Cleveland Pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who began last season as the Indians' long man and ended it as the club's top starter, calls long relief "the worst job in baseball." Traditionally, it has been so undesirable a calling that it hasn't even inspired humor. "No jokes, just sympathy," says Kansas City's short-relief ace, Dan Quisenberry, normally a fount of fun. "It's not what you'd call a coveted job."
Except by Boston's Bob Stanley. In 1982 the hulking—6'4", 225-pound—righthander set an American League record of 168‚Öì innings pitched in relief. He went four or more innings 18 times, getting nine wins and three saves in the process. He also pitched some long short relief, amassing 14 saves without ever pitching less than 1‚Öì innings. And he held leads in four other games the Sox won. Altogether, Stanley, who was 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA, contributed to 30 of Boston's 89 wins. The Red Sox finished third, six games out in the American League East, and tied for the sixth-best record in baseball. Without Stanley they might have had the sixth-worst. "He should have won the Cy Young Award," says Boston Pitcher Bruce Hurst.
Several factors contributed to Stanley's remarkable season. He was frequently needed to bail out the Sox' shaky starters, who failed to survive the fifth inning 52 of 162 times. He was often working in Fenway Park, where a game is truly never over until it's over. And as a pitcher in the designated-hitter league, he wasn't getting replaced by pinch hitters. But most of all, he had extraordinary stuff.
"He's one of the best pitchers I've ever managed," says Boston's Ralph Houk, skipper of the Yankees (1961-73) and the Tigers (1974-78) before joining the Red Sox in 1981. "You can use him in long and short relief because he rebounds so quickly. He's more valuable than a 20-game winner, and I have to talk him out of pitching. Contrary to what people think, he could pitch more than he does. I only use him when we have a chance to win, and I don't like to use him two days in a row."
Stanley, 28, has never had either an arm problem or a head problem in the big leagues. He realizes he'll probably never win enough or save enough to attract much notice outside of Boston. "I ain't going to win no Rolaids," he says, referring to the relief-pitcher award. "I'm not complaining. I just go as hard as I can for as long as I can. The Red Sox need a good bullpen to win."
Even before last year Stanley had had no losing seasons and had run up a 59-37 record by relying primarily on his sharply—some say moistly—breaking sinker to throw strikes and induce ground balls. Though he admits he threw a spitter on occasion in the past, he says he doesn't now. However, last year he did add a palmball, taught him by Pete Ladd of the Brewers. That helped him overcome his one nagging shortcoming, an inability to handle lefthanded batters with authority. He throws his sinker with a fastball motion, and his palmball behaves like a changeup. No wonder the hitters are confused.
They were more confused than ever this spring, when Stanley perfected a slider and had a 1.96 ERA. "He's tougher than ever now on righthanders," says Catcher Rich Gedman, "because they can't wait for the sinker."
Two weeks ago, in Stanley's first outing of the 1983 season, he relieved John Tudor with Boston leading 7-3 in the fifth and set down Toronto on five hits and one run, striking out four and walking none to get the win. Three days later Stanley had what appeared to be a terrible outing. He gave up five hits and four runs over two innings as the Red Sox blew a 7-0 lead and lost 9-7 at Texas. Actually, the five hits came on two seeing-eye grounders and three bloops. "The only ball they hit hard we caught," says Houk. "He couldn't have pitched any better." Houk shrugged, and added in baseballese, "You had to see it to visualize it."
If you saw Stanley, you wouldn't visualize a winner, because he has the body of a tavern softball player. "God didn't give me a body," he says, "just an arm." And he loves to use it. A day after his loss to the Rangers, Stanley told Houk he was ready to work again. "No," said Houk, "there are 157 games left."
With 155 left last Wednesday night, Stanley relieved in the sixth, replacing Mike Brown, whose arm had stiffened up in 39° weather. Because the Red Sox were leading Kansas City 11-2 at the time, Stanley wasn't exactly pitching in a pressure situation. Nonetheless, he produced some magic. The first batter, Willie Aikens, lined a shot at Stanley's stomach. Stanley instinctively stuck out his glove and caught the ball. Then he remembered there was a runner on base and fired to First Baseman Dave Stapleton, doubling up Amos Otis. Stanley laughed all the way to the dugout. All in all, he did precisely what was expected of him in such a pro forma appearance: work fast and throw strikes. In 3‚Öî innings he gave up four hits and two meaningless runs en route to his first save of '83. "I mostly threw sinkers," he said. "I didn't want to show them anything in a game like this." Actually, he has shown quite a bit so far. By the end of last week he had a win and two saves in five appearances totaling 16‚Öî innings.
While growing up in Kearny, N.J., Stanley played sports and did very little else. "If it wasn't for sports, I wouldn't have made it through high school," he says. "I studied only to stay eligible." He was drafted by the Dodgers and was offered a $4,000 bonus but unaccountably decided to attend college. After one month at Newark State (now called Kean College of New Jersey), he realized that he still wasn't a student. "I called up Commissioner Kuhn and told him I wanted to change my mind. He told me, 'All right, I'll put you in the January draft.' The Red Sox picked me. I got $4,000. I think I worked a lot harder than if I'd gotten a lot of money. Some people get big bonuses and act like they've already made the big leagues."
Stanley is a solid citizen, who does volunteer work for the Jimmy Fund for children's cancer research and lives in Wenham, Mass. with his wife, Joan, and children Kristin, 3, Kyle, 2, and Kerri, eight months. "Three Ks," he says. "That's the only way I'm going to strike out the side."
Stanley can be a cutup around the clubhouse. During a rain delay in Kansas City last week, he organized a miniature golf tournament played with bats, baseballs and paper cups; imitated Gedman's unorthodox swing; and, after many requests from his teammates, did his takeoff on Bob Cousy's basketball announcing: "Wobet Weid to Moses Mawone—bwocked by Wawwy Biwd!"
Although Stanley insists he no longer throws a spitter, some of his teammates seem to suggest otherwise. "Don't call it an unnatural pitch," says Stanley's bullpen mate John Henry Johnson. "There's nothing unnatural on it at all."
"Just say it sinks naturally," says Hurst.
"You could say I'm known for throwing a spitter but not that I admit to throwing one," says Stanley. "Give me a lie detector test, ask me if I throw a spitter, and I'd pass. I don't use spit."
Whatever he uses, it's been working for a good long time.