RIP to Mike Sadek, a long-time backup catcher and a part of the Giants front office for many years. He died following a short illness in San Andreas, Calif., on January 20, at the age of 74. Sadek played for the San Francisco Giants in 1973 and from 1975-81.
Michael George Sadek was born in Minneapolis on May 30, 1946. The family lived in the Chicago area for a spell and returned to Minneapolis in enough time for big brother Bob to make a name for himself at Richfield High School as a quarterback. While Bob moved on to the University of Minnesota, it was Mike’s turn to rack up impressive athletic achievements at Richfield. He played quarterback on the football team and catcher on the baseball there. Richfield won the state championship in baseball in 1962, and Sadek drove in the winning run of the championship game with a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the tenth inning. Upon his graduation, he followed Bob to the University of Minnesota.
Sadek played with the Golden Gophers under former major-leaguer Dick Siebert. “I’ve wanted to play for Dick Siebert since the night he spoke at a Babe Ruth League dinner in Richfield when I was 15,” he said. The concern about him was that he was too small to handle the workload of a catcher — he was 5’9″ and 165 pounds in college — but he was so durable that he could catch both games of a weekend doubleheader and want to play two more the next day.
Sadek was drafted in the 12th Round of the 1966 June Amateur Draft by the San Francisco Giants when he was a sophomore. He returned to Minnesota instead, passing up a $20,000 bonus, and became a first-team All-Big Ten catcher in 1967. The Minnesota Twins drafted him in the 5th Round of the 1967 Supplemental Draft (for players who had previously been drafted). He signed and joined the St. Cloud Rox of the Northern League. He hit just .232 with 5 extra-base hits — all doubles — in 53 games, but the Rox won the Northern League pennant for the third straight season.
Sadek remained in the Twins’ system for two more years, remaining at the low levels of the minors. He batted .265 in 1968 but slumped to under .200 in 1969, his first season in AA. He also went through a couple of knee surgeries during that time. Still, nobody could outhustle him. His manager for Orlando in 1968, Bob Willis, never forgot him. “Nobody liked to play more than Sadek,” he recalled in a 1975 interview. “His uniform was dirty before the game started.”
The Giants selected him in the minor-league draft in December of 1969 and moved him to the upper levels of the minors in 1970, including a lengthy stay at AAA Phoenix. Sadek responded with a pretty decent campaign. He hit .244 with Phoenix and hit the first home run of his professional career.
Sadek remained with Phoenix for all of 1971 and ’72. He platooned with future major-leaguers Dave Rader and Jake Brown, both of whom both of whom were the stronger hitters in the tandem. Sadek topped .300 himself in 1971 with a .309 mark and .416 on-base percentage — he always had a very good eye and frequently walked more times than he struck out in a season.
“Hank Sauer [the Giants hitting instructor] has worked with me quite a bit, and I’m starting to feel a lot more confident at the plate,” he said in 1971, in the midst of a hot streak that included 2 triples, a single, an RBI and a run scored in a win over Iowa.
The Giants added Sadek to their 40-man roster in November 1972, protecting from the Rule V draft. He made the 1973 Opening Day roster as a backup catcher to Rader but was used primarily as a late-inning defensive replacement. He went hitless in a couple of at-bats before singling off Atlanta’s Joe Hoerner in a 15-2 victory on April 17, 1973, for his first MLB hit. Sadek missed a few weeks in the summer with a groin injury and played in a total of 39 games, with 11 hits in 66 at-bats for a .167/.282/.212 slash line. Though he didn’t hit a home run, one of his bats did. Garry Maddox broke his own stick in a game against the Phillies on June 3. When he came up in the ninth inning with the Giants losing 4-3, he took one of Sadek’s with him and hit a game-winning 2-run homer.
Sadek spent all of 1974 with Phoenix and played in a career high 117 games. He didn’t return to the major-leagues until June of 1975, but once he returned to the majors, he remained there for the rest of his career.
When the Giants brought Sadek back to the big leagues, he had been batting .269 for Phoenix with a couple of home runs and 28 RBIs. He was a third string catcher behind Rader and Marc Hill, but he made the most of his opportunities. He batted over .300 in his first dozen games, and though his average tailed off to .236 by the end of the year, he contributed to the team. He drew a bases loaded walk against the Mets on August 23 to give the Giants a 2-1 win. It was his actually his second victory of the day. He also beat his teammates in a bubble-blowing competition by blowing a 12-1/2-inch diameter bubble. When asked for his secret, the fun-loving catcher launched into a three paragraph dissertation about the art of bubble-gum blowing:
“First, it is necessary to build your mouthful to a solid and strong mass. The texture of the gum you form is most important in a winning performance — you know, it should have a kind of tensile strength; strong enough not to break but light and yielding.
“Okay, now to the blowing. You must emit an even flow of air… I mean consistently even without too much change in pressure.
“It’s important to remain cool during all the excitement. No laughter. No giggles. I started getting myself psyched up maybe a week in advance. And I practiced secretly, I mean privately, two days before the contest. I practiced hard, very hard. I was ready.”
