Scout's Honor Premium Interview: Ken Dayley

For years the Atlanta Braves searched far and wide for an effective left-handed pitcher. In the early 80's, the prime candidate was Ken Dayley. But Dayley wouldn't find success until he left Atlanta and pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals. In a preview of his upcoming book "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team," BravesCenter's Bill Shanks talks with Dayley about his days as a Brave.

SHANKS: Tell me about when you were being scouted and then drafted by the Braves.

DAYLEY: Well I guess it would have been in 1979. I was going to the University of Portland out in Oregon, which is where I'm from originally. We had a pretty good ball club. I was the first pitcher taken and the third pick in the country. It was a higher than a lot of us could have ever expected. Bill Wight was the scout out in Oregon. He was the West Coast Scout. Pat Nugent was I guess the crosschecker that the organization flew in to show that they were definitely interested and that something may happen.

SHANKS: What was your feeling when the Braves drafted you?

DAYLEY: I was pretty excited. I couldn't even imagine being drafted that high. I knew the Braves were a team that were struggling, that at the time were fighting to keep from losing 100 games a year there. It was an opportunity to go to a place that needed pitching. In baseball, it's not just skill but it's being in the right place at the right time to get a break. I knew with a lack of pitching there was an opportunity to go through the system quicker and get to the big leagues. Everybody knew that was a place to play. The place to play is only in the big leagues. The minor leagues are fun and there are a lot of memories. But you just don't make any money there. At the time the Braves were the cable station. They had just kind of come on the scene as far as being the only team seen around the country that people could just sit down and watch day in and day out. So not only was that exciting because we could go through the system a little quicker, but you get a lot more exposure all around the country, a lot more fans, and it makes for a lot more excitement when you go to the away parks.

SHANKS: Tell me about how you were as a pitcher in college.

DAYLEY: I was a power pitcher. I was your typical power pitcher. I walked quite a few. In pro ball, velocity is what scouts really look for. Even though there's so much more to pitching than velocity, but velocity helps. Don't get me wrong it was nice to have that option. It was a good thing. I think that's when the notoriety started. Here I was a little guy and throwing the ball hard. They always think they can teach other pitches. Command that type of stuff. I was in the low to mid 90's. As it turned out in reality I was a 90, 91 pitcher. I think 90, 91 is like 94, 95 is today. You can tell by hitter's reactions if a guy is throwing the ball hard. There's a completely different look. It's a huge step from 90, 91 to 94, 95. Not many guys can get it there.

SHANKS: Tell me about your minor league experience with the Braves.

DAYLEY: I started out in AA. Actually, Leo Mazzone was my first pitching coach. To tell you how old I am, starting to date myself here, that was back when Leo was a Baltimore Colts fan. He was a huge Baltimore Colts fan, and we use to dog him all the time about that. He had the Mazzone rock back then. That first team in AA Eddie Haas was the manager, Leo was the pitching coach. Jim Acker and myself were both first round picks in that June draft and also Craig McMurtry was a first round pick in the January draft. We all went to Savannah at the same time. We had three number one picks, which guys on the team always look at them as prima donnas or whatever coming in there anyway. Three pretty good guys and it kind of solidified that team. All of a sudden we were in the playoffs. When we got there there were already Steve Bedrosian and a guy named Tim Cole. A couple of other guys Stu Livingston. I think Tim Cole was a number one pick a year or two earlier by the Braves. They put a lot of number one picks into the pitching staff there, and we had a pretty good team. Matt Sinatro was there. We had some guys who went on to do some pitching in the big leagues for a while. I played a half a year there, and then the next year I went to Richmond (1981). That was probably my most disappointing year. The year was good. I led all the International League in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, threw a lot of pitches that year. But at the end of the year I didn't get called up, and it was really kinda crushing to me for here I thought I pitched well and didn't get called up to pitch (in Atlanta) at the end of the year. I guess it was just one of them learning experiences you know.

SHANKS: Were you aware of how unsuccessful the Braves had been at developing left-handed pitchers?

DAYLEY: Sure. As a matter of fact, I know Tim Cole was a left-hander who had been drafted like a year or two before me. He was left-handed. A power pitcher and his control never seemed to have come around. He had decent stuff but didn't seem to take the next step. I know that was a complaint there at AA. They were trying to push him along and he just wasn't able to make that step. I'm trying to remember who they had up there at the time. I know Larry Bradford was bouncing around. McWilliams was there. Mirabella was at AAA and they were trying to push him along and they couldn't seem to get the right fit with him either.

SHANKS: Were you feeling pressure already?

DAYLEY: No. Shoot I mean I was a competitor and I was young. I was like any other kid. You think that you're good enough to do what they need you to do. You always hear them talk about "Well there's no replacement for experience. Then the young kids say, "Yea right. Just give me the ball and go. I didn't feel any pressure. I just felt that was what I wanted. I wanted a chance to get to the big leagues. I was successful at the different levels I had pitched at. I went against guys in the minor leagues like Dave Righetti, some of the other bigger left-handers who were successful. For me it was kind of frustrating because the first couple of time I went to the big leagues I didn't pitch very well. Why not? I was as good as some of them. I did better in AAA as they did, but when I got to the big leagues I wasn't getting the job done.

