Why Mickey Tettleton's life changed with one suggestion from his Oklahoma State coaches
Tom Holliday says Mickey Tettleton argued about playing catcher instead of outfielder.
Tettleton isn’t so sure.
“I don’t remember doing that,” he said with a chuckle.
What he knows without a doubt, though, is the move changed the trajectory of his career. He was a good player before, a standout at Southeast High School, a starter at Oklahoma State, but as a catcher, he became a player who had a long, decorated 14-year career in the big leagues.
Monday night, Tettleton will be inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, an honor that likely wouldn’t have come if not for that position change.
Tettleton arrived at OSU as an infielder. His first season, 1979, was Gary Ward’s second in Stillwater, and to find a way into the lineup, Tettleton moved to right field where he became a staple.
But in 1981, the Cowboys only had one catcher on the roster. Ward and Holliday, OSU's pitching coach, needed an emergency backup and thought Tettleton was a good option.
Playing catcher might even help him with pro scouts.
“They thought for me to advance it would be the best position for me,” said Tettleton, who had a stout arm and a solid but not powerful bat. “Lo and behold, they were not only right about that but they were right about a lot of stuff when it came to OSU baseball.”
The Cowboys went to the College World Series in 1981, the first of seven consecutive appearances, and Tettleton was drafted by Oakland after that season. Even though he had played behind the plate very sporadically for OSU, that was clearly the position the Athletics had in mind for him.
Tettleton was sent to the A’s minor-league team in Modesto, California. The manager there was George Mitterwald, who had played more than a decade in the big leagues, primarily at catcher.
“I had an opportunity to work with him a bunch,” Tettleton said. “I got really lucky.”
Tettleton spent three years in Modesto, then at the end of spring training in 1984, Oakland put him on the 40-man roster. It was a light-bulb moment.
“It really dawned on me that I might have a chance to do something special” as a catcher, he said. “I think that was probably the first time.”
A couple months later, Tettleton made his big-league debut.
He played in 283 games for the A’s over four seasons, and while his play behind the plate was solid, his hitting was sporadic. His batting average dropped each season, from .263 as a rookie to .194 in his fourth year.
Oakland traded him to Baltimore in 1988, and while he improved that first year with the Orioles, he had a breakthrough in 1989. He hit .258, smacking 26 homers, driving in 65 runs and being named an All-Star.
He also earned the American League’s Silver Slugger, an award given to the best offensive player at each position. It was the first of three Silver Sluggers for Tettleton, who is one of only 10 catchers in the history of Major League Baseball to win the honor more than once.
During three seasons in Baltimore and four in Detroit, Tettleton became known as one of the best-hitting catchers of his day. His batting stance was unorthodox — no crouch, soldier straight, bat horizontal at his waist — but much like playing catcher, becoming an effective big-league hitter took work and persistence.
“The older I got, the stronger I got and I got consistent playing time,” Tettleton said. “Confidence goes a long way.”
Since retirement in 1997 — he spent his last three seasons with Texas — Tettleton has worked on his ranch, played lots of golf and been a dad to his four children. But several years back, a friend asked Tettleton to take a look at his nephew’s swing.
“The next thing you know,” Tettleton said, “here comes another kid wanting to hit. And another kid. And it just kind of kept snowballing.”
Not that he minded.
“It’s a blast,” he said.
After spending several few years doing private instruction, Tettleton joined Oklahoma Christian University as an assistant coach earlier this year. He loves getting to share what he learned during his career.
He has no designs, however, on becoming a head coach.
“Those guys gotta deal with too much stuff,” he said with a laugh. “I really enjoy working with the kids. I love the fact that they’re all sponges, they’re willing to learn. There’s times when you want to bite their heads off … but at the same time, when you see kids finally get it, when you see them finally start to have success, to me that’s what it’s all about.”
Mickey Tettleton knows, after all, how important it is to have coaches who can see what a player might become, even if the player might not believe it himself.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
Meet the new class
This is the final of the seven-part series introducing this year’s Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame class ahead of Monday night's induction.