"People tell me I care too much," Righetti says. "How can you care too much? They say I shouldn't show my feelings after a tough loss. How can you look in somebody's eyes and pretend that it didn't matter? You keep it in and keep it in. The more it builds up, the harder it gets. I always make sure to get it out of my system before I speak to the press, so I never make an ass of myself."
How can you care too much? Righetti's father might know the answer to that. As a young minor leaguer in the Yankee system in the early '40s, Leo Righetti, known as Pinky, was brash, talented and crazy about baseball. He was hellbent to succeed and berated himself loudly and angrily when he made a mistake on the field. "I was mad all the time because I wanted to do well," he says. "I broke water coolers, and I absolutely hated umpires."
In 1946. his third pro season, Leo slipped and fell on a soda bottle outside a ballpark in Binghamton, N.Y., and slashed off the tip of his right index finger, ending his career as a pitcher. A superb fielder, but a .250 hitter, he languished in the Yankee system for four years. In 1950, riding the bench in Double A ball in Beaumont, Texas, he suddenly quit. The organization suspended him; his Yankee career was over.
In 1952, Leo signed with the Boston Braves; an hour before the game on Opening Day, he was informed by general manager Charles Quinn that he was being shipped down to Triple A. He angrily kicked a chair at Quinn, quit again and went home. For six more years he bounced around the Pacific Coast League, but by 1958, he had had enough. He went to work hauling barrels of meat scraps at the San Jose Tallow Company, which was owned by his father, Marco, an Italian immigrant.
Leo took his passion for baseball and aimed it at his two sons—Steve is 13 months older than Dave—putting them through drills in the backyard of the family's small stucco home in San Jose. Leo demanded concentration and had little patience with anything less than a serious attitude toward the game. At five, Dave had a hard time catching the ball; he was often reduced to tears by his father's sharp tongue.
"He couldn't catch worth a damn, not even if I lobbed it to him." Leo recalls. "He'd storm in the house, crying. Then he'd practice and practice. One day he got mad and hit a line drive right into my eye. Pow! Both the boys were dying laughing. They'd finally nailed me."
The two boys starred in Little League, but Leo—because of his tendency to rail at umpires—watched the games from the family station wagon, parked across the street from the field. When the boys were in their early teens, Steve developed into a highly touted shortstop; Dave, an outfielder, barely made their Senior League team. But in his junior year at Pioneer High, Dave was spotted in leftfield one day by Paddy Cottrell, a scout for the Texas Rangers. Cottrell was struck by Righetti's throwing motion and suggested he become a pitcher.
Dave developed slowly at San Jose City College, but Cottrell was convinced he had talent and badgered the Rangers into picking him in the first round of the January 1977 draft. Unfortunately, Cottrell didn't have many encouraging words for Steve—still an infielder—who the Rangers nevertheless drafted in the sixth round. The club offered Dave a contract, and Cottrell told him, "If you don't sign this contract, I'm not going to sign your brother. The only way he's going to get a shot is with a package deal."
Dave was crushed and confused. "He was my older brother," he says. "For all those years, he was the one who was supposed to make it." He took the Rangers' offer, and while Steve endured three miserable, injury-plagued seasons in the minors, Dave developed into an overpowering pitcher. In a game at AA Tulsa in July 1978, he struck out a league-record 21 batters on the Midland team. In the stands that day was Jerry Walker, a Yankee scout.
Four months later, in a Manhattan restaurant. Steinbrenner sat across a table from Rangers owner Brad Corbett; they were working up an elaborate multiplayer trade. "I had Righetti's name in my pocket on a little slip of paper," Steinbrenner recalls, with no small delight. "We were talking there at the end, when all of a sudden, I said, 'Brad, I've gotta have somebody else. I'm short on my side of the deal.'