REDLANDS’ ED VANDE BERG SPENT SEVEN SEASONS ON MLB MOUNDS

This is part of a series of mini-Redlands Connections. This is Part 3 of the series, Quick Visits. Magic Johnson and John Wooden showed up at the University of Redlands as part of a Convocation Series. This piece on Tom Flores was another one. Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, former NBA player John Block, legendary high school coach Willie West showed up. There are others. Cazzie Russell, for instance, came to Redlands with an NCAA Division III basketball team from Savannah, Ga. Russell, out of Michigan, was the NBA’s overall No. 1 draft pick by the New York Knicks in 1966.

I saw Ed Vande Berg. In Texas. Pitching. He hurled 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief in a 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. I was one of 26,526 fans that Thursday night. Arlington Stadium. Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount were in Milwaukee’s lineup. It was July 14, a Thursday night, in the summer of 1988.

Vande Berg, a Redlands baseball-playing product, was playing for enigmatic Bobby Valentine, the Rangers’ manager. It was one of the last appearances of Vande Berg’s seven-year MLB career.

Attended legendary Arizona State, where Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Jim Palmer – not to mention Barry Bonds – played collegiately, among others.

Rarely did Vande Berg ever throw an important pitch in a meaningful game during his MLB career. Who cares? He was a major league pitcher — with promise. It should be noted, however, that Vande Berg’s 1982-88 career span did not include playing for a team that finished at .500.

Ed Vande Berg
Redlands’ Ed Vande Berg spent seven seasons in major league baseball.

He was a left-handed specialist, a long reliever and, at one point, a starter.

Managers like Rene Lachemann, Del Crandall, Chuck Cottier, Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, Pat Corrales or Bobby Valentine might summon him to pitch against the likes of Fred Lynn or Eddie Murray, Don Mattingly or Lou Whitaker, maybe a Tim Raines, Darryl Strawberry or Keith Hernandez.

He had surrendered Reggie Jackson’s final career hit. Vande Berg, then with the Rangers, watched a broken bat single off the bat of the Hall of Famer.

Reggie Jackson
Reggie Jackson’s final MLB hit came on a broken back single off Ed Vande Berg in 1987 (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

BASEBALL CARDS APLENTY ON THIS REDLANDS KID

Check out the website on Ed Vande Berg some time. Click on images. When you do, your entire computer screen should light up with baseball cards – Vande Berg with the Seattle Mariners. Or the Los Angeles Dodgers. Or the Cleveland Indians. Or the Rangers.

He was an Alaska Goldpanner.

An Arizona State Sun Devil. Appeared in the College World Series.

Not to mention that Vande Berg was a Redlands Terrier.

Here was the background on Vande Berg, said by plenty of Redlands baseballers not to be much of a prospect while playing for Terrier coach Joe De Maggio.

When he showed up at San Bernardino Valley, Vande Berg took instruction well enough to burnish a slider. It was a new pitch.

The result was an 18-1 record. State Player of the Year.

Fascinating! Movement, plus zip on his fastball, earned his way to Arizona State — a hub for future MLB players.

That got him on the radar of MLB scouts, who drafted him no less than three times before he signed.

He was a Rookie Team All-Star in 1982, the year he finished 9-4 with the Mariners, who had drafted him out of Arizona State. A league-leading 78 games accompanied that 2.37 earned run average over 76 innings pitched.

SAN DIEGO, ST. LOUIS, FINALLY SEATTLE

Vande Berg’s draft history was pretty interesting.

San Diego took him in the third round (1978), but Vande Berg didn’t sign.

A year later, the St. Louis Cardinals took him in the fourth round. Again, he didn’t sign.

In 1980, Seattle waited until the 13th round. This time, he signed.

That ’82 rookie season, though, was something. Only 54 hits were allowed in those 76 innings pitched, including just five HRs. He was 23 when he made his MLB debut with the Mariners.

In 1984, the Mariners made Vande Berg, a 6-foot-2, 175-pounder, a starting pitcher. He logged an 8-12 record (4.76, 130 innings) for a 72-90 team on a pitching staff topped by Mark Langston. Alvin Davis (27 HR, 116 RBI, .284) was American League Rookie of the Year.

Ruben Sierra was clearly the Rangers’ best player. Vande Berg was part of a bullpen backed by closer Mitch Williams. The staff’s ace was likely ex-Dodger knuckleballer Charlie Hough.

