Catching Up With Charles Nagy
Steve Eby | On 05, Feb 2014
As a key pitcher on the most successful teams in recent Cleveland Indians history, the name of former Tribe starter Charles Nagy will never be forgotten.
But it hasn’t always been that way.
“He called me Steve for my entire first season,” Nagy spoke of his first Major League manager, John McNamara. “Steve Nagy. He was a bowler, I guess. Everyone wondered why I didn’t correct him. What was I going to say? He’d just say, nice job Steve.”
Maybe Johnny Mac wasn’t too far off, however.
While Steve Nagy was one of the pioneers of professional bowling and a PBA Hall of Famer, Charlie Nagy was one of the pioneers of the 1990’s Indians juggernaut and—after winning 129 games for the Wahoos—a future member of the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame.
“I had a great time,” said Nagy of his 13 seasons in Cleveland. “I was fortunate to play on a lot of great teams with a lot of great players. It was just a great time. The right place at the right time, I guess.”
When Nagy was drafted in the first round of the 1988 draft out of the University of Connecticut, the teams that he played for initially weren’t so great. The Tribe finished under .500 for the first four years of Nagy’s career including an astounding 105 losses in 1991—Nagy’s first full year as a Major Leaguer.
“At the time, I know we lost a lot of games, but it was my first few years in the Big Leagues,” Nagy recalled. “It was Big League baseball for me. I was in the Big Leagues. I was just learning and having a great time. I was playing against guys that I idolized growing up.”
Nagy took his lumps along with the rest of the 1991 squad, as the 24 year old lost a career high 15 games that summer. The following season was a different story, however, as Nagy completely turned the corner and won 17 games with a 2.96 ERA for the improving team and he was selected to his first of three All-Star Games that summer.
During the ’92 Mid-Summer Classic in San Diego, Nagy put on a display with his arm by throwing a scoreless seventh inning, but also kick started the eighth inning with an infield single off of former teammate Doug Jones. He eventually scored a run on a single by his future teammate, Travis Fryman, and he became the first American League pitcher to get a hit in an All-Star Game since former Angel Ken McBride did it in the 1963 contest at Cleveland Stadium.
“Yeah,” Nagy remembered, “it was like a 30-footer.”
Nagy finished the ’92 season strong but was hampered by a shoulder injury for most of the 1993 season. Having the best view of his teammates as he healed, Nagy saw that something very special was on the horizon.
“I saw what the Indians were trying to do,” Nagy said. “We had some good players even in ’92 and ’93. We got Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle was coming on, and then there were the Paul Sorrento‘s of the world. Just seeing the transition in the plan and then knowing that in ’94 we were moving to a new ballpark. Everybody was just excited. We knew we had a lot of talent. It was all about putting it all together at some point.”
The Indians put it all together during the 1994 campaign—the first season that they played in Jacobs Field. Nagy rebounded nicely from his injury plagued 1993 season to win 10 games in the strike-shortened season and his ERA was nearly cut in half to a very solid 3.45. Like all of the Tribe pitchers from 1994 through the remainder of the decade, Nagy knew what the biggest key to his success was during his tenure with the Indians.
“Run production,” Nagy joked with a wry smile. The Indians offense exploded onto the scene in 1994 and continued to roll for the next seven seasons.
“It was awesome,” Nagy said of his thunderous teammates. “I had the best seat in the house when I wasn’t pitching and when I was…just to have those guys behind me. They did more than just hit. It’s what they did in the field too. They all could play their positions very well. There was a lot of Gold Gloves out there. They did a lot of great things. I just enjoyed going along for the ride.”
On one day in July of 1999 at Jacobs Field, Nagy got to join in the fun and swing the bat thanks to a lineup snafu by manager Mike Hargrove.
“I had to hit. Yeah, that was fun,” Nagy said sarcastically. “I’ve got a few pictures of me swinging and missing and trying to bunt.”
Lineup glitches aside, the Indians teams that Nagy got to be a part of glued together very specially. The Tribe of the mid-to-late 90’s had a ‘can’t-be-beat’ demeanor about them as they made the American League playoffs six out of seven seasons and won two AL pennants.
“We had a great attitude,” Nagy said. “Everybody got along. We all kind of came up together, so we all knew each other very well. The other pieces, the guys they brought in here, just fit in awesomely. Dennis Martinez and Eddie Murray, those were the two pieces that we needed. They got us over the top. The veteran influence and watching their work ethic…just watching the day to day stuff.”
The Tribe became known for their ability to come from behind—especially in 1995—and the players knew that they were never out of a ballgame.
“We had a lot of guys with a lot of talent, but they never gave up,” Nagy remembered of his teammates. “Even if I put them down by seven or eight runs, it was like, here we go again. We had a great lineup. They just pounded the ball.”
Even with the comfort of having the 90’s version of Murderer’s Row behind him, Nagy kept himself even-keel and focused on the task at hand.
“I still had a job to do,” Nagy said. “I still had to get them back in the dugout. I had to try to not put us down by seven runs. Every time I went out there, that was my job. I tried to work as hard as I could to be the best that I could. At times it worked out, and at other times it didn’t.”
For Nagy, it worked out more times than it didn’t. He finished his tenure with the Indians after the 2002 season and had a record of 129-103. The victory total puts him in 10th place on the Indians all-time list where he also sits in sixth place for strikeouts (1,235) and games started (297).
“It’s just preparation,” Nagy said of his long career with the Tribe. “The longevity…you just have to take care of yourself. You have to be prepared, physically and mentally. With preparation comes consistency. With consistency comes longevity. When you take the ball every fifth day, it’s not going to work every time you go out there. You just keep going and keep going until they take the ball away from you.”
Nagy didn’t want to give the ball up completely after the Indians allowed him to walk via free agency for the 2003 season and he signed with the San Diego Padres for his final Big League season. He made five appearances out the Padres bullpen before hanging up his spikes for good on a 14 year career.
“You just take the ball every day,” the modest Nagy said. “I wasn’t overly gifted. Early on, my stuff was obviously better than it was late, but you just try to throw strikes, take the ball every fifth day and good things are going to happen.”
It is a pitching philosophy that has taken Nagy back to the Big Leagues as a coach, as the former Tribe star has come back to baseball and was the pitching coach for Kirk Gibson’s Diamondbacks from 2011-13.
“I coached a couple of years with the Angels. Salt Lake City for two years,” Nagy said of his early coaching days. “I was here in Columbus for a year, and then the last few years in Arizona. So I’ve just been traveling around. It takes up a lot of time, but it’s fun. It’s baseball. Just getting to work with the kids and still being a part of the game. It’s what I know. It’s what I love to do.”
Nagy’s journey will continue in 2014 with the Indians, as he will take on an undetermined role with the organization’s pitchers during Spring Training and throughout the season.
“Just recently I signed on with the Tribe,” Nagy said. “I’ll be in spring training and then a role will be defined at some point in spring training. I told Chris Antonetti that I’d do anything. Whatever they need me to do.”
As his journey has come full circle, Nagy finds comfort in bringing his family back to the familiar grounds where they spent so many glorious summers.
“It’s kind of a comforting feeling. It’s nice,” a nostalgic Nagy said. “It brings back so many great memories. Just to walk down the stairs…I used to walk down those stairs for so many years. I’d meet my family in the family room. My kids were a lot smaller then. My oldest daughter is 15 now.”
Nagy currently lives in California with his wife Jackie and his two daughters Makaela and Lily.
Photo: Toledo Blade