Comfortably Zoned in a Vat o’ Pine Tar

March 15, 2021 at 8:58 am (Comfortably Zoned in a Vat o' Pine Tar)

Once again, I’m teasing the upcoming book I’m writing with the great George Grimm. Publication date is August, 2021.

Catching up with Duffy Dyer

October 2016

In this episode Ralph Tyko talks with Duffy Dyer about his time with the Mets and the way the game has changed since he played.

Ralph Tyko: Duffy, tell us about your journey to the Mets.

Duffy Dyer: I was born in Ohio but grew up in Arizona. I signed with the Mets after my junior year at Arizona State University. Reggie Jackson and I both signed contracts the same year. Reggie started out playing football as a safety but switched to baseball and broke most of Rick Monday’s records at ASU.

Ralph Tyko: Where did you start out in the Mets organization?.

Duffy Dyer: I originally played Double-A ball in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Bill Verdon was my first manager. He was great to start with. He helped me with the fundamentals.

Clyde McCullough was the catching instructor in the Mets system at the time. He didn’t make too many changes in my defensive style. I caught with the old style catchers glove that didn’t have a break in it so you had to catch the ball with two hands. This was a few years before Johnny Bench made one-handed catching so popular.

Yogi Berra is actually the one who got me to change to a different glove. I was playing catch with him one day in Spring Training and he tossed me his glove and said, ‘Here use this.’ And I told him I didn’t think I could use that kind of glove because I couldn’t get the ball out fast enough. I had average arm strength, so I had to get the ball out of the pocket as quickly as possible. So I was a little reluctant at first but Yogi stayed on me and sooner or later I changed gloves and became more of a one-handed catcher.

Ralph Tyko: It’s amazing how things are passed down. Yogi was taught by Bill Dickey. What kind of a coach was Yogi?

Duffy Dyer: He helped me a lot defensively and calling games. Just talking to me, about the mental part of catching, working with pitchers and calling games, he really helped me a great deal.

And we also had Rube Walker as out pitching coach, who was a former catcher, and Joe Pignatano was the bullpen coach and he was a former catcher and Gil Hodges started out as a catcher before they moved him to first base. So there were a lot of opportunities to learn the position. They really helped me a great deal with the mental part of the game, calling games and working with pitching staffs

As far as Yogi as a hitting coach, he was definitely a player’s coach. Everybody loved him because of his personality and he was never real serious. Even when he was trying to help you, he’d be serious, but with a little humor attached to it.

The only thing I remember Yogi saying about hitting was,  ‘See the ball, hit the ball!’ And that’s exactly how he hit. If he saw it he swung at it. But he was a great coach. If you came to the park in a bad mood or if you were down, all you had to do was hang around Yogi and your mood would change.

Ralph Tyko: One of the people in the Mets organization who doesn’t get a lot of credit for taking a last place team in 1962 and building them into World Series Champions seven years later is Whitey Herzog. Did you have any contact with him?

Duffy Dyer; Yes I did! When I was in the minor leagues he was the Director of Player Development and he had a lot to do with my career. Because when I first went to Double-A, I was in way over my head offensively. The Eastern League was known for its pitching, it’s cold, the ballparks are big and I really struggled with the bat. I held my own defensively, but I came home after that season and for the first time in my life I didn’t know if I could do this or not. It was very frustrating because if I couldn’t  hit in Double-A how am I ever gonna move up?

But Whitey called me and brought me down to the Instructional League. He said that they would work on my hitting and told me to keep my head up. He said I was going to be in the Big Leagues in three years, So I went to the Instructional League for two straight years and he was right, I gradually got a little bit better and I was in the Big Leagues in two and a half years. So I owe him a lot. I don’t know if I would have made it without Whitey.

Ralph Tyko: How did you like playing in New York? Were you able to adjust after living in the south west?

Duffy Dyer: It was actually pretty hard. My wife and I moved to New York right before opening day in 1969. We had a tough time finding an apartment, but Tug McGraw and Jerry Koosman helped us out. We wound up living near Shea by LaGuardia Airport.

Ralph Tyko:  When you came up you were not expecting the Miracle Mets of 1969, I am sure!

Duffy Dyer: No, especially being a rookie, I didn’t know what to expect. I was just in awe of being in the big leagues. And going to all the other ball parks and seeing all the other great players. I had been up for a month in 1968 so I had a little taste of it then. But I was just in awe of the whole thing.

