Catching Up With Pat Tabler
Steve Eby | On 06, Aug 2014
They say that home is where the heart is, and while Hamilton, Ohio isn’t exactly a suburb of Cleveland, former Indian Pat Tabler still has pride for his beloved Buckeye State whenever he comes back to visit.
“I’m from Ohio,” Tabler said. “I love being in Ohio.”
Before he ever made it back to his home state, however, Tabler had a few stops prior to his glory days with the Indians.
“I signed as an outfielder and the Yankees moved me to the infield right away,” Tabler said of the first team that drafted him. “At the beginning I was very hesitant of moving around.”
A first round pick of the New York Yankees in the 1976 Draft, Tabler never played a game for the Bronx Bombers. Just on the doorstep of the Major Leagues, Tabler was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in August of 1981. He made his Major League debut as a second baseman for the Cubbies immediately.
“I didn’t really have a favorite position, but I enjoyed playing second base, believe it or not,” Tabler said. “It seemed to be a little more natural and a little easier for me.”
The change was just the first of many for the versatile position player, but it was not something that Tabler welcomed immediately.
“At first I resisted moving around, but it helped me become a player that got to stay around for a couple of more years because I was very versatile,” Tabler remembers. “I could play first or third, left or right, I could DH and I played a little second. The versatility, I think, kept me in the Big Leagues for an extra couple of years. When I watch people now do what I did—move from the outfield to the infield—I understand how hard it is. It’s very difficult. You have to be a very good athlete to be able to play different positions at the Major League level.”
Tabler played the majority of his games at the Major League level at first base, a trend that started when he was traded to the Indians in April of 1983. This trade was the second in three months for Tabler, who was dealt to the cross-town White Sox in January. In exchange for their new starting first baseman, the Indians sent utility infielder Jerry Dybzinski to the South Siders. Not a bad deal for a guy that would eventually be known as ‘Mr. Clutch’.
Finally back in Ohio, some of Tabler’s favorite memories of his playing career came from his time with the Tribe.
“I remember being at the old stadium with the great crowds that used to come out there,” Tabler said with a smile. “I’m not being facetious…I’m talking about games like Opening Day when there was 80,000 people. What other place would house 80,000 people? Other times were like July 4 and the big games against the Yankees. The biggest thing that I remember is that we were a young group that kind of grew up together in the Indians organization.”
Those young players of the Indians of the 1980’s weren’t exactly something to write home about, however, as the team never placed higher than fifth in the standings and finished above .500 only once during Tabler’s five-plus seasons on the lakefront. The team’s poor performance didn’t hinder Tabler’s memories, however, and although it took a decade, he could see what was coming in the city’s future.
“I always knew that if they ever got a good team—a winning team—that this place would really rock…and it did. Unfortunately, I missed it.”
During his time with the Indians, Tabler thrived in pressure situations, particularly when the bases were loaded. For his career, Tabler batted an unbelievable .489 (43-88) when the sacks were juiced with 108 RBI. Breaking it down even further, Tabler came to the plate with the bases loaded 109 times during his career and finished with 43 hits, 11 walks, one hit-by-pitch, nine sacrifice flies and reached on an error twice. In all, just over 60% of the time that Tabler batted with the bases loaded, he did his job.
“I think the biggest thing was that I tried to keep the pressure off of myself. I’d try to keep it simple because the pressure was all on the pitcher to throw you a strike,” Tabler said of his bases loaded success. “It’s all about not getting caught up in the moment and not worrying about ‘It’s bases loaded so I’ve got to get a hit’. It was more of a calming thing where I thought ‘What do I have to do to get a hit?’ I would have a short swing and not try to do too much. Those numbers are a lot of fun.”
Tabler’s most successful stretch with the bases juiced came in 1985 when he went 6-7 with 15 RBI and his second of two career grand slams in that situation for the Tribe. While the ’85 season was Tabler’s best for his bases-loaded-prowess, it was arguably his worst overall for the Indians. With a .275 batting average, 1985 was the only time during his Tribe career that the steady Tabler batted under .290. His best season came in 1987 when the first baseman batted .307 with career highs with 11 homeruns and 86 RBI. Tabler was named to his only All-Star game that summer for his efforts.
