Who to root for? Cincy native Pat Tabler played for Cleveland and Toronto

CINCINNATI -- He hasn’t swung a bat in the big leagues in 24 years, but now -- at the height of the ALCS -- he’s a hot commodity.

“My phone is blowing up,” he said. “Family, friends, reporters -- everybody wants to know who I’m rooting for… It’s crazy. I’m like most, I guess. I just want to see a good series.”

Pat Tabler, Cincinnati native and McNicholas High graduate, is in his Toronto hotel room returning and taking calls while he prepares for Game Four of the Championship Series. For the past 24 years he has been part of the Blue Jays broadcast team; this following a 17-year career in the “Bigs.”

“Sometimes,” he said, “it’s hard for me to believe I’ve been doing this (broadcasting) longer than I played.”

But it’s his career, which concluded with the 1992 World Series and a championship ring that casts him in the footlights of this series and has for the past two seasons.

“Last year, I was 4-for-4,” he said. “The four teams in the ALCS -- the Cubs, Mets, Blue Jays and Royals -- I played for all four.”

That’s when it started. Where did his loyalties lie? Who did he think would win? Everyone wanted to know. He said the same thing then as he does today: “I just want to see a good series.”

Of course, this year the rub is a little rougher. Tabler made his name with the Indians and earned his World Series ring with the Blue Jays, and, thus far, it hasn’t shaped up as a “good series.” Tuesday morning, the Blue Jays were looking down the barrel of a sweep, down 3-0 in the best of seven series.

“What’s surprised me is how well the Indians have pitched,” he said. “Going in, they didn’t have (Danny) Salazar and they didn’t have (Carlos) Carrasco, two of their best, both hurt. So I’m figuring, we got a chance… But the other guys are pitching great and (manager) Terry Francona is handling their bullpen masterfully… We’re not getting a sniff against those guys (relievers)... and when we do hit one on the screws, seems like it’s right at somebody or they make a great play.

“They got athletes all over the field. They work the count. They got all these switch hitters so you can’t match up… Hell, they haven’t had their best hitter (Michael Brantley, Jr.) all year. Look where they are and what they have done and without three of their best players… Yeah, we got a problem.”

That pesky plural pronoun “we” pops up here and there in conversation, but it’s understandable. “Twenty-four years is a while,” he says. “It’s the job, ya know. I’ve been here a long time.”

The memories are grand:

  • A first round draft choice by the Yankees in 1976.
  • Breaks in with the Cubs in 1981.
  • In 1983, traded to Cleveland, where he spent six years.
  • Traded to the Royals in ’88, where he spent three years, and then two years with the Jays.

For 17 years, he made his way through the big leagues earning a reputation as a top-notch hitter in clutch situations.

Tabler was a .282 lifetime hitter. When he was on, he scorched line drives to all parts of the park. But it was in clutch situations that he made his reputation.

With the bases loaded -- 88 at bats during his career -- he delivered nearly 50 percent of the time driving in 108 runs. He was 43-for-88. That’s a .489 average, the highest in Major League history.

At the time, largely with the Indians, Tabler dismissed this uncanny ability as simply “good luck.” He said he was fortunate to get good pitches to hit in those situations.

Today, he is quick to mention his continued good fortune. He loves the job, though he’s on the road eight months a year. He’s 58 years old. His health is good. He still lives in Cincinnati. He has six grandchildren and twin sons still in high school, and if he roots for anything, it’s more time at home.

“I go see my sons, the twins, play baseball and run track,” he says. “I love that, spending time with the family. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it.”

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