Ted Power

By John Basil

November 16, 2011

As a rookie, being in the right place at the right time earned Ted Power a World Series ring. Toward the end of his 13-year major league career, another case of good timing quite possibly saved Power’s life.

Promoted to the parent Los Angeles Dodgers from AAA Albuquerque in September of 1981, Power appeared in five games, starting two – including one opposite Nolan Ryan, when the future Hall of Famer hurled his fifth career no-hitter for the Houston Astros.

The Dodgers advanced to the playoffs that season, eventually beating the Yankees in the World Series. As a September call-up, Power was ineligible for post-season play, yet his teammates still voted him a partial share of the playoff prize money, along with a ring and trophy.

“1981 was a tremendous year,” said Power, of the strike-shortened season. “I was the only pitcher in professional ball that year to win 20 games – 19 with Albuquerque and one with the Dodgers. And even though I couldn’t travel with the Dodgers during the playoffs, those six weeks or so that I spent with them is a great memory. The veterans on that team didn’t have to award me anything, but I’ll never forget them for doing so.”

Power split the next season between Albuquerque and Los Angeles, before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds – a move he welcomed.

“The Dodgers treated me very well, but I was 27 at the time and they had a lot of good arms in guys like Fernando Valenzuela, Bob Welch and Steve Howe, so the trade to the Reds was the best possible situation for me,” said Power, who was selected by Los Angeles out of Kansas State University in the fifth round of the 1976 amateur draft. “The Reds were coming off a miserable season, and they needed pitching help so I knew I’d get a chance to prove myself there.”

The Guthrie, Oklahoma native received all the work he could handle in Cincinnati. Over the next five seasons, Power became the staff’s most versatile performer. Appearing as either a starter or out of the bullpen, he racked up a total of 42 wins and 41 saves (his 27 in ’85 were good for third best in the National League). Power even led the Senior Circuit in games pitched in ’84 with 78. His personal statistics, however, have nothing to do with Power’s favorite Reds’ moment.

“Being on the Reds in ’85 when Pete Rose, our player/manager, broke the all-time major league hits record was unbelievable,” said Power. “I’m so grateful to have been a part of that team during that season.”

After the ’87 campaign, the rangy right-hander embarked on a six-year odyssey through the big leagues, making stops in Kansas City,  Detroit, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati (again), Cleveland and Seattle. It was with the Indians, where Power experienced another highlight – followed shortly thereafter by the lowest point of his baseball career.

“Pitching against my old team, the Reds, in the National League Championship Series with Pittsburgh was an awesome experience, but it wasn’t as satisfying as my time in Cleveland,” said Power, who started one game and recorded a save in another in his three 1990 postseason games. “No one expected the ’92 Cleveland bullpen to be any good, but we became one of the best ‘pens in the league that year.”

Steve Olin, a 26-year-old sidearmer, who topped the staff with 29 saves, led the Cleveland relief corps. Olin and Power became fast friends.

The following spring, Olin and teammate Tim Crews were killed in a boating accident that severely injured fellow hurler Bobby Ojeda. Power planned to join the trio’s boat trip, but as fate would have it, he backed out.

“I was supposed to be out on that lake with those guys and then I changed mind and didn’t go,” said Power, who wore Olin’s belt that season as a tribute to his fallen comrade. “That tragedy stuck with me for a couple years; gave me a very strong belief and led me right to God. I try to do the best I can. I don’t overpower people with my belief, but if they get to know me, they understand how important it is in my life.

“I was more of a free spirit then. I still have fun, but I started taking life more seriously after that. Had I been with them, I could easily have been standing up on that boat when it struck the pier.”

Unable to shake the traumatic experience, Power’s play suffered and the Indians released him that summer. Within a week, Seattle picked up his contract. The change of scenery did wonders for Power’s game and morale. He finished the season strong, picking up two wins and 13 saves in his 25 Mariners relief appearances.

During the following spring training, however, Power tore the labrum muscle in his pitching shoulder and retired from the game at age 38 with a career record of 68 wins, 69 losses, 70 saves and an earned-run average of 4.00.

Power proceeded to hold positions as first a sports radio talk show host in Cincinnati and then as motivational speaker for a non-profit, before a telephone call from an old friend lured him back to the National Pastime. 

“In ‘96, Russ Nixon, who was my manager with the Reds in ’83, was the minor league coordinator for the San Diego Padres and he asked me to be the pitching coach of their Rookie club in Peoria, Arizona,” said Power, who accepted the offer. “I did that for a season and then, in ’99, he again hired me to be a pitching coach – this time for the Reds’ Rookie affiliate that he was managing in the Pioneer League in Billings, Montana. I worked there for two seasons. From there, I moved to Dayton, as pitching coach for the Reds’ A team.”

Power coached one season for the Midwest League club, before leaving to run a baseball academy in Florida. Three years later, anxious to return to the Reds’ organization – but not eager to travel again – he contacted the team to offer his coaching services at the team’s extended spring training.

“The Reds were nice enough to create a position for me – Rehab Coordinator – which allowed me to work with pitchers who were coming off surgery or injury,” recalls Power. “I did that for a couple months, but then they needed a pitching coach at AAA Louisville. I was hesitant about accepting it, because I didn’t want to be on the road anymore, but I wound up taking it and it’s worked out very well for me.”

The arrangement has proven to be mutually beneficial. Under Power’s tutelage, Louisville’s staff has ranked first in the International League in team ERA two of the past four seasons, while qualifying for three playoff berths. The team also achieved its lowest ERA in franchise history one season.

For coaching inspiration, Power not only relies on personal observations gleaned over the course of his playing career, but channels the many mentors he learned under.

 “I try to model myself after Russ Nixon,” said Power. “He was very direct, but he told the truth. I had a lot of coaches and managers like that. Guys like Mike Hargrove, my manager in Cleveland, Ron Perranoski, the Dodgers’ minor league pitching coordinator, and Jim Leyland, my manager in Pittsburgh. You didn’t ask Leyland a question unless you were prepared for the worst possible answer.

“I’ve learned that coaching is much more proactive in the minors than in the majors, but with some minor leaguers, it’s best to let them fail, so they become desperate and more receptive to instruction.”

During the off-season, Power, who has two adult children, Chandler, a member of the U.S. Army, stationed in Virginia at Fort Eustis, and Lauren, who’s married to San Diego Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia, makes his home in Sarasota, where he enjoys spending time with wife, Leslie.

He also uses this downtime to re-connect with ex-teammates at functions such as Cincinnati’s Fantasy Camp and RedsFest, where fans can meet current and former Reds players.

Power recently concluded his sixth season at Louisville. And while he aspires to coach in the big leagues, the 56-year-old is currently content in his present position.

“Eventually, I’d like to experience coaching in the majors, but it’s very rewarding coaching in AAA, helping players take that final step in their career,” said Power, who has tutored at Louisville such future big leaguers as Homer Bailey, Todd Coffey and Aroldis Chapman, as well as reclamation projects like Dontrelle Willis, a former National League Rookie of the Year and 22-game winner.

“I was fortunate in that until my shoulder operation, I only had one minor elbow surgery during my career. But the reason I pitched as long as I did was because I had great determination. I tell my players that if they focus, work hard and are not afraid to try new things, like adding new pitches, or using different grips and changing speeds, they can reach the majors, too.”

John Basil is a corporate communications writer based in Milwaukee, WI and the author of Let Me Wear Your Coat, a baseball-themed novel. He can be reached by email at johnbasil1@yahoo.com.


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