Obituary: Dick Tidrow (1947-2021)

RIP to pitcher Dick Tidrow, a two-time World Series champ, one of the game’s first great set-up relievers, and a long-time baseball executive. He died unexpectedly in Lee’s Summit, Mo., on July 10 at the age of 74. His death was announced by the San Francisco Giants, where he spent nearly 30 years working in a variety of positions, from scout to senior adviser to the president of baseball operations. Tidrow played for the Cleveland Indians (1972-74), New York Yankees (1975-79), Chicago Cubs (1979-82), Chicago White Sox (1983) and New York Mets (1984).

The Giants noted that Tidrow had a particular gift for evaluating pitchers and led the pushes to draft Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. “Our entire organization is heartbroken by the news of Dick’s passing,” said Giants president and CEO Larry Baer in a statement. “So much of our success over these past three decades is directly linked to Dick’s contributions. He will be truly missed by all of us, and our thoughts are with [wife] Mari Jo and his entire family during this difficult time.”

Richard William Tidrow was born in San Francisco on May 14, 1947. When he was a sophomore at Mount Eden High School in Hayward, Calif., he was moved from the junior varsity baseball team to the varsity squad to make an emergency start. In that start in 1963, he threw a 5-hit, 5-2 win while striking out 11 batters. In 1965, Tidrow celebrated his 18th birthday by throwing a no-hitter against Sunset. He allowed just 2 walks and didn’t permit a single ball to reach the outfield. That was one of a couple of no-hitters that he threw that summer, with the other one being for the Bill Coady Post in American Legion ball.

Unsurprisingly, Tidrow’s pitching heroics got him drafted for the first time, by the Washington Senators in the 17th Round of the June 1965 Amateur Draft. He instead chose to attend Chabot College, where he was drafted three more times, including in the First Round in January 1966 by the San Francisco Giants. “I want to play pro ball, and if the offer is right I will sign with them,” Tidrow said on June of 1966, after he had been drafted for the third time, this one by the Reds. He had negotiated with the Senators and Giants, he added, but “we couldn’t come to money terms.”

The fourth time was a charm, as Cleveland drafted Tidrow in the Fourth Round of the January 1967 Draft. He pitched briefly in the lower levels of Cleveland’s minor-league organization in 1967 and ’68, but the bulk of his time was spent in the Army reserves. His minor-league career didn’t really begin in earnest until 1969, when the 22-year-old became a starting pitcher for the Reno Silver Sox of the Class-A California League. He had a 15-6 record and a 2.65 ERA, and he struck out 189 batters in 187 innings. As Cleveland moved him higher up the organization to AAA Wichita in 1970 and ’71, he struggled a but more often but still won 12 games in 1971 for Wichita and Reno. That was his final season in the minors, as he joined the Indians’ pitching staff in 1972 and stayed in the majors for good.

Dick Tidrow warms up for a start as Cleveland pitching coach Warren Spahn looks on. Source: Fon du Lac Commonwealth Reporter, May 15, 1973.

Tidrow left behind the minors after 1971, but some of the stories of his infamous temper lingered for a while. The times he tried to break things after losses. The time he tried to punch a hole through a brick wall. The rookie said, during a very effective spring with Cleveland, that he was past it. “I’m a little stubborn at times, but I think it’s good to be that way. Anyway, I’m only difficult around the game,” he said.

Tidrow’s debut as a starter in Boston on April 18 was forgettable, as the Red Sox knocked him out of the game in the second inning, with 4 runs allowed. He worked 6 strong innings in his next start against Baltimore on April 22, and he won 9-2 thanks to a grand slam by Buddy Bell and homers by Ray Fosse and Alex Johnson. Though he briefly lost his spot in the starting rotation in June after too many early exits, he roared back in July with his first two career shutouts. He added another shutout in August to go with four consecutive complete game wins, including an 11-inning win over the Angels. Tidrow finished the year with a 14-15 record and a 2.77 ERA, and he was named the Sporting News AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year.

