For 17 years, he made his way through the big leagues earning a reputation as a top-notch hitter in clutch situations, playing for both the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays. Now Pat Tabler finds himself in a position of divided loyalties.
Cincinnati – The former Cleveland Indian has reason to be proud and excited. The Tribe is dancing through the playoffs.
“It’s amazing how well they are playing,” he says. “And, they are doing all this without three of their best players: Michael Brantley, Jr., their best hitter, and two of their best pitchers, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco.”
The former Toronto Blue Jay is experiencing a mild form of shock.
“Everything (Cleveland) is doing is right. No mistakes. Even when we hit one on the screws, it’s right at somebody or they make a great play,” he says. “It’s crazy.”
He hasn’t swung a bat in the big leagues in 24 years, but now—at the height of the ALCS—he’s a hot commodity.
“My phone is blowing up,” Tabler said. “Family, friends, reporters—everybody wants to know who I’d be rooting for…It’s crazy. I’m like most, I guess. I just wanted to see a good series.”
Tabler, Cincinnati native and McNicholas High School graduate, was in his Toronto hotel room returning and taking calls while he prepared for Game Four of the Championship Series. For the past 24 years he has been part of the Blue Jays broadcast team; this following a 17-year career in the “Bigs.”
“Sometimes,” he says, “it’s hard for me to believe I’ve been doing this (broadcasting) longer than I played.”
But it’s his career, which concluded with the 1992 World Series that cast him in the footlights of this series and has for the past two seasons.
“Last year, I was 4-for-4,” he said. “The four teams in the ALCS—the Cubs, Mets, Blue Jays and Royals—I played for all four.”
That’s when it started. Where did his loyalties lie? Who did he think would win? Everyone wanted to know. He said the same thing then as he does today, “I just wanted to see a good series.”
Thus far, it hadn’t shaped up as a “good series.” Wednesday morning, the Blue Jays were looking down the barrel of a sweep, down 3-0 in the best of seven series.
“What’s surprised me is how well the Indians have pitched,” he said. “Going in, they didn’t have Salazar and they didn’t have Carrasco, two of their best, both hurt. So I’m figuring, we got a chance…But the other guys have pitched great and (manager) Terry Francona is handling their bullpen masterfully…We haven’t gotten a sniff against those guys (relievers).”
And when the Jays did catch up with a pitch, what did you get?
“There’s Coco Crisp or (Jason) Kipnis or (Lonnie) Chisenhall, (Francisco) Lindor – somebody – making a super play,” he says.
“It’s demoralizing and then you got guys (Jays hitters) bearing down more and more, trying harder, and everything—every at bat—is under a microscope, and it wears you down.
“You know what they got, they got athletes all over the field,” Tabler adds. “They got three shortstops in the infield. They got all that speed in the outfield…They work the count. They got all these switch hitters so you can’t match up…And they play together. Everybody doing his job. Nobody trying to do too much.
“Look where they are and what they have done and without three of their best players…Yeah, we got a problem.”
That pesky plural pronoun “we” pops up here and there in conversation with Tabler, “we” being the Blue Jays.
But it’s understandable. “Twenty-four years is a while,” he says. “It’s the job, ya know. I’ve been here a long time.”
The treasures the memories, all of them:
- A first round draft choice by the Yankees in 1976.
- Breaks in with the Cubs in 1981.
- In 1983, traded to Cleveland, where he spent six years.
- Traded to the Royals in ’88, where he spent three years, and then two years with the Jays.
For 17 years, he made his way through the big leagues earning a reputation as a top-notch hitter in clutch situations.
Tabler was a .282 lifetime hitter. When he was on, he scorched line drives to all parts of the park. But it was in clutch situations that he made his reputation.
With the bases loaded—88 at bats during his career—he delivered nearly 50 percent of the time driving in 108 runs. He was 43-for-88. That’s a .489 average, the highest in Major League history.
At the time, largely with the Indians, Tabler dismissed this uncanny ability as simply “good luck.” He said he was fortunate to get good pitches to hit in those situations.
Today, he is quick to mention his continued good fortune. He loves the job, though he’s on the road eight months a year. He’s 58 years old. His health is good. He still lives in Cincinnati. He has six grandchildren and twin sons still in high school, and if he roots for anything, it’s more time at home.
“I go see my sons, the twins, play baseball and run track,” he says. “I love that, spending time with the family. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?”