hit so many balls up the middle that our shortstop and second baseman took hits away from him all the time.
"Before that pitch, Whitey moved Pete LaCock off the line at first base by two or three steps. I didn't notice it. Darrell Porter, who was catching, didn't notice it. He called for a slider down and in. Al rolled over a ground ball that would have been at LaCock. Instead it goes down in the corner for a triple. That was the only hit."
Gale finished that rookie season at 14-8, with 88 strikeouts and a 3.09 ERA. He appeared in 31 games (30 starts) with 192.1 innings pitched. Gale did finish fourth in the American League vote for 1978 Rookie of the Year behind Lou Whitaker, Paul Molitor, and Carney Lansford. He was also honored with the Sporting News American League Rookie of the Year and Topps All-Star Rookie Roster honors.
"That season convinced me I could pitch in the major leagues," said Gale. "I wasn't sure before then. That finally convinced me, especially when you start facing teams a second and third time and you are able to be consistently successful. And you go on the road and pitch in good hitting parks against good hitting teams and do well."
FIRST KANSAS CITY ROYALS WORLD SERIES
In 1979, Gale was 9-10 and 13-9 in 1980. Another exciting experience for Gale was his and Kansas City's first World Series appearance in 1980. Gale started Game Three against the Phillies and threw the first World Series pitch in Kansas City. He only lasted 4.1 innings, but the Royals won the game.
Philadelphia would win the Series, four games to two. Gale started Game Six, but lasted two innings and was defeated by Steve Carlton.
1981 MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL STRIKE
The next season was difficult for Gale, personally, and for Major League Baseball. The players began a strike on June 12 due to the unresolved issue of free agent compensation. Gale said he fully backed the strike and was a staunch supporter of Marvin Miller and the Player's Union Association.
During the strike, Gale took a job as a bartender at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City. One evening a skywalk at the hotel collapsed killing several people.
"I was right there in the lobby on the floor," Gale said. "I was about 60 feet away. I remember thinking that is as close as home plate. That was a pretty tragic event. It was July 17th on a Friday night. I played in a charity golf tournament on Monday before the accident with two fellows.
"I told them about this thing Friday afternoon; tea dances at the Hyatt, what a great deal it was and a great situation. They both came down and actually my friend Larry survived it, but was seriously injured and was trapped underneath for hours and my friend Nick was killed."
SAN FRANCISCO, CINCINNATI, BOSTON
The strike ended on July 31. Gale finished that season 6-6 in 19 games (15 starts) with a 5.38 ERA. At the end of the 1981 season, Gale was traded to San Francisco where he was 7-14 in 33 games (29 starts) with a 4.23 ERA in 170.1 innings. The next two seasons Gale would be pitching in Cincinnati (4-6, 5.82 ERA) and Boston (2-3, 5.56 ERA).
"I had some shoulder problems, but I never had any surgery," said Gale. "I was never on the disabled list in the big leagues, but I was struggling. I lost quite a bit off my fastball and slider. I hadn't learned enough early on about the true pitching aspect of changing speeds and movement to survive the injuries.
"We were in a five-man rotation in Kansas City. Whitey would have liked to go to a four man with Dennis Leonard, Larry Gura, Paul Splittorff, and myself. Those three could handle it. I probably couldn't have. I had never been on anything but a five-man rotation."
In his final major league season (1984), Gale was a teammate of rookie sensation Roger Clemens. Gale said that he first played with Clemens in Pawtucket and could recognize his talent, but couldn't have predicted a Hall of Fame career for "The Rocket."
GOING TO JAPAN
In 1985, Gale spent the first of two years with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League. He started, and won, the deciding game of the 1985 Japanese Series, the only championship in the franchise's 72-year history. Was playing professional baseball in Japan a positive experience for Gale?
"Absolutely, especially at that point after 1984 I had played with four different teams in the four previous seasons," Gale said. "I was bounced around. I was close to wearing out my welcome here. I was 30 years old and my wife and I had been married eight years. We had one child and planned on having more. I just couldn't pass up the financial opportunity there. We had a great first year. My team, the Hanshin Tigers, won the Japanese Series for the first time ever. Randy Bass and I were treated like the Emperor. It was a very good experience overall.
"I was fortunate. I came to a team where there was one established American player in Randy. He had a great relationship with the teammates and had done extremely well. Management, ownership, press and the fans loved him. I didn't come in as new guy foreigner trying to break down barriers. Randy had already done that and established things. I had a great friendship with my Japanese teammates."
After his two years in Japan, Gale tried to hook up with another major league team. In 1989 and 1991 he pitched briefly in the Red Sox organization, but never made it back to a major league diamond.
"I went to spring training with the Orioles in early minor league camp situation," said Gale. "We had a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what split-squad games were. I was expecting one thing and their version was something else. It didn't work out. My shoulder was killing me. I needed couple of injections just to get through spring training. They released me the last week of spring training. I was pretty upset. I wanted to continue pitching and wanted to get a job, but couldn't. Finally, about mid-May, I decided it was time to hang up my spikes and move on."
Gale later played for Fort Myers of the Senior Professional Baseball Association (1989-90). He had been a pitching coach in the Red Sox organization with New Britain in 1990 and Pawtucket in 1991. Gale would land a pitching coach job in 1992-93 with the parent club in Boston.
