Michael Richard Waits
Height: 6'3", Weight: 194 lbs
Acquired: Trade, 6-13-1975:
Left Via: Trade, 6-6-1983:
Traded by the Cleveland Indians with OF Rick Manning to the Milwaukee Brewers for RHP Ernie Camacho, LHP Jamie Easterly, and OF Gorman Thomas
Many players made this list because of outstanding seasons. Rick Waits made this list because he had one good season and pitched for the Indians a long time. Since Waits arrived in Cleveland in 1975, only two other pitchers (CC Sabathia and Charles Nagy) have started more games and pitched more innings. For the most part, though Waits was a cromulent starting pitcher, never in danger of losing his spot in the rotation, but also never mentioned among the better pitchers in the league. He never made an All-Star team, even with the one player per team rule in effect. And because the Indians didn't even sniff contention during his tenure with the Indians, he didn't pitch in the post-season, though he did set the stage for one of the most dramatic games in MLB history. But more on that later.
Waits was drafted by the second version of the Washington Senators in 1970. By the time the tall left-hander made the majors, the Senators had moved to Texas. Waits had major control problems throughout his minor-league career, but was still effective enough to move up the minor-league ladder. By 1973, Waits had made it to AAA, but in those years the Rangers had a deep starting staff, so except for 1 major-league inning at the end of 1973, he remained in Spokane in 1974 and to begin the 1975 season. That spring, Waits didn't even pitch in major-league camp, and it looked as though he'd pitch yet another season in AAA, but circumstances would change thanks to Gaylord Perry and Frank Robinson not getting along.
Perry was having a down season by his standards in 1975, but still there was no shortage of offers when the Indians made him available after it was obvious that Perry and Robinson could no co-exist. The Indians for a time seemed like they would deal Perry to Kansas City, who was offering starter Paul Splitorff and reliever Doug Bird. But when the Rangers offered $100,000 in addition to two major-league pitchers (Jim Bibby and Jackie Brown) and a minor-leaguer (Waits) who was major-league ready, they chose the Texas offer.
Waits would spend a month in the Indians' AAA affiliate, then would be called up to pitch in the Cleveland bullpen, then in late August the rotation. He pitched well down the stretch, including pitching a complete game 10-inning victory against Boston in September. He would be pretty much a full-time starter in 1976, filling out the bottom of the rotation on a decent starting staff. The 1976 rotation featured a 21-year-old Dennis Eckersley, Pat Dobson, and the three pitchers acquired for Perry the season before. But events over the next year would decimate that rotation, making Waits the de facto ace of the staff. Jackie Brown was dealt after the 1976 season to Montreal for Andre Thornton. Pat Dobson fell off the face of the earth in 1977, and would call if a career after the season. Thanks to a contract snafu, Jim Bibby would be declared a free agent after the 1977 season. And thanks to Rick Manning's extra-curricular activities, Dennis Eckersley would be dealt to Boston before the 1978 season.
So by the start of 1978, Waits was not only the longest-tenured starter on the staff, he was the best one by a lot. He was the only starter on the club to end the season with an ERA+ above 100. He was not your typical staff ace, for he only struck out 97 batters in 230.1 innings, not to mention walking 86. Still, he averaged over 6.2 innings per game, and tossed 15 complete games, the last one in perhaps the most relevant (in terms of post-season) game the Indians would play between 1959 and 1995.
The scene was newly-refurbished Yankee Stadium, and the date was October 1, 1978. It was the final game of the season, and the Yankees were a half-game ahead of the Boston Red Sox for the AL East crown. The Indians were of course thinking mostly about their golf games. But on that day, the Indians were the better team, thanks largely to Waits. The crafty left-handed twirled a five-hit shutout, allowing just two runs, and the Tribe offense knocked Catfish Hunter out of the game early, scoring two runs in the first inning (on an Andre Thornton homer) and three more in the second. The Yankees scored their only two runs in the bottom of the first, but after that Waits cruised, allowing just two hits the rest of the way. The Tribe victory forced a one-game playoff between the Yankees and Red Sox, and for that short period of time Waits was the most popular baseball player in hearts of Sawx fans; he received hundreds of fan letters, but most of them arrived after Bucky Dent famously ended Boston's season.
That memorable game capped Waits' best season to date, and it would remain his best season as a pro. He tossed a one-hitter in his first start the next season, but his overall ERA would more than a run higher. He seemed to alternate gems with shellings, tossing complete games followed by games where he wouldn't get out of the fifth inning. There's no pitch count data available from that era, but I suspect that a lot of those poor outings were because he had thrown a lot of pitches in his previous start.
Waits would throw 224.1 innings in 1980, the third straight season he'd throw over 220 innings. He would miss a large chunk of the 1981 season due to injury, probably hurting his chance to land a big free agent contract. He would re-sign with the Indians that off-season, but his best days were behind him. His ERA ballooned to 5.40 in 1982, and spent over a month of the campaign on the DL. He was moved to the bullpen in 1983, as he was still under contract but not effective enough to pitch in the rotation. In June he was included in the deal that brought Gorman Thomas and Ernie Camacho from Milwaukee. Waits would have moderate success as a reliever in 1984, pitching in the 7th or 8th innings.
But Waits wouldn't make the club in 1985, instead having to go to the minors. He would return to the Brewers half-way through the season, but he just didn't have the ability to retire major-league hitters. He pitched in Vancouver again in 1986, but with little prospect of making the majors again, he left for Italy, where he pitched and managed for five more years. After his playing career ended, Waits got into coaching in the New York Mets organization, and served as the Mets' bullpen coach in 2003. He's currently working in the Seattle Mariners organization as their pitching coordinator.
Indians Career Stats
|CLE (9 yrs)||74||84||.468||4.18||235||187||18||47||10||3||1276.0||1323||651||593||99||512||25||566||5478||94||1.438||9.3||0.7||3.6||4.0||1.11|
Cleveland Indians Career Leader: Innings Pitched, 22nd; Games Started, 14th; Shutouts, 24th
Schneider, Russell. Whatever Happened to "Super Joe"?
The Sporting News, 1975-1983