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He went from Rags to riches
Jim Kaplan
July 25, 1983
A Fourth of July no-hitter made Dave Righetti a Yankee Doodle Dandy
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July 25, 1983

He Went From Rags To Riches

A Fourth of July no-hitter made Dave Righetti a Yankee Doodle Dandy

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Try this one out, patriots. It's July 4, the birth date of his club owner and his country, and Yankee Doodle Dandy Dave Righetti is facing Boston at Yankee Stadium. In his previous start Righetti had pitched his first major league shutout, but on this day he's doing even better. Suddenly it's the top of the ninth, two men are out, and up comes Wade Boggs, who has more hits this season than anyone in the majors. Righetti fans him for the first Yankee no-hitter in 27 years, and the Stadium erupts.

But the next day, while everyone else is still buzzing about the no-hitter, Righetti is lolling on an Atlantic City beach with teammate Graig Nettles and already thinking of his next start, four days hence at Kansas City. "A couple of years ago I would have gone crazy after a no-hitter and forgotten about my next game," he says. Instead he goes 10? innings without his best fastball and is disconsolate when the Yanks lose 3-2 to the Royals on an Alphonse-and-Gaston error sequence in the 12th.

Endorsement offers start flooding in. Righetti considers them while watching the All-Star Game on TV and snacking on pizza and soft drinks with his lawyer, Bill Goodstein—and rejects every offer. "If I don't do well and the Yankees don't do well, it would appear I got too wrapped up in my own success at the expense of the team," he tells Goodstein.

Last Friday night Righetti made a triumphant return to Yankee Stadium. Showing he can benefit from luck as well as pluck, he yielded five runs and 10 hits in six innings but won 7-5. "I've never given up so many runs and won," he said afterward. "People say I deserve it, so I'll take it."

As of last Sunday, Righetti, 24, 6'3", 198 pounds and still boyishly handsome, was among the American League leaders with an 11-3 record, a .786 won-lost percentage and 97 strikeouts. (His ERA was 3.27.) Flame-throwing lefties usually take longer to reach that level. Steve Carlton first won 20 games at age 27, Sandy Koufax at 28, Ron Guidry at 28. No wonder the Yankees last winter were happy to sign Righetti to a five-year, $3.5 million contract, the largest ever given a player who wasn't a free agent or about to become one. Righetti's teammates call him Rags; they should call him Riches.

Righetti has a Carlton-like assortment of pitches: a fastball he throws about 60% of the time that rides away from righthanded hitters; a slider he throws 30% of the time that breaks in on them; and a nifty curve and changeup he can spot. "You have to look for the fastball, and that makes the other pitches tougher," says Texas' Buddy Bell, "and his control is better than ever [only 36 walks in 135 innings]." Righetti throws without a windup, a la Don Larsen, the last Yankee no-hit pitcher, and gives the hitter some deceptive moves with his right knee and elbow. "He's got enough stuff to stick around for years after his velocity goes backward," says Ranger General Manager Joe Klein.

But Righetti watchers argue that maturity has more to do with his success than the movement on his pitches. "He's learned that when he's behind on the count, he doesn't have to throw any harder," says Yankee Catcher Butch Wynegar. "It's basically a matter of experience."

It's also a matter of confidence. "They gave me the ball in spring training and told me that I was in the starting rotation," says Righetti. "That gave me the self-assurance to stop worrying about who I'm facing; I just have to throw my stuff. It's almost the same philosophy Yogi Berra has—why think?"

Righetti's father, Leo, was a minor league shortstop in the Yankee and Brave organizations from 1944 to '57. "They called Dave 'Sunshine' in the Little Leagues because nothing bothered him," says Leo, who runs a small trucking company in San Jose, Calif.

Dave was an outfielder who switched to pitcher his senior year in high school on the advice of Leo's old friend Paddy Cottrell, a Ranger scout. Righetti went on to pitch for San Jose City College, where one of his outfielders was Toronto's Dave Stieb, another late convert to pitching. "It was also on Cottrell's advice that Texas chose Righetti in the first round of the 1977 secondary draft.

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