So, as a pitching coach, what are the conversations on the mound during a timeout?
"Every situation is different," Gale said. "Sometimes you just want to go out and remind somebody of something simple. You go out and say, 'hey, remember what we talked about earlier. You're messing up by overthrowing.' A guy might be in a jam with the bases loaded and nobody out. You walk out and say, 'you've got them right where you want them kiddo.' You are teasing them. You try to calm them down. They think you are going to do something else and you burst their bubble.
"Or you say something like, 'man, I had to get away from Don (Money) on the bench. Holy Cow he is killing me there.' I try not to talk about mechanics. I want to talk about a concept, a mindset, or just say, 'hey I just want to give you a breather.' There are times I go out to talk because I want to wait for the umpire to come out so I can ask him about a couple of pitches. I may or may not have a legitimate complaint, but I want my pitcher to know that I am backing him up.
One of the understood "rules" of a pitcher is to throw at an opposing batter if a certain situation calls for that action. Did Rich Gale ever intentionally throw a baseball at a batter during a game?
"Yeah, there were a few times'" Gale said. "I never threw at anybody's head. And I've always told my pitchers to never throw at a head intentionally. I don't care what the guy has done. There are times when the code of conduct has been violated. The batter has done something whether he has taken a cheap shot at your second baseman or shortstop or done something to your catcher like throwing the bat or flipping the bat back or tried to spike your third baseman. There were times I tried to bruise a ribcage or a shoulder blade or a thigh or a knee."
Sometimes a pitcher is known to throw at a batter when the previous hitter clubbed a home run. Is that a time for retaliation?
"I didn't think if a batter hit a home run, I should hit the next batter," said Gale. "If I hang a curve ball or slider, the ball should be hit out of the ballpark. If anything, I should hit myself. Wake up. Especially big home run hitters. If they hit a ball 400-450 feet and want to watch it a little bit, I don't have a problem with that.
"I watch the long ones too. But if the little guy who doesn't hit very many and he spanks one and he goes Cadillacing going around, that's when you say, 'get your tail around the bases and sit down.' If they do too much like making gestures and sounds, then you send a message. And I'm not going to show you up when I strike you out, so don't do it me."
Gale said that Buddy Bell and Fred Lynn were two of the toughest batters he ever faced in his career. Then he said he could handle Hall of Famers Jim Rice and Eddie Murray.
MEMORIES AS A HITTER
Gale had a lifetime batting average of .150 (9-for-68), which is decent for a pitcher. He said he wasn't a good batter, but sometimes a lucky one. If you ask Gale to recount his only two major league dingers, his memory is very vivid.
"June 5th 1982 in Wrigley Field," said Gale. "Doug Bird, third inning, Tommy O'Malley just hit a double in front of me. Bird threw me a fastball-ball one. Then he threw two sliders that I swung at and missed, and couldn't have hit with a canoe paddle. Then he tried to throw a high fastball by me. I bailed out and swung to my heels and hit it square and hit a bomb. It was funny to hear Harry Carey describe that about Bird, 'that's some of the most ridiculous pitching I've ever seen.'"
"The other one was against the Cubs the next year in Cincinnati against Steve Trout. Ron Oester was the shortstop that hit a triple ahead of me. So I'm in the on-deck circle taking my jacket off and Russ Nixon, the manager, says Rich, 'I want you to squeeze.' I'm thinking to myself, 'oh man, don't get me to squeeze. I'll mess it up.' I saw our third base coach go through the signs and said no squeeze. I thought to myself if that SOB throws me a fastball that I can reach, I'm swinging. He threw me one about 83 mph down and in. I took a three wood swing at it and hit a rocket."
BOSTON RED SOX PITCHING COACH
When Gale became a pitching coach for the Red Sox in 1992, he was overseeing a staff with Clemens who was a veteran. How do you coach a player like Clemens who is your pitching ace?
"The biggest thing is recognizing that this guy has achieved a level of greatness already," said Gale. "My responsibility was to observe him. I know when he is going well and when he starts to go off. I can notice that. Sometimes you can't feel certain things. I also had Frank Viola, Danny Darwin, Jeff Reardon. You try to learn what they are doing when they are going well. You might notice that their tempo is a little fast or their leg is stiffing out a little too far. Your hands are breaking a little too late. People say, 'what do you tell Roger Clemens?' I say, 'you are pitching on Sunday, big guy.'"
LOOKING BACK ON CAREER
Gale was 55-56 in a seven-year career. He pitched in 195 (144 starts) games with a 4.53 ERA, 971 innings, 518 strikeouts, 21 complete games and five shutouts. Before joining the Sounds in 2010, Gale was a pitching coach for the Carolina Mudcats, Albuquerque Isotopes and the Hagerstown Suns.
When Rich Gale looks back on his career, what can he say makes him most proud?
"I came from northern New Hampshire in the mountains," Gale said. "I was a hunter, fisherman, trapper and to think I made it to the major leagues and had some degree of success coming out of some place not known for baseball and that I did it honestly and honorably, that's probably what I'm most proud about."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.