Jonathan Mayo emailed Dex and I asked us if we we'd be interested in interviewing him or having him guest blog for Gaslamp Ball to promote his new book. We thought it'd be fun to have our first guest blogger. Mayo covers the minor leagues and the draft as a senior writer for MLB.com. Mayo's book is a look at what it is like to face Roger Clemens and is appropriately titled Facing Clemens. The book was written prior to the release of the Mitchell Report and will be available on March 1st, though you can pre-order it now. He took some time out to share some thoughts about the book with the Gaslamp Ball audience.
Jonathan Mayo: One of the chapters in the book is with Dave Magadan, the former hitting coach of the San Diego Padres. The chapter is centered around Magadan facing Clemens in the championship game of the 1983 College World Series, but goes on to discuss future meetings as a player and even once Magadan had embarked on his coaching career. People may not remember this, or even know it since college baseball was even less in the public eye than it is now (one reason why the baseball draft lags behind the big-time events in the NFL and NBA, but that's a topic for another blog post), but Magadan had one of the greatest college seasons in history in 1983.
Playing for the University of Alabama , Magadan hit .525 that spring, still the fifth-best single-season average in NCAA history. He helped lead the upstart Crimson Tide (known much more for football than baseball - Bear Bryant had died the winter before this baseball season) all the way to the CWS final, where they ran into Clemens. As an aside, Clemens wasn't even the best pitcher on that University of Texas team in 1983; Calvin Schiraldi was.
Magadan was most impressed with his curve. The fastball, he knew was going to be up there. But his command of his plus breaking pitch was tough to handle. The future Padres hitting coach struck out twice in the game. Not a big deal until you consider he struck out just six times all season in 1983.
Let's fast-forward, mostly because the Magadan-Clemens matchups in the big leagues didn't result in any large moments. One interesting tidbit he pointed out, clearly as a guy who studied the game, was how Clemens would use different grips to get different action on his split-fingered fastball. "If the fingers were spread just a little bit, it would have action like a sinker. Or he would really jam it between his fingers and throw it straight down to strike somebody out. What a weapon!" he told me.
Seven years after he faced Clemens as a hitter for the last time, he had the task of trying to instruct the Padres hitters how to attack the Rocket. This was 2004, the year Clemens won his last Cy Young Award. Easier said than done, right? That's exactly what Magadan said. The idea, in theory, was to get him to get his fastball down and his splitter up. It's not like they could ask Clemens nicely for a custom order. "Every once in a while, you come up with a pitcher," Magadan said, "I'm looking at him and thinking, `What are we going to do?' You can tell guys, keep a good approach, stay up the middle with him, it'll help you stay on the split, try not to cheat."
The advice didn't seem to work. The Padres hit .152 against Clemens in 2004 (all hitters managed just a .217 average). In 2005, while the league hit just .198 against him, San Diego hit .185, though the Padres managed to beat him the one time they faced him. No shame in that, really, when you consider the scope of Clemens' career. Magadan managed just one hit off of him in 12 big-league at-bats. "He was a power pitcher who could pitch and that's what made him tough," is how Magadan put it.