A southpaw who came up with the Yankees as a wild starting pitcher but eventually made a successful transition to a closer, Dave Righetti led the American League in saves during the 1986 season. Righetti’s best years were spent in the Big Apple when the Yankees were at their lowest. Despite the Bronx Bombers’ fall to the second division, Righetti posted seven consecutive seasons with 25 or more saves with the club.
Originally a first round selection by the Texas Rangers, Dave struggled mightily with his control in the minors and was sent to the Yankees in the Sparky Lyle trade. The change of scenery didn’t help as Dave couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his offerings for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate, the Columbus Clippers. When his control finally started to come around, the Yankees gave him a trial in 1981 and he flourished by winning the Rookie of the Year Award and posting an AL best 2.05 ERA.
But the path to success wasn’t without its obstacles. His wildness resurfaced in ’82 and he paced the American League with 108 walks. Although his walk total was alarmingly high, so was his strikeout total–he finished third in the league in whiffs. The Yankees had a good 91-71 record in ’83, due in large part to their fine lefty trio in the rotation of Righetti, Ron Guidry and Shane Rawley. But when Goose Gossage left New York, Dave departed the rotation and assumed the Goose’s old duties.
In his first year as a fireman, Dave nailed down 31 saves. More than the one-inning gunslinger that has become the norm today, Dave was asked to toss multiple innings per stint. In 1985, he worked 107 innings in 74 contests and in an identical workload during the 1986 season, Righetti paced the AL with a then record 46 saves. In his stellar ’86 campaign, Dave was named to his first All-Star team and finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting.
An All-Star again in 1987, Righetti racked up 31 saves. He then followed that campaign by fashioning back-to-back 25 saves seasons in 1988 and ’89 before reaching 36 saves in his free agent year of 1990. Dave opted to leave the Yankees and signed a free agent deal with the San Francisco Giants–closer to his San Jose home. His first year with the Giants was fine–he saved 24 games on a 3.39 ERA.
When he struggled in 1992, he lost his closer job to Rod Beck. Unable to win his role back, his 1993 season was even worse, as his ERA climbed to 5.70 and he surrendered an unflattering rate of base hits: 58 hits allowed in just 47 innings. The Giants released him after the season and he took his struggles back to the American League. With a 10.18 ERA in 1994, it looked as if Dave’s career was over, but he had one last moment in the sun with the White Sox in 1995. He closed out his career in the White Sox rotation.
W 82/L 79/PCT .509/ERA 3.46/G 718/SV 252/IP 1,404/H 1,287/BB 591/SO 1,112