I remember in Spring Training there were a few of the guys who were very optimistic, because of our pitching, and I know we were really looking to make a big improvement over 1968.

Ralph Tyko: How big a factor was Gil Hodges?

Duffy Dyer: I don’t think we could have done it without him.  He was such a great leader and handled people so well. He just had something about him that everybody respected him so much. And he did a great job of keeping us motivated. He left us alone. He would stay in his office most of the time and very seldom came out and hung around with the players. He was just the right guy in the right place at the right time. The way he ran the pitching staff, the way he platooned some players and rested some guys. I don’t think we would have done it without him.

Ralph Tyko: What was your first day in the big leagues like?

Duffy Dyer: I played my first game in Philadelphia; we had a double header. Four of us were called up at the end of the year, Amos Otis, Don Shaw, Bobby Heise, and myself. We took a cab from the airport to Connie Mack Stadium, and we had our luggage with us. The cabbie told us to get inside the stadium as quickly as possible and don’t be hanging around outside because it wasn’t a very nice area.

So we found the visitor’s locker room and we walked in and our locker room in Jacksonville was a lot nicer than the one in Connie Mack Stadium. It was small and crowed and it was really kind of a let down. I was thinking, my goodness this is the big leagues?

Gil had me catch the first game of the doubleheader. I remember the dugouts were pretty small too, I stood up and hit my head on the top of the dugout. My first time up I faced Chris Short and stuck out, but I got a single off of him the next time for my first hit. And that’s something I’ll never forget. But we lost 3-1, Dick Selma pitched six or seven innings and he had good stuff.

Ralph Tyko: They later traded Amos Otis to Kansas City for Joey Foy.

Duffy Dyer: Yeah, they were desperate for a third baseman. They had asked Amos to play third but he said he didn’t want to, he was an outfielder, so he was traded for Foy.

Ralph Tyko: Do you have any background on the Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi deal?

Duffy Dyer: Yeah,  he and his wife Ruth, did not like New York and he went to the Mets and asked to be traded because he was just not comfortable there.

Ralph Tyko: Do you remember when baseball changed from having workhorse pitchers who took pride in finishing games to the way it is today with pitch counts,  inning-specific relievers, and Tommy John surgeries?

Duffy Dyer: I think that once weight training became popular, that had something to do with the injuries. And I know there are a lot of great weight training coaches out there that know what they’re doing so maybe I’m way off base. But I really think that the players train a lot differently than we did and I think that leads to a lot more arm, shoulder and leg injuries.

In our day we weren’t allowed to touch weights. All we did was sit-ups and push-ups and a lot of running.

And I think they started putting in pitch limits because of agents and the  enormous salaries. They’re trying to limit innings and the number of pitches with an eye towards their next contract.

And I also think that too many young kids start throwing breaking balls too early because a lot of kids are hurting their arm before they even get out of high school.

Ralph Tyko: Is pitching what has changed most about the game?

Duffy Dyer: The way they use pitchers now, you’ve got specific pitchers for specific innings. Players nowadays have to know their role. If you’re a manager, you have to tell each player their role. What inning they’re gonna pitch. When we played if you were a starter you knew you would start and you pitch as long as you could. If you were a reliever, you didn’t know if you were going into the game in the fourth or eight inning. But today pitching is so specialized and that has changed the game a lot.

Ralph Tyko: You finished up you career with Detroit after 12 years in the National League. What was the difference between the two leagues back then?

Duffy Dyer: They threw a lot more off-speed pitches in the American League. They didn’t have as many hard throwers as the National League. The National League challenged you more with fastballs. It was different, both as a hitter and calling a game as a catcher.

Ralph Tyko: How important is the mental part of the game? Have you seen any guys fail because they couldn’t handle the pressure or keep the mental aspect of the game together?

Duffy Dyer: I’ve managed in the minors and coached in the big leagues for a long time and I’ve seen  a lot of that. Yogi once said, ‘Baseball is ninety percent mental, the other half is physical,’ and he was right.

Their mental approach has cost a lot of guys their careers. Or they couldn’t relax,  and I’ve seen player that couldn’t handle playing in New York. It cost them their career. Some players were too emotional and just ran themselves out of the game. A lot of players have the physical ability but it’s all about how you use it and your mental approach and being able to slow the game down a little and being able to handle stressful situations. Unfortunately, there are a lot of players with great ability, who just couldn’t handle the pressures that come along with the game.

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