It was one season before Nolan Ryan signed with Texas.

By then, Vande Berg was gone. Released. Final season of his career.

Who would remember the trade that sent Vande Berg from Seattle to the Dodgers in 1985? It was a straight-up deal on Dec. 11. Catcher Steve Yeager, who had played in three World Series with L.A., was the player sent back to Seattle.

The Dodgers paid Vande Berg $455,000.

That season, Vande Berg registered a 3.41 ERA over 60 games (71 1/3 innings).

Teammates included Cy Young Award winners Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, both managed by Lasorda, a Hall of Fame manager. Vande Berg had relieved both pitchers during that 1987 season.

Tommy Lasorda
For one season, Dodger Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda summoned Redlands southpaw Ed Vande Berg into a major league game (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Granted free agency in each of the following two seasons, Vande Berg found homes in Cleveland and Arlington, Texas.

Among Vande Berg’s Cleveland teammates was Joe Carter, who hit the game-winning World Series homer for Toronto a few years later. Another teammate was the ageless Julio Franco, who made Cleveland just one of his stops on a seven-team, 23-year career.

For a season and a half, incredibly enough, Vande Berg was teammates with another Redlands product, Julio Cruz. The two spent the entire 1982 season in M’s uniforms, but in 1983 Cruz was sent to the Chicago White Sox in a trade deadline deal.

His final game came at age 29 against, of all teams, the Seattle Mariners – the team he spent four of his seven-year MLB pitching for in the northwest.

The end result was a 25-28 lifetime mark … 413 games … surrendered 52 HRs … 3.92 earned run average … 22 saves … not a bad career.

WINDING DOWN A SEVEN-YEAR MLB CAREER

A couple months after I watched Vande Berg pitch against Milwaukee in Texas, the Redlands product pitched his final game. Against his old team, the Mariners.

On Friday night, Sept. 30. At the Kingdome that night, 7,870 fans watched.

He pitched a full inning. With home plate umpire Rich Garcia calling balls and strikes, Vande Berg surrendered three hits, including a Rey Quinones double.

In Seattle’s lineup that night was Davis, not to mention future MLB Network broadcaster Harold Reynolds. Darnell Coles, from Vande Berg’s former Citrus Belt League rival Rialto Eisenhower, was also in the lineup.

A lowly Rangers’ squad beat the lowly Mariners, 11-6.

Exactly one month earlier, Vande Berg picked up his final career victory In an 8-6 win over Minnesota, Cecil Espy’s bottom-of-the-ninth, two-run HR cracked a 6-6 tie. Vande Berg, who had pitched a scoreless ninth inning in relief of starter Bobby Witt, logged the win.

It was career victory No. 25.

 

IT WAS TOUGH FOR DAVIDSMEIER TRYING TO GET INTO MILWAUKEE

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Danny Davidsmeier joked about a pair of Redlands East Valley High School area products, Tyler Chatwood and Matt Andriese, who are current major league players.

Chatwood, who now pitches for the Chicago Cubs, had been drafted by the Angels and traded to Colorado.

Andriese was an original draft pick by the San Diego Padres, eventually traded to the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I’m a hitting coach,” said Davidsmeier, “and they made it to the majors as pitchers.”

If he could list the entire roster of youth-level players that he’s instructed,  that entire collection might be able to fill a full high school league of all-star level talent.

Matt Davidson also comes to mind. A current major league slugger, who was a high school MVP as a freshman at Yucaipa, got drafted by Arizona and traded to the White Sox. Davidsmeier started coaching Davidson at age 11.

It’s Davidsmeier, perhaps, who bridges the gap with a growing number of ballplayers who have taken paid hitting instruction from him for nearly two decades. And why not?

His background is insanely interesting.

Imagine being an All-State player at San Bernardino Valley College in the mid-1970s. It came just before his days as an All-American shortstop at USC.

ddavidsmeier
Danny Davidsmeier, a highly popular batting instructor around Redlands, Yucaipa, Highland, San Bernardino, Colton and beyond, displays his USC medallion. Davidsmeier, a career baseball player for 22 years, was an All-American shortstop for legendary Trojans’ coach Rod Dedeaux (photo by USC).