SHANKS: In hindsight why was that the case?

DAYLEY: I think one was my stubbornness. Second when I got to the Braves there was a little different philosophy when Torre and Gibson were there, and nothing to take away from Bob Gibson he's one of the best pitchers ever. He's just a phenomenal guy to listen to as far as talking about pitching and learning about pitching from the mental aspect. But as far as a pitching coach – he was about being a power pitcher with a good slider and very few people have that combination. That's the way he pitched and that's the way he wanted everybody to pitch. We had guys like Rick Mahler and Larry McWilliams, some of these guys who were more of the Johnny Sain type pitcher. They used their off speed stuff to set up their fastball, and Gibby's philosophy was fastball to set up all your off speed stuff. Not too many guys can pitch that way. I think there was some head-butting, and what I thought was going to be the worst thing that could happen was being traded to the Cardinals turned out to be a blessing in disguise because there they changed me and I had to go to the bullpen and I had a lot of success. The rest is all history.

SHANKS: That had to be frustrating for them to want you to change what you had learned in the minors.

DAYLEY: Well it is and especially at the major league level you know there's such pressure to perform. You have to win everyday. That's just all there is to it. When I had gotten to the big leagues the Braves had turned things around. 82 was the year they started out 13-0 and all of a sudden they had a winning team. You got to win. That's all there is to it. They wanted you to pitch a certain way.

SHANKS: So it did play on you emotionally a little bit?

DAYLEY: Sure.

SHANKS: After 83 when they released Niekro they talked about moving you into the rotation and giving you the full opportunity. Was there pressure to replace Niekro?

DAYLEY: Just go out there and pitch and do your thing. You're going to have good times and bad times and we're going to work through it here and stick with you. I started 4, maybe 5 games, Pascual (Perez) got out of jail and I got sent down. That was how long that 30 or 31 starts lasted.

SHANKS: But you didn't do well in those four games?

DAYLEY: Oh no. It was still just so-so.

SHANKS: Did you get along with Gibson and Torre?

DAYLEY: Yea. Sure. Got along fine. I see Gibby quite a bit now, and like I said it's great to sit down and talk to him. He was an unbelievable pitcher. His mental outlook on the game is phenomenal. But when you got that kind of stuff you can have that approach. There are very few people that have that kind of stuff. But it just wasn't helping me what I needed to do.

SHANKS: Looking back, do you wonder if Sain was the pitching coach if you had become the starting pitcher many expected you to be? Does that enter your mind?

DAYLEY: I think it does. But in reality, in hindsight, I really enjoyed being in the bullpen. I liked pitching more often. I was one of those guys, I don't know if you call it high strung or whatever. I really thought about the last outing or the last two. That dead time in between wasn't good for me. In the bullpen I learned to pitch everyday and I learned to brush away whatever happened yesterday and knew it wasn't going to help me today whether it was good or bad. I enjoyed pitching out of the bullpen. I liked it better than starting. Sure the notoriety was for being a starter, and that was a big deal. But I did learn that there was only one place to play the game and that was in the big leagues. I'd play wherever I could play and get people out. So I really wasn't concerned wishing I was a starter or not. I just wanted to pitch and pitch in the big leagues. The bullpen was what was comfortable, and I didn't look back on that part.

SHANKS: In the spring of 84, did Niekro call you to wish you well?

DAYLEY: May have. I talked to Knucksie quite a bit. We talked about pitching or whatever else. He was a great guy. He was that kind of classy guy.

SHANKS: So when you went back to Richmond in May of 1984 what was going through you mind?

DAYLEY: Well it was like why aren't I getting the job done? That's where I was questioning myself. I knew I had the ability. I showed it day in and day out. I mean yea it's AAA, but you still have the talent there. It's not so refined like the big leagues, but it wasn't that big of a difference in I just wasn't getting the job done. The more I thought about it the more I questioned myself as to why.

SHANKS: I guess you would naturally just start wondering if you were an AAA pitcher.

DAYLEY: Well you do you wonder why you're successful here but not there, especially successful at the top of the league. Not just getting by and being ok but being the best and not being able to make the next step. That was a very frustrating part.

SHANKS: So then the trade. How did you learn about the trade?

DAYLEY: Well we were in Pawtucket. Eddie Haas called me in and said, "This is one of the toughest things I've ever had to do. The Braves have traded you to the Cardinals. Horner hurt his wrist and need a third baseman. Maybe this will be a good thing for you." He wished me luck. I had had Eddie in AA and two years in AAA, so he was the manager I had always had. So we were fairly close. He wished me luck. He said, "Maybe this will work out for you. Maybe this is what you need." He didn't want to see it happen. Of course as a kid the first time you get traded you think everybody in the world hates you. In reality, being traded because the other team wants you, because they think there's something there. So anyhow, when I went to St. Louis what I thought was the end of the world turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

SHANKS: Did you take the trade hard?