“Every team had to be represented and I just happened to have a good year that year,” Tabler remembers. “Just being able to line up on the field with some of the best ballplayers in the American League and the National League (was my favorite memory). I just had a chance to be a part of that. It was great just sitting in the dugout and talking to Dwight Evans—we were just talking baseball and he would tell us a few things—just being around the stars of the game. I didn’t really feel worthy. It was like, ‘What am I doing here? I don’t deserve to be here.’ But it felt good to be a part of it and I have pictures to prove it.”
Tabler went 0-1 with a strikeout off of Mets lefty Sid Fernandez during the Midsummer Classic and his Indians career was short after that. He finished the ’87 season with the Tribe and then played 41 games for Cleveland the following summer before being traded to the Kansas City Royals during June of 1988 for pitcher Buddy Black. Tabler performed well for parts of three seasons in KC, but the Royals never made it to the postseason. The Royals string of second place finishes plus his time with the Indians and Cubs had Tabler shutout for his career in playoff appearances.
“I was in Kansas City for three years and we finished second to those great Oakland A’s teams,” Tabler said. “We just couldn’t beat them. They were really good. We had a really good team, but we just couldn’t do it.”
“I then got traded to the Mets at the end of the ’90 season and we finished second to the Pirates by a game or two, so I came real close again.”
Frustrated by the one elusive goal, Tabler gambled and hit big time with his free agency for the 1991 season. Despite playing a backup role to first baseman John Olerud, Tabler finally found his way to the postseason when he signed with the Blue Jays.
“At the end of that season, I had a chance to either go back to the Mets or to sign with Toronto,” Tabler remembers. “I’m more of an American League guy and Toronto looked like they had a better chance to win, so that’s why I signed there.”
The Jays finished with the best record in the AL East in 1991 but lost the ALCS to the eventual champion Twins. With one goal left for his career, Tabler stayed on with Toronto for the 1992 campaign where the Blue Jays finally won their first of two consecutive World Series titles. Tabler lights up when talking of the experience.
“First of all, not a lot of people get a chance to play on a World Series team, let alone play in a World Series,” Tabler beamed. “And then to win it and to be able to say that you won a World Series…it’s an incredible feeling. It’s something that can never be taken away from you.”
Tabler’s final appearance came during the clinching Game Six against the Atlanta Braves, when he pinch hit for Manuel Lee in the 10th inning of that game. Tabler hit a lineout back to Braves pitcher Charlie Leibrandt before being replaced defensively the next inning. Toronto went on to win the game in the 11th.
“At the end of that Series, I took my uniform off and I put it in my bag and I said, ‘That’s probably the last time I’m ever going to wear a Major League uniform. What better way to go out then that.’ I didn’t really want to play anymore. I had a chance to play but I didn’t want to. I said that’s it and what a way to go out. I got to win the last game I ever played.”
The victory for the Jays was not without drama in the 11th, as the Braves put runners at second and third with just one out.
“I don’t even remember the situation, but I didn’t do anything in the World Series anyways,” Tabler said. “Just to say that I got a couple of at bats in a World Series is a nice feeling. I certainly wish that I had gotten a base hit or a game winning hit, but I didn’t and I’m ok with that. Life’s been pretty good.”
After his playing days were over, Tabler moved up to the broadcasting booth in Toronto. He has also spent a lot of time being involved in the lives of his five children and four grandkids.
“When I first retired in ’92, I didn’t work that much. I was in television but I didn’t do as much,” Tabler said. “But I’ve been raising my kids; that’s the biggest thing. I’ve been coaching their basketball teams and their baseball teams and keeping involved with them. But as my kids got older and through high school and out of college, I’ve been broadcasting a lot more games. I do about 145-150 games per year. I still have two more kids that are going into high school next year.”
It may not be as glorious as his playing days, but being a broadcaster for the Blue Jays gives Tabler the opportunity to stick with the game that he has taken a lifetime from.
“The best part about (being up in the booth) is the people that I work with,” Tabler said. “They’re great people and huge baseball fans. I get a chance to work every day with a former player in Buck Martinez and we get to just talk baseball for three hours a day. We get to reminisce, tell stories and just talk about the great game of baseball. It’s not just us, though, it’s the producer, the director, the stats guy…everybody. We all just love baseball.”