Bret Saberhagen's Series to remember
Baby, World Series victory capped magical year for 21-year-old pitcher
Twenty-five years ago this October, Bret Saberhagen stood anxiously on the downslope of the mound at Royals Stadium as right fielder Darryl Motley snatched the final fly ball out. The loosey-goosey Cali transplant known as "Sabes" around the clubhouse stood atop the world, master of his universe.
The Kid had it all. At 21, fresh-faced, with pale-blue eyes, he would convert his season-long mastery into the Cy Young Award. This raucous night, he had shut out the St. Louis Cardinals in an 11-0 laugher for Kansas City's only World Series title. And, just the day before in a Kansas City hospital, his young wife had given birth to their first child, Drew William.
America loved his feel-good story about as much as his veteran teammates did the live arm and beyond-his-years mound presence. Kansas City appreciated him for its championship. And, the Kid with the mischievous smile and brash confidence proved so hip that late-night icon Johnny Carson booked him.
Does life get any better?
"Nah, no," said Saberhagen on the phone from his office in Southern California, where he's jumped into the baseball agent business with a firm headed by former Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Dan Evans. "I always look back on '85. I was on 'The Tonight Show' when Johnny was still doing it. He says, 'How you going to top that season?' I said, 'Well, you go out and do the same things I did last year, but have twins instead of just one.' That is pretty much the only way you could top that.
"Looking back, it was a dream season. Winning a World Series. Winning a World Series MVP. My son being born [the day of] Game 6 of the World Series. It was a magical year for me."
The Kid played for a $150,000 paycheck, modest even by 1985 standards. In the veteran clubhouse where Hal McRae and George Brett set the tone, Saberhagen brought a cool demeanor as well as the ability to perform in the spotlight. Often, he amused with silly stuff like rushing to stand alongside Brett during the playing of the national anthem.
"I always wondered why Bret Saberhagen would rush to George's right side," said former Royals outfielder Lonnie Smith, laughing. "He said, 'Well, I only do it when television cameras are in the dugout.' I asked why. He said, 'Because when I stand next to him my whole name is spelled out -- Brett Saberhagen.'"
There would be more good days than bad over the remainder of his 16-year career. A second Cy Young came his way in '89, just reward for a 23-6 record and league-leading 2.16 ERA. A no-hitter followed during the summer of '91.
But before the '92 season, the Royals traded Sabes to the New York Mets in a shocker of a deal. His playful clubhouse act didn't play quite so well under the bright lights; he made headlines after he ignited firecrackers near the feet of several media members, and another time sprayed a group of reporters with bleach.
Injuries cropped up to curtail his career, with late stops in Boston and Colorado.
The marriage to his high school sweetheart, Janeane, ended in divorce. Another marriage would also fail.
And the World Series joy, Drew William, well, he turns 25 this Oct. 26. Like his dad, he grew up a pitcher -- though a southpaw -- and also wore No. 31. He bounced around the collegiate circuit from Pepperdine to Western Carolina to Southern Polytechnic. Now, his eligibility used up, he's a grad assistant on the coaching staff at Tennessee.
As he reflects on the '85 season, Saberhagen says it was all good. A kid in a candy store experience, he likes to call it. And no, it didn't set the bar too high or crimp what would follow.
"I was young at the time, but it was a lot of fun," he said. "You get to the big leagues at 19 years old for the first week in 1984. You turn 20 the week after. Can't go into the bars with the other guys, because I'm not old enough. What I'm getting at is just growing up very quickly and everything coming at me so quickly. I really didn't get a chance to digest a whole lot. We make the playoffs my first year in the big leagues. We don't win against Detroit. They go on to win the World Series.
"My following year, 1985, we have the same nucleus of guys. We added a few guys here and there. Just a great ballclub. After my second year, it was 'OK, cool. Playoffs, no problem.' Needless to say after that it was very tough for me to get back to the playoffs with any ballclub.
"For me, out of all the individual awards -- nothing even comes close to winning that championship. 'Cause it takes an entire team."
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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