The Yucaipa High product, who came out of the Thunderbirds’ program one year before Jeff Stout began an unprecedented 42-year run as their coach, was taken in the draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

Mention names like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor to Davidsmeier. He laughs.

It wouldn’t be surprising to hear him say it. “Those guys,” he might say, “kept me out of the major leagues.”

Both Yount, a shortstop, and Molitor, a second baseman who later moved to third base, are Hall of Famers. In the early 1980s, the two — along with second baseman Jim Gantner — all but blocked Davidsmeier’s promising pathway to the major leagues.

In those days, they were known as Harvey’s Wall Bangers, a reference to Brewers’ manager Harvey Kuenn, who was quite a hitter in his day.

Imagine hitting .371 with 16 HRs as a USC senior in 1981. It was there Davidsmeier played for legendary coach Rod Dedeaux, a former shortstop in his own playing days.

USC? All-American? That got Milwaukee’s attention — third round selection in 1981, No. 72 overall. That’s the same draft, incidentally, in which first-rounders like Joe Carter, Matt Williams and Ron Darling were selected.

Tony Gwynn was taken in that same third round, too, just 14 picks before Davidsmeier.

As for Davidsmeier, he spent his best years playing minor league baseball, rising to Triple A Vancouver just two years after being drafted.

CRACKING THE BREWERS’ LINEUP

While Yount-Molitor-Gantner were thriving in Milwaukee, Davidsmeier’s hopes might’ve been curtailed by their all-star level play.

Davidsmeier’s most productive season might’ve been in 1982 when he hit .272 with 10 HR as a 22-year-old shortstop.

Led by the MVP season of Yount, the Brewers reached the 1982 World Series, losing in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Even playing behind such a talented crop of major leaguers might’ve inspired other organizations to seek out Milwaukee’s prized minor leaguers — like Davidsmeier.

Milwaukee, in those years, was loaded. Besides Molitor and Yount, there were players like first baseman Cecil Cooper (.298, 241 career HR), Gorman Thomas (268 HR), Ben Oglivie (.275, 235 HR), plus catcher Ted Simmons (.285, 245 HR) while Gantner (.274) was as sure-handed an infielder as anyone.

Throw in Hall of Fame numbers from Yount (3,142 hits, 583 doubles, 126 triples, 251 HR, .285) and Molitor (3,319 hits, 605 doubles, 234 HR, 504 stolen bases, .306).

That’s the lineup Davidsmeier was trying to crack.

Doug DeCinces had a hard time becoming Baltimore’s third baseman with Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson playing ahead of him in the early 1970s.

In that same era, center fielder Garry Maddox would’ve rotted away in San Francisco if the Giants hadn’t traded Willie Mays to the Mets.

Thank goodness Wally Pipp had a headache one day in New York. Lou Gehrig might’ve never gotten a chance.

Yes, Davidsmeier spent plenty of Arizona-based spring training sessions with the Gantner-Young-Molitor trio ahead of him on the Brewers’ depth chart.

Gantner was considered good enough to drive Molitor from second base to third base.

Davidsmeier, too, had played all three spots.

In 1982, he was hitting .272 with 10 HR with Class AA El Paso.

By age 28, Davidsmeier was ready to head elsewhere — Italy, Mexico, Taiwan, Canada, Czechoslavakia, Korea, Japan and Columbia, to name a few stops.

ROAD TRIP COMES TO AN END

Twenty-two years on the international road led Davidsmeier back home — Yucaipa, Loma Linda, Redlands, Highland, the entire area. He became a growingly popular private hitting instructor.

Main base for Davidsmeier these days is Loma Linda. The batting cages there went from Hitter’s Choice Batting Cages to its new name, IE Performance Center & Batting Cages. The re-opening was scheduled for June 2-3.

Davidsmeier says he likes the new layout. The husband-wife ownership of Dr. Alan Herford and Kirilina Herford liked the atmosphere. They took over the place, signing a 14-month lease. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe that Davidsmeier’s part of that atmosphere.

If you’re in the cage with Davidsmeier, it’ll be a productive moment.

Name a productive hitter from the area. Chances are decent that Davidsmeier has worked with them in the practice cages.

Current major leaguers Davidson, Chatwood and Andriese come quickly to mind.

Cracked Davidsmeier: “Matt and Tyler lived down the street from each other in Yucaipa. They got a lot of experience just working out with each other.”