That epic response could have been a complete load of BS, of course, but the reporter who wrote about the effort noted that Sadek’s face turned purple as he blew the winning bubble, and veins in his neck didn’t recede until days after the competition, so it’s possible that he just studied bubble blowing like Ted Williams studied hitting.
Giants 1976 manager Bill Rigney struggled to get the three catchers, Rader, Hill and Sadek, into games. Rader was the best hitter of the three, Hill was a solid prospect, and Sadek was a good defensive catcher who worked well with the pitching staff. Rookie Gary Alexander got some playing time as well. Because of the crowded conditions behind the plate, Sadek appeared in just 42 games and had 106 at-bats in 1976, hitting .204. In limited appearances, he did drop down a successful squeeze bunt against the Giants in May and got into a rough home plate collision in August, knocking Braves catcher Biff Pocoroba out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
Hill took over the primary catching job in 1977, and Sadek split time with Alexander as the backup. He batted .230 in 61 games and hit his first major-league home run on June 29 off Pittsburgh’s Grant Jackson. He kept up the power hitting into 1978, hitting 2 home runs in 40 games before being on the receiving end of another home plate collision on July 19, 1978. Ivan DeJesus of the Cubs slammed into him, breaking Sadek’s jaw in two places and knocking him out of action for nearly two months.
Sadek taped baseball cards of all the pitchers he homered against to his locker. Granted, there weren’t many, but he added a future Hall of Famer to his murderers row on May 25, 1979, when he hit a 2-run blast off Atlanta’s Phil Niekro. Pitcher Bob Knepper connected off Niekro immediately after, making them the most unlikely duo to hit back-to-back home runs in baseball. “Is a million to one too low?” Sadek said when asked about the odds of it happening. “I hit it good, but the wind helped it,” he added, referring to the gales that blew around Candlestick Park. Those home runs were part of a record-tying 5 long balls hit in one inning. Willie McCovey hit one as well, and Jeff Burroughs and Bob Horner each homered in the Braves’ half of the inning.
Newcomer Milt May took over the starting catching job in 1980, but Sadek ended up with plenty of chances to start when May suffered an injury in the second half of the season. “I’ve often said that you can win without an All-Star team if you’ve got guys who’ll give you an All-Star performance. He’ll go out and give you an All-Star performance,” manager Dave Bristol said after Sadek drove in 3 runs in a victory over the Astros. Sadek was also the star in a July 3 game against the Reds, going 3-for-3 with a walk. He didn’t make any headlines for that, but it was for a good reason — it was Willie McCovey’s last game in San Francisco. The slugger ended his career a few days later with a couple of at-bats on the road in Los Angeles.
“I don’t think I ever went 3-for-3. But how I did wasn’t important, the big thing was to win that ball game with Willie playing,” Sadek said. The Giants edged the Reds 4-3.
The Giants re-signed Sadek for the 1981 season. He played in 19 games and hit .167. On the day after his 35th birthday, Sadek started a game against Houston’s Nolan Ryan and smashed a 2-run double to right that drove in the go-ahead run in a 6-1 Giants win. He also smacked a long fly ball that was just a few feet away from being a home run. “This is one game I’ll never forget,” Sadek said. It was one of his last games. The players’ strike soon put a halt to the season. When the games resumed, Sadek was placed on waivers in order to bring Bob Brenly to the major leagues. That move ultimately ended his career.
In 8 seasons, Sadek slashed .226/.317/.292, with 184 hits that included 30 doubles, 4 triples and 5 home runs. He scored 88 runs and drove in 74 in 383 games. He drew 108 walks while striking out 97 times. In 1999, when the members of the Bay Area media were putting together 20th Century lists, they named Sadek the starting catcher on the Giants’ 1970s All-Decade team. Not bad for someone who was never an actual starter in his career and, given his small stature, wasn’t even supposed to be a major-league catcher.
Almost immediately after his playing days ended, Sadek rejoined the Giants as a part of the team’s community relationship department. He put on youth clinics, participated in fantasy camps and represented the team at various community events. He held the position until his retirement in 1999. His obituary in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune notes that he also worked at Robert DeNiro’s body double in the movie The Fan, which was filmed in San Francisco in 1996.
Sadek was always good for a laugh, even at a serious time. In 1992, then-Giants owner Bob Lurie gathered the Giants’ staff together after an initiative to build a publicly funded stadium in San Jose was defeated for a fourth time. He announced that he wouldn’t seek another vote. Sadek raised his hand and said, “If it’s any consolation, I went 0-for-4 a lot.” Even Lurie laughed.
“Mike was a Forever Giant in every sense of the term,” Giants CEO Larry Baer said in a statement. “He spent nearly 30 years in the Giants organization between his time as a player and his role as a member of the front office. He had a genuine love for the game and was known for getting a laugh out of his teammates when they needed it the most. Our condolences go out to the Sadek family for their loss and we extend our thoughts to his teammates and friends.”
For more information: Minneapolis Star-Tribune