Senior staff writer
Indianapolis Indians hitting coach Butch Wynegar has two big reasons to remember the Fourth of July.
On that day in 1983 in famed Yankee Stadium, Wynegar was behind the plate for Dave Righetti’s no-hitter against Boston.
One year later against the Texas Rangers, the Yankees catcher caught knuckleballer Phil Niekro’s 3,000th career strikeout. Wynegar also caught Niekro’s 300th win Oct. 7, 1985.
The second-year Tribe hitting coach remembers Righetti’s no-hitter from start to finish, which was capped by his Yogi Berra-style leap.
“To this day I can still remember that ball hitting my glove when Wade Boggs struck out to end the game,” Wynegar said. “He was mixing a slider with his fastball to keep batters off balance. He wound up throwing 147 pitches on that very hot humid day. It was a fabulous, fabulous day.
“The slider that struck him out was my call,” Wynegar said in an exclusive interview with The Southsider Voice. “When we went out there for the ninth inning I knew Boggs was going to be the fourth hitter up and really didn’t want him at the plate. But the win was mostly on my mind; I wanted the win against the Red Sox, but mostly because it was Mr. (George) Steinbrenner’s birthday.”
Oddly, Wynegar, 61, never saw a complete replay of the game until a few years ago when he obtained a DVD of the 4-0 win.
Wynegar was with the Yankees from 1982-86, part of a 13-year major league career.
“All I wanted to do was win; the organization wanted to win,” Wynegar said. “The history of Yankee Stadium was just awesome for me, knowing that Yogi Berra, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth stood where I did. I think about that a lot.”
Niekro’s 3,000th strikeout against Texas came on a knuckleball that got away from him, ruining Wynegar’s plan to present the ball to the eventual Hall of Famer.
“I had planned on going out to the mound and hand the ball to him,” Wynegar said. “All I could do was go back, retrieve the ball and throw it to him.”
More than a year later, he caught Niekro’s milestone win. The coach still has the black catcher’s mitt that Niekro signed: “Butch, to a big man with a big glove, Phil Niekro, #300 win.”
Wynegar and Niekro were reunited last year at Victory Field when the hurler was on hand for an autograph session. Wynegar recalled that Niekro told him before the Texas game that his dream was to win that contest without even throwing a knuckleball. He almost achieved that dream.
“Jeff Burroughs was the final hitter, but Phil called me to the mound,” Wynegar said. “My recollection was three knuckleballs later, Phil had his 300th win and he finished it with a knuckleball. Can you imagine going for your 300th win, a Hall of Fame number, and not using your knuckleball that you had used all your career? It was amazing.”
As hitting coach, Wynegar’s focus is doing everything he can to get the Indians ready to hit for Pittsburgh. He tries to keep everything simple about hitting, adding that “at this level, really the mental side of hitting is more important than the physical side.”
“I want them to compete, battle in the box, make adjustments,” said Wynegar in his 24th year as a coach. “I want them to just go up there, be ready and fight.”
The Pennsylvania native prefers to call batting practice as ‘balance and pose.” His advice to hitters of all ages is to swing hard and remain balanced to be able to pose for a second after completing the swing. It’s a good swing if you can keep your balance – hitting is from the fingertips to the elbow.
After retiring as a player, Wynegar spent 14 months working on a Professional Golfers’ Association apprentice card so he could become a golf instructor. However, he got a call from Rollins College to coach baseball. His path since then has taken him from Class A to the majors and to Indianapolis.
The Floridian resident likes what he sees with this year’s team.
“I love the work ethic and their desire to improve. These guys have permission to go up there and hit the first pitch.”