DAYLEY: Well just for the fact that we had bought a house in Atlanta. My wife actually was in Atlanta to move into the house because we were supposed to be there all year long. And I had been there four games and been sent down. Everything was kind of going the wrong way.

SHANKS: They tell you to never buy a house.

DAYLEY: That's right. Funny thing was that was what Royster said. We were staying with Jerry and his wife at the time in Atlanta. And the old saying was "Don't ever buy a house. It's just funny. We bought it and we hadn't moved in it with. Jill (his wife) was there to move in. I had to track her down to tell her I was headed to St. Louis. It was interesting.

SHANKS: Did you hear from anyone else with the Braves?

DAYLEY: No. That was it. I packed my bags and moved on. I did run into Paul Snyder in St. Louis. I went up to talk to Paul. He was genuinely glad when I did come by. He was one of the greatest guys. He was explaining, "Kenny it's business. We needed a third baseman and they needed some pitching. Basically he was just telling me that it was a tough situation that he didn't want to do, but that's the way the game was. I said, "Hey Paul I came by just to say hello and tell you how much I appreciate everything you did for me. You know after Bill Wight scouted me, Paul came in to a game I was pitching against Tom Gorman. I think I lasted like 2 innings. There were 50 or 60 scouts.

SHANKS: How was it when you got to St. Louis?

DAYLEY: I worked my way to the bullpen. I started a couple of games. Whitey had a quote: "When Dayley pitches I've got to keep the married men off the field." He told me, "We're going to move you to the bullpen and see how that works." They sent me to Louisville. They didn't really move me to the bullpen until the next spring, and then the next season I ended up pitching in the World Series.

SHANKS: How long did it take you to get comfortable as a reliever?

DAYLEY: By the end of the year I was very comfortable. At first it was kind of weird. Paying attention to the game situation. There were a lot of things I had to learn. "To turn the switch on." Being a starter you'd throw 50 pitches to get ready. Being in the bullpen, I'd throw 15 and be ready to go.

SHANKS: How did the vertigo first pop up?

DAYLEY: About four days before we broke camp in my first camp in Toronto. The ball wasn't flying straight. The ball would fly and my eyes would follow and then just lose it. It looked like it jumped along. I noticed when I was running things were kind of getting unstable. The day I had pitched against the Phillies. When I threw the ball, it would get fuzzy. The catcher came out and I said, "Something ain't right." Cito came running out. That was the beginning.

SHANKS: Did it go away?

DAYLEY: It's still there today. It varies. Different things affect it. I've learned to compensate for it. Lack of sleep affects it. I've tried about everything you can think of. I've tried everything. They went in and cut my nerve on my left side and it didn't help. I've talked with 50 or 60 people who want to know what to do to get help. I've kind of become a counselor for it.

SHANKS: Did you speak with Nick Esasky (Braves first baseman in 1990 who also retired after suffering from vertigo)?

DAYLEY: I did talk with Nick Esasky. His was more of a complete spinning sensation. Mine's more of being unstable.

SHANKS: How does it affect you today?

DAYLEY: It can affect every aspect of what I do. I played college basketball and now I play basketball for exercise. I know I can play defense. But I can't shoot. I have to be careful on ladders. I just have to be much more careful. I can do everything, but not to the level I could do before. You can't imagine how debilitating it can be. 75%-80% of the population experiences something like it in their lives. But you can't imagine how disabling it can be. You are shut down.

SHANKS: It had to be tough to finish your career like that.

DAYLEY: That was the hard part. I had just signed my free agent contract with Toronto. I was coming into the prime of my career. And I couldn't do anything. There was some fan pressure and some pressure from the front office. Hey we just paid you all this money. I just couldn't do it. To be that young and suppose to be in the prime of my career, it was a nightmare. I could have something worse. I always think of my buddy Dan Quizenberry. He called me one winter to check on me. Then he told me he was having these headaches. I've got to go in and get it checked after Christmas. Well he had a tumor and was dead in five months. I can't complain. I've got a wonderful family.

SHANKS: What are you doing now?

DAYLEY: I had an ad specialty business. I got into buying land. I fish and hunt every chance I get.

SHANKS: Have you thought about getting back into baseball?

DAYLEY: I have thought about it. I enjoy working with kids. I have five kids of my own and baseball takes a lot of time. Maybe once the kids are gone there'll be a chance to put my foot in the door. It's hard to believe I even played at that level.

SHANKS: Looking back on your time in Atlanta, how would you summarize it?

DAYLEY: It was a wonderful experience. It was a good time to be in Atlanta. People were coming to the park. It was fun. I didn't succeed to near the level I was wanting to. We had good friends there. I remember in the spring of 1981 I pitched with Phil Niekro and Gaylord Perry out in the bullpen. They had both pitched longer than I had been alive. It was great. I got to go four times (to the WS). I don't know how many times I thought of Knucksie not going to the World Series. He wanted to be there. He didn't get to go. I know it left an empty spot there. He can be in the hall of fame, but he didn't get to the Series. I thought about him a lot. You want to be there and I wanted to help the Braves get there.

Bill Shanks's book, Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, will be out before Opening Day. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com

Atlanta Dugout Top Stories