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Indians Indians Archive Blast From The Past: Pat Tabler - Mr. Clutch
Written by Greg Popelka

Greg Popelka

pat_tabler_toppsI was doing a quick internet search for any new nuggets of information I could find on 1980s Indians star, Pat Tabler. A link from The Daily Kos appeared.

According to the entry on that website, Tabler’s professional baseball career ended prematurely because he never listened to batting coaches, other than his father. Therefore, he was comparable to political right-wingers who are “set-in-concrete, unshakable, absolute perfect certitude about politics, religion, any sort of human behavior, for no other reason than it's what their parents taught them.”

Now, I am familiar with Pat Tabler, and (especially if you are in your forties or fifties) you probably are as well. I have heard various stories about him, but never before have I caught wind of his apparently unwavering approach to hitting which obeyed his father’s rigid command.

jerry_dybzinski_cardI had heard of how Tabler came to the Cleveland Indians in 1983; he was acquired from the Chicago White Sox for Tribe shortstop Jerry Dybzinski. “The Dibber” had been born in Cleveland, and was a 1977 product of Cleveland State University (he was the first of four major leaguers from that school, although honestly I have never heard of the others). Dybzinski made it to the big-league Tribe in 1980. He was mostly Tom Veryzer’s backup at short. The Dibber was good with the glove, and clubbed an unlikely home run at Cleveland Stadium off ex-Indian Jim Kern of the Rangers. It was during one of his first at-bats for his hometown team (and the first of his first of three career homers). After being shuttled back and forth some between Cleveland and the minors, he was shipped off to Chicago’s south side for Tabler. He achieved brief notoriety in 1984; manager Tony LaRussa had inserted him into the Sox lineup at Yankee Stadium on Polish American Day, along with Greg Luzinski and Tom Paciorek. Oh, and his brother was a shortstop on my father’s softball team, Shippe’s Auto Body.

That team had some truly awesome uniforms. You know how a lot of guys regret not having their old baseball cards? I regret not having Dad's uni, still. I wore it for fun during my college years. It looked sort of like a gaudy old bowling shirt, without the lapel. It was yellow, and the fabric was some sort of sturdy, space-age polymer. It had some red, black and white curved stripes down the side, under the arms. Same colors around the collar and the edge of the sleeves. A black number on the back and a large, round patch on the front, halfway down the front and off to the side. Each player had a nickname, and it was featured on the patch along with the Shippe name. Jerry Dybzinski’s brother’s nickname was… well, it was The Dibber, too.

pat_tabler_swing_pose_photoPat Tabler played for four major league teams, mostly in the 1980s. He’d been drafted by the New York Yankees in the first round in 1977, and played sparingly as an infielder for the Chicago Cubs in 1981 and 1982. Once acquired by the Indians in 1983, he was installed as a line drive-hitting first baseman. By 1986, Tabler took over for in the outfield for Cory Snyder, who’d suffered an ankle injury. His batting average soared to .326- fourth highest in the American League.

You know how every so often, the emotional nature of Cleveland fans catches fire and the entire region erupts? Gabe Paul is known for calling the city a sleeping giant, but that wasn’t particularly insightful to any of us. We always knew. Well, it happened with the Indians in 1986. They ripped off a nine-game winning streak - on the road- and the old stadium was the place to be when the team flew home to face Kansas City. 50,000 fans arrived, and the starting time was delayed around a half hour while they filed in. With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, Tabler stepped up to the plate. Already known as a premier hitter with the bases loaded, he stroked a single off of star Royals closer Dan Quisenberry to win the game.

You recall that the Indians were favored by some to win the pennant in 1987. One reason was the excitement from 1986. Another was that the AL East had been won by a different team in each of the previous several years. Well, they lost 101 games in '87, and bullpen coach Doc Edwards took over for manager Pat Corrales. The pitching was horrible, although the offense improved after starting the season slowly. Tabler was the designated hitter in 1987, having taken over from Andre Thornton. He was an American League All-Star, hitting .307 with 86 RBI.

1987 was the season in which Paul Molitor of the Milwaukee Brewers had his long hitting streak . On August 26, he was going for game number 40- versus Cleveland. Still looking for a hit that day, Molitor smacked a seventh-inning ground ball to third baseman Brook Jacoby, whose throw to Tabler at first base was dropped. The Brewers’ scorekeeper (who was new to that job that year) correctly called the play an error- and the fans booed. In the bottom of the tenth, with the game still scoreless, now-Brewer Rick Manning stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter with Mike Felder at second- and Paul Molitor on deck. (Manning had been acquired in an unpopular trade of Gorman Thomas to Cleveland.) Manning singled to drive in Felder, for the win- and he was booed!

In recent years, Tabler has confided some inside information about the 1986 season, when the Indians led the majors in hitting. Edwards stole catchers’ signs and relayed them to the hitters. The Indians even switched their bullpen from down the right field line to left field- that had nothing to do with the stated reason that Corrales could see the pitchers throwing in the pen from his first base dugout. The move was made to better accomodate Edwards' sign stealing.

All told, Tabler was 29 for 55 (.527) with the bases loaded while with the Tribe. Over his career, he finished at 43 for 88. People – including his wife – often asked him how he did it, and when he couldn’t explain, they offered advice on how to approach hitting when the bases were not loaded.

Interestingly, he is also said to have been one of the proponents of putting Chief Wahoo back on the Indians' cap. That was highly successful in terms of retail sales of Tribe gear.

bud_black_cardBy 1988, with the Indians woefully lacking in pitching, they shipped Pat Tabler off to Kansas City for Bud Black. Black was a fairly effective veteran starting pitcher for the Tribe, twice: from 1988 to 1990, and also in 1995 during one of the Indians’ contending seasons. By the end of 2002, the Indians’ Charlie Manuel had quit in midseason, with coach Joel Skinner managing the team through the rest of the season. Bud Black was winning a World Series ring as pitching coach for the California Angels. The Tribe wanted Black to come back to Cleveland and manage. Skinner was considered for the job, as well. Black declined, and the job fell to Eric Wedge.

Tabler, of whom its said is a fan of Jethro Tull (I knew I liked him), played some for the New York Mets before winning a World Series ring with the Toronto Blue Jays at the end of his career. He remains part of the Toronto organization, as a television broadcaster.

Fans in Cleveland still remember Pat Tabler with fondness. Mr. Clutch proved his worthiness over five seasons with the Tribe.

Although according to The Daily Kos, perhaps we need to rethink this.

Tell ya what: How about I just go and check with my father.

Thank you for reading. Next week: Blast From The Past: Mudcat Grant.


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