Beloit Snappers pitching coach Gary Lucas by any estimation had a terrific career in Major League Baseball.
He pitched seven seasons and never once had an ERA that began with a number of four or above. He played on several solid teams, including the 1986 California Angels, who were an eyelash from advancing to the World Series before being defeated in dramatic fashion by the Boston Red Sox.
As accomplished as his career was, however, the most impressive aspect when reviewing the Lucas curriculum vitae is his list of teammates. It includes eight Hall of Fame players, which famously does not include 1984 Expos teammate and all-time hit king Pete Rose.
He played for two Hall of Fame managers, Gene Mauch and Dick Williams. Recently he sat down and reminisced about the talented athletes and unique personalities he played with, and for.
• Dave Winfield (Rookie Lucas’ teammate on the 1980 Padres):
Lucas: “Everybody’s first impression was his ability as an athlete. He had tremendous baseball skills and tools. As I remember, that was his last year with the Padres, and he was going to test free agency, and he wanted the big stage. That was kind of just expected. There were a lot of veterans on that club. Rollie had already became a free agent and went to San Diego, and Winfield had originally signed with the Padres.
“He was going to try and get the big contract, and put up very good numbers that year. It was a lot of fun breaking in as a rookie and seeing that talent out of the right field every day. He was a good teammate, came to the park ready to play and giving his all. He was good to me. I was the only rookie to break camp with the Padres, and he treated me just like another veteran.”
• Ozzie Smith (1980-81 Padres):
Lucas: “Having Ozzie play behind me was a treat, because I actually played against Ozzie in college. I went to Chapman College in Orange, and he went to Cal San Obipso. I saw where he was drafted by the Padres, and he got there two years before I did. When I got up there, we knew of each other, and had a little rapport going and so forth.
“He was so good, and I fell into that mode, too, that pitchers would try and not field balls hit up the middle, because we didn’t want it to deflect it somewhere. We wanted the Wizard to field the ball.”
• Rollie Fingers (1980 Padres):
Lucas: “I just remember really watching him and how he warmed up to get ready for a game. First of all, he saved my first major league start. It was in San Francisco. I went eight innings, and he saved the game. I had 18 starts my rookie year. He saved a couple other games for me, too. Now in the second half of the season, I was in the bullpen with him. He was preparing for free agency, and as a left-handed reliever, I got everything that he didn’t.
“I just watched how he carried himself. It got to the sixth inning, and he’d be watching the game from the dugout. It wasn’t so much what he said, but how he prepared. Some of the ways he stayed loose, and didn’t take the game too seriously, then all of a sudden he was locked in and focused from the seventh inning on, and he had that great slider. He was really good to me as a young kid coming up, too.
• Tony Gwynn (1982-83 Padres):
Lucas: “I saw Tony break in. It was quite a treat. He hit the ball all over the place. I didn’t really want to have to face him, then of course I got traded to Montreal and now I’ve got to face him, because I said, ‘Well, I’m sure I’ll be like every other left-hander’, and sure enough he hit me all over the ballpark like he hit everyone else.
“What I remember the most about Tony was how professional he was, and how detailed he was, just preparing for each game.”
• Dick Williams (1982-83 Padres):
“As I look back on my career, I was probably a little oversensitive to the way he treated me, and how I reacted. Time has solved a lot of wounds, and he was one of the best managers I ever played for because he put the ball in my hand 50, 60 times a year. I fell on hard times and then he’d get other guys in there, but he would always put me back out there. I never sat for two or three weeks at a time.
“One time though, he reminded me, and it helped me become a better pro. We were in Pittsburgh, and I threw a ball away on a double play ball. He’d already been kicked out of the game, and he was watching in the tunnel. I got taken out of the game, and I’m headed down the tunnel to the clubhouse, and he grabbed me by the arm and said ‘Luke, if you’re going to be a major league player, you’ve got to make that play. Every time.’
“And he was right. When you’re a major league player, you’re supposed to do it better than anybody else. So it was a pointed memory as far as, check yourself. You can’t take anything for granted. I was a young player then, I think in my second year. It was shocking at first, but I adjusted, and was a better player for the rest of my career because of it.”
• Gary Carter (1984 Expos):
Lucas: “Gary was great. We were familiar with each other. I was in high school, in between my junior and senior years. I was playing on a scouts team in the fall while everyone else is playing basketball and football, and Gary was on that team. I knew about Gary from a young age. Both being from Southern California, you would hear about star players in the area like Gary and Robin Yount.
“When we became teammates, it was just a treat to watch his passion for the game every day. He was one of the most enthusiastic ambassadors for the game you could ever be around. He always had a smile on his face. There was an extra bit of vigor and energy that would rub off on you. You couldn’t help get caught up in that.”
• Pete Rose (1984 Expos):
Lucas: “Pete’s intensity and fire was always a reminder that he wasn’t taking anything for granted. This guy was locked in on card games on five-hour plane rides going cross-country, so you knew he was going be locked in when he came up to hit.
“They were playing cards in the clubhouse one day. Carter’s dad was in town and Buck Rodgers, the manager, came up to call a meeting. ‘Clear the clubhouse, Mr. Carter,’ he said. Pete said ‘No, Buck, we’re going to finish this hand, then we’ll be right with you.’ So he had complete command of the clubhouse. He had a presence all the time.
“Pete was a lot of fun, a lot of fire. I got the save in Pete Rose’s 4,000 hit game.”
• Andre Dawson (1984-85 Expos):
Lucas: “The way he went about his business, you could tell he was special. He played on sore knees, on Astroturf. And back then the turf that was in Montreal was like concrete pavement. There was no cushion or padding. That tore him up pretty good. But his approach and so forth was real professional and approach. He was a real gamer.”
• Don Sutton (1986-87 Angels):
Lucas: “I pitched in the game that Don got his 300th win. He pitched against Tom Seaver in that game, and of course he already had 300 wins. So that was a real thrill. He was a competitor, and he had determination and drive and focus like all good pitchers. He had adjustability, too. At the end of his career, he wasn’t throwing hard but had the ability to throw it down in the zone.
• Reggie Jackson (1986 Angels):
Lucas: “Reggie was really funny. He was intense and focused and all that. He wasn’t in any controversy with Gene Mauch. They talked a lot, and I think Gene leaned on him, with his experience. Reggie was always stirring it up in the clubhouse, in the dugout.
“I remember one time second baseman Rob Wilfong and Jerry Narron and I were sitting in Oakland’s clubhouse waiting for the bus to leave to go to the airport. Everybody has sport coats on. I can still remember Reggie walking by and saying ‘Wilfong, nice jacket. Narron, nice shoes, and Lucas, keep trying,’ and he just kept walking. The needle was always out. He was always stirring it up, with his teammates or the opposition. He was a bench jockey, yelling at other players. He created a lot of energy. But he was always good to me.”