Doug Sisk’s Sinker – ’80’s Mets Pitcher Was Home Run Stingy
Doug Sisk's pitching career deserves revisiting.
Much has been made just how dominant and off-the-wall the 1986 World Series Champions New York Mets were. A team loaded with superstars and a very able supporting cast. For this one spectacular season that saw a group collected by general manager Frank Cashen and piloted by Davey Johnson bang out 108 wins during the regular season, and win the National League East by a whopping 21.5 games, every team member's contributions was essential.
Headlines. There were only so many column inches to go around in print. TV and radio air-time was limited by minutes to the Mets' main eventers - Dwight Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, and a half dozen others. Many of the players on the 1986 club came up the organization's ranks together, from A-ball in Little Falls (NY) and Kingsport (TN), to Double-A in Jackson (MS), and a step below playing in Queens, Triple-A ball in Tidewater (Norfolk,VA).
It's the camaraderie nurtured within the Mets minors from 1980 leading up to the championship season that baseball legends have been born. Sisk, a righty out of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre's bullpen , turned in an important season 70 innings in 1986. How important was Sisk to the Mets in 1986, his fifth season with the big club?
The Renton, Washington native gave up exactly zero home runs.
A closer investigation of the importance of Sisk on a Mets mound brings about an impressive statistic. In 523.1 total innings thrown by Sisk ( all but 110 as a Met) during his nine seasons being on an MLB roster, 15 homers were smacked.
Amazing. 523.1 innings hurled and Sisk gave up only 15 home runs. There's a hip, hip, hooray due here.
"It was my sinker ball," said Sisk during a recent telephone conversation concerning his success in not giving up the long ball. "I threw it hard. It (sinker) was hard to control. The hits players got off of me were dumped into shallow outfield."
Averaging about a hit an inning (527), Sisk on the mound translated into opposing team's having to work longer and harder to bring men around the baselines. Along with his exploding sinker, Sisk had a two-seam fastball he included in his routine to keep opposing players guessing.
Having thrown his last MLB inning 30 years back with the Atlanta Braves, retiring at 34-years-old, Sisk appeared in 332 games and compiled a winning record of 22-20..
But, the back story of being in New York at the right time, with the right group of supporting cast to takeover the game's top market, was Sisk's battle just to get a look-see from a scout.
As a junior pitching at Washington State, even after going 5-0 in 15 games and not giving up a home run all season as a junior, the 22-year-old went undrafted. Cougars teammate and pitching pal Tom Niedenfuer was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and found himself on a championship club the next season.
No, Sisk made his mark on the major league level the old fashion way - by earning it. Throughout his nine stints of minor league ball through the 1991 season, Sisk coughed up only 16 round-trippers in 460.3 innings. Analytics be damned. Sisk kept the ball inside the yard, and more importantly kept his teammates in games that he pitched.
Sisk is quick to spread his gratitude around, when it comes to his secret of success with the Mets. " Monbo (Bill Monbouquette), Greg Pavlick, Bob Apodaca, and Al Jackson - these guys knew how to get the most out of you."
Mets pitching coaches got through to Sisk. Jackson's mentoring , especially, is who Sisk tells of so much of his success is attributed to.
The climb up to playing at Shea Stadium took off for Sisk during his second pro season, when dispatched to Double-A ball in Jackson, and Davey Johnson was the club's skipper.
" Once I reached Double-A, it was like, "Where have you been?" "Boom. It just happened. The movement on my sinker was most important. I remember seeing Monbo then, and after watching me throw, wanted to know what happened since he last saw me (Monbouquette served as a minor league pitching instructor for five seasons with the Mets)."
That '81 season with the Jackson Mets Sisk gave up not a single home run.
After splitting the 1982 season with Jackson, and an eight game call-up to New York, Sisk was ticketed for his first full-time MLB season in 1983.
And what an introduction.
Opening Day at Shea for the 1983 season saw the Mets' beloved Tom Seaver return to the organization, since being traded away to Cincinnati during the 1977 season. The future hall of famer didn't disappoint the home crowd of in excess of 46,000 well-wishers with six scoreless innings of work. Next up, manager George Bamberger's call to the Mets' bullpen was for Sisk.
" It happened so quickly," recalls Sisk of his coming in relief for Seaver. " Bamberger just stayed with me. When I was behind in the count, I threw a fast ball."
The 1983 season was an exciting welcome to baseball's big-time for Sisk. Turning in a 5-4 won-loss record, a 2.24 ERA, and only allowing a single home run in 104.1 innings thrown. The pattern was launched. Sisk offered a no home run zone at Shea and on the road.
Fast forward to the 1985 season, and injuries were taking their toll on Sisk's performances.
" I couldn't wait for the season (1985) to get over quick enough. " I had (elbow) surgery, my wife was expecting, and there was a hurricane (Gloria) going on. Dr. Parkes took care of me, and come the next season, I was way ahead of where the Mets thought I would be," remembers Sisk.
At the start of the 1986 championship season, Sisk began on the Tidewater roster. By Memorial Day, he was back on the Mets' MLB roster. Appearances in the National League Championship Series and the World Series for Sisk completed a journey some doubted would come at all.
But come it did. The turning factor for Sisk's success came in his second season in the Mets' minor league chain when at Lynchburg (VA). During this season he was moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen. Over the following two seasons, until his call up to the Mets in 1982, Sisk collected 17 victories.
Sisk has pride in his voice when telling perhaps the most meaningful compliment given to him pitching in New York, at a Mets' World Series reunion.
" Frank Cashen came up to me and said, "Dougie - you'll always be part of the organization.
Because of Sisk's emergence in the bullpen, and the addition of Jesse Orosco becoming a mainstay in relief, the Mets were able to trade their top relief arm Neil Allen to St. Louis for Keith Hernandez in 1983.
Although nearly 40 years ago, Sisk remembers his first game as a Met - on the road in Pittsburgh. Playing the Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium, in his MLB debut, Sisk found himself staring 60 feet, six inches away from a future hall of famer - Willie Stargell.
" He (Stargell) had the first hit off of me," recalls Sisk, now working as a representative selling fine wines based in Belfair (WA).
So many memories of games, teammates, names of players he pitched against come flowing quickly from Sisk. He is clearly excited to revisit he public past. He isn't full of himself in the least. Sisk enjoyed the ride he had as a baseball pitcher, and is proud to share the memories. There was a game when he went to the mound with no cup, no jock strap, and wearing Rick Aguilera's cleats. You could feel the smile on Sisk's face as he recounts the bizarre call to the mound.
Then, there's the time when pitching for the Braves, and Stargell was an instructor for them, where the former Met and future hall of famer caught up.
Sisk has the stories to fill a book. Maybe that should be his next pitch.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.