Tidrow won 14 games again in 1973, but he also lost 16 games, and his ERA jumped up to 4.42. He threw a career-high 274-2/3 innings, starting 40 games and relieving in 2 others. As the only really dependable starter on the team aside from Gaylord Perry, Tidrow was forced into a workhorse role. He estimated that between the majors and winter ball, he threw about 800 innings between 1972 and ’73. Despite the fact that the ’73 Indians were a 91-loss team, he was happy to be there.

“We have a very young organization, and I want to be around when it develops into a contender. I’ve suffered heartaches with the guys, and I want to be there when we’re a winner.”

Tidrow would have to experience his first winning seasons in the majors with another club. Cleveland lost 85 games in 1974, and Tidrow had a 1-3 record and a 7.11 ERA through his first 4 starts. On April 26, he was traded, along with Chris Chambliss and Cecil Upshaw, to the Yankees for pitchers Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline and Fritz Peterson. It was a pretty good fleecing by the Yankees, though the deal was initially ripped by Yankees players because 44% of the team’s pitching staff was dealt away at once. Catcher Thurmon Munson offered to go to Cleveland to join them. Still, Chambliss became a steady hitter and All-Star with the Yankees, and Tidrow had five very good seasons with the team. He rebounded from his awful start in Cleveland to win 11 games for the Yanks, finishing 1974 with a 12-12 combined record. It was also around this time that the formerly clean-shaven Tidrow grew one of the game’s great moustaches, giving him a distinctive look for the remainder of his career.

Source: Daily News, February 27, 1978.

Over the offseason, the Yankees signed Catfish Hunter, which moved Tidrow to the bullpen in 1975. With strong starters in the rotation and Sparky Lyle as a closer, Tidrow feared in spring training that he would be left to rot in the pen. He got into a total of 37 games and threw 69-1/3 innings, which was second-most of any Yankees reliever aside from Lyle. He also picked up 5 saves, while winning 6 games and finishing with an ERA of 3.12 that was identical to Lyle’s mark.

By 1976, Tidrow had come to accept his role as a reliever, and he excelled in the role. He picked up a career-best 10 saves while maintaining a solid 2.63 ERA and a 4-5 record. He had 65 strikeouts to go with 24 walks in 92-1/3 innings. In one game, he relieved Dock Ellis with the bases loaded, nobody out and the Yankees nursing a 4-1 lead over Boston. He got out of the jam in two pitches. Rick Burleson hit into a 5-2-3 double play on the first pitch, and Denny Doyle promptly lined to right for the third out.

“I have a fondness for starting deep down inside but I’ve adjusted to becoming a relief pitcher. I know I can do the job. I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished,” he said.

The Yankees finished in first place in the AL East in 1976. Tidrow picked up the win in Game Five of the AL Championship Series against Kansas City. He threw a scoreless ninth inning, and the Yankees advanced to the World Series when Chambliss homered off Mark Littell in the bottom half of the inning. He was roughed up in the World Series against Cincinnati, allowing 2 runs in 2 appearances, including a home run to Johnny Bench.

The Yankees bounced back to win the next two World Series, and Tidrow was a key part of it in two different roles. In 1977, he won 11 games as a reliever and occasional starter, and he added 5 saves. The following year, he went back into the starting rotation for most of the season and went 7-11 with a 3.84 ERA. His return to the starting rotation came after Dr. Frank Jobe removed a bone chip the size of a peanut from his right elbow. With the pain of the chip gone, Tidrow was able to develop a curve ball to go with his fastball and sinker.

That bone chip came occurred in the middle of a rare start in 1976 against Texas. He felt an awful pain after a pitch, and his arm swelled twice to normal size, but he didn’t tell manager Billy Martin. “I had never beaten [Gaylord] Perry in my career, and I wasn’t going to blow a chance to beat him,” he explained. He went on to win the game 6-2, and he kept pitching through the pain until the end of the postseason.

He saw regular work in the postseason in both of those two years and had a cumulative 4.22 ERA in 6 relief outings in the World Series. Though he didn’t get a decision, some of his finest pitching came in Game Four of the 1978 World Series against Los Angeles. Yankees starter Ed Figueroa threw 5 innings and allowed a 3-run homer to Reggie Smith. Tidrow then threw 3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out 4, and the Yankees clawed back in the game to win 4-3 in 10 innings.

