Snapshots from the 1980s: Dave Duncan

The third installment of this series — short unpublished interviews from three years ago, focusing on the 1980s — features Dave Duncan. A big-league catcher for 11 seasons, Duncan went on to become the pitching coach for the Oakland A’s from 1986 to 1995. He currently serves in that role for the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Duncan, on what made the A’s pitching staffs of the late ‘80s so good: “Balance. It was a well-balanced staff with good starting pitching. We had Rick Honeycutt, a good left-handed reliever, and we had a great closer in Dennis Eckersely. In middle relief we had guys like Gene Nelson. It was just a really well-balanced pitching staff.

“At times it has been said about the Yankees that they play a six-inning game. There have been periods where their bullpen was strong enough that if they were leading after six, they were pretty much going to win the game. The pitching staff we had in ’88 and ’89 was a lot like that. We had depth and balance to where if we had the lead we had a good chance of winning.”

On Dave Stewart: “Stewart was good because he had good stuff, including a unique pitch in his split-finger. He was a fierce competitor. He never had a game where he wasn’t up for it — either mentally or physically. I think that all of your good pitchers are that way. Sometimes that separates really good pitchers from guys who could be really good, but never get there because they’re not able to do the things — mentally or physically — that allow them to not let starts get away from them.”

On catching Catfish Hunter and Jim Palmer: “What can you say about them? They were great pitchers. They personified exactly what I’m talking about when I say great physical ability and the right mental makeup, and mental approach, to pitching. And they were competitors — really good competitors.”

On Terry Steinbach and Carlton Fisk: “They were both very conscientious about taking each pitcher and knowing how to use what that pitcher was capable of doing effectively. They also didn’t have off days mentally. They were into the game when they played.”

On pitching in the 1980s: “I don’t see a lot of difference in how pitchers were used, although I think pitching changes. I think the 1980s was a period of time where a lot of guys were starting to throw split-fingers again. That was a very effective pitch and it was coming back — the split-finger, or forkball.”

On Billy Martin and pitcher abuse: “He was an exception. In the 1970s, it was common for guys to throw a lot more pitches, and pitch a lot more innings. But by the 1980s I think that everyone had become really aware of pitch counts and usage. They were pretty protective of pitchers. For your top-of-the-rotation guys, 230 or 240 innings was pretty common.”

On being a pitching coach: “I think that you never stop learning. I’ve learned a lot from pitchers. I’ve learned a lot from other pitching coaches. I’ve learned from bullpen coaches. And a lot of what you do is have a common-sense approach to solving problems. Not every pitcher has a different style, but most every pitcher has something that’s unique to him. A big part of being a pitching coach is recognizing what a pitcher does well, and honing it.”



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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