I recently had the chance to talk with Mike Pagliarulo, who’s probably better known as a Yankee third baseman in the mid-to-late ’80s than as a Texas Ranger, but he played for the Rangers in 1995, his last season in the majors. I took the opportunity to ask some questions about his impression of the 1995 Mariners as a player with Texas.
Arne: I wondered what you saw in the Mariners that year, and then in September as they made their comeback, whether there was a sense of them having changed from earlier in the season.
Mike: Yes, we had, in the final series there in Texas, we stopped the Mariners from winning the division, won the last two games against them. Johnny Oates, God bless his soul, he was our manager. The Mariners, they were a very well-balanced team, power from the right side, the left side, good pitching, ran the bases very well, they really knew how to play the game. They had dangerous hitters, could score a bunch of runs in a minute.
Arne: What was it like facing Randy Johnson, someone who, at 6-10, he’d be throwing the ball a half-foot higher up than most pitchers. Was it hard to change your eye level and pick up his pitches?
Mike: You have to change, make an adjustment according to the different pitchers, so you’ll see the ball better out of his hand. With a left-hander like Johnson, I’d try to hit everything off the left-field wall. You had to have a plan for the opposition.
Randy was very deceptive, with a lower arm slot, you fought to pick up the ball. There was always a battle going on, facing him. I’d come up, struggle to see how the ball’s moving, and all of a sudden I’d be saying hey, what the heck, what happened, I’m down 0-1, 0-2.
Arne: That year, you were playing against Lou Piniella, one of your former managers with the Yankees. Could you say something about his qualities as a manager?
Mike: He’s a super guy, just one of the greatest. He’s one of the most brilliant men at teaching hitting mechanics. It was fascinating to play for him with the Yankees. I was fortunate to get the chance to learn from him.
I added a final question about Ichiro. It’s off the 1995 topic, but Pagliarulo played in Japan in 1994, when Ichiro was just beginning to star in the Japan league, and has gone on to run a player evaluation company called Baseline Report that specializes in determining how Japanese players will do in the U.S.
Arne: I remember in 2001 a lot of people were expecting Ichiro to be a mediocre major-leaguer.
Mike: Not us.
Arne: And then he went on to win the MVP. What’s your opinion of why Ichiro was able to transfer over from Japan to the U.S. so smoothly? Is part of the reason simply that the very best baseball players are more able to adjust their skills to a different style of baseball?
Mike: There are certain characteristics about a Japanese player’s personality-the thinking is a little odd, or they’re disciplined, they’re a little weird, unique, their style’s a little different, they move their body a certain way, talking about the mechanics of hitting. All that helps the player adjust to playing here. In Japan the players tend to be low-key, the coaching makes everyone do things the same way, but in the U.S. pitchers have different motions, and you have to adjust to all of them.