Tidrow’s time with the Yankees ended in 1979. He got off to a poor start, with a 7.94 ERA after 14 appearances. New York traded him to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Ray Burris. The trade brought him right back to New York, as the Cubs were in town to face the Mets. Tidrow blanked the Mets in 2 innings on May 24, picked up a 3-inning save on the 26th and earned a win with a 5-inning, 1-run performance on the 28th. From there on out, he was one of the best relievers in the National League and formed a great tandem with Cubs closer Bruce Sutter. Truthfully, Tidrow was one of the first examples of a set-up man who came into the game and set the stage for the closer. He picked up 11 wins and 4 saves with Chicago to go with a 2.79 ERA.

The Cubs leaned heavily on Tidrow in 1980, and he led all relievers with 84 appearances. He had 6 wins and 6 saves, to go with a 2.79 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 116 innings. He tried to become a free agent after the season, claiming that his very confusing Yankees contract that the Cubs inherited, which came with a team option, was illegal under the Basic Agreement. An arbiter ruled against Tidrow, and he remained with the Cubs for 1981. It wasn’t quite the victory that the Cubs had hoped it would be, as the pitcher had his worst season in the majors, with a 3-10 record, a 5.06 and a strikeout rate that dropped alarmingly low. Despite the fact that he vowed never to return to the Cubs after the arbitration ruling, his poor season left him with few options as he finally became a free agent. He returned to the Cubs on a 3-year deal for 1982 and recovered his form, repeating his role of setup man for new closer Lee Smith.

Now 35 years old, Tidrow moved to the South Side of Chicago after a crosstown trade in January of 1983. The Sox acquired Tidrow, Scott Fletcher, Randy Martz and Pat Tabler, and the Cubs got Steve Trout and Warren Brusstar. Tidrow picked up 7 saves in 50 appearances and made his last trip to the postseason, as the White Sox lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS. He allowed a run in 3 innings of work in his only appearance. The White Sox released Tidrow after the postseason, making him a free agent. He signed a 1-year deal with the Mets, but his 1984 season ended after 11 appearances. He allowed 16 runs in 15-2/3 innings and was released by the Mets in May. His career ended about a week before his 37th birthday.

In 13 seasons, Tidrow appeared in 620 games, including 138 starts, He had a 100-94 record and a 3.68 ERA, with 55 saves, 32 complete games and 5 shutouts. He struck out 975 batters and had an ERA+ of 102. He also appeared in 13 postseason games and had a 1-0 record and 4.01 ERA.

Tidrow stayed involved in baseball for the rest of his life. Starting in 1985, he joined the Yankees as a scout. He held that role until 1994, when he joined the Giants as a special assignments scout. Though he was occasionally mentioned as a potentially excellent pitching coach, Tidrow had a special gift for player evaluation, particularly with pitchers. He became director of player personnel in 1997 and held a variety of other titles through 2021. During his tenure, the Giants reached the postseason eight times and won the World Series four times. They did it with a core group of home-grown talent, which is a testament to Tidrow and the rest of the team’s scouting department.

In his book, The Umpire Strikes Back, Ron Luciano wrote this about Tidrow: “I’ve seen more than a thousand pitchers on the mound, and countless pitches, but there is one man who stands out above them all. The best pitcher I have ever seen is Dick Tidrow. Dick Tidrow! I saw him work for seven seasons, and in that entire time, I never saw him give up a run. Not one run. Umpires and players do have strange relationships like that.

“Tidrow was my lucky pitcher. Or I was his lucky umpire. Whenever I was around, he was nearly perfect. I remember one night at Yankee Stadium, he came in to pitch against the Twins. The first hitter he faced tripled into right-center. There were no outs. Tidrow looked over to me standing behind first base and smiled. I knew there was nothing to worry about. The Luciano charm was going to take care of him. Sure enough, he retired the side without giving up the run. As he walked back to the Yankees’ dugout, he looked at me and said, ‘Thanks.’

“I appreciated that. But I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Source: San Francisco Giants

For more information: Washington Post
San Francisco Giants


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