Friday, August 12, 2022

EXCLUSIVE: Joe Altobelli on Dave Stieb


EXCLUSIVE: 1998 Interview with Joe Altobelli, Baltimore Orioles World Series Championship Manager, Toronto Blue Jays Pitching Legend, Dave Stieb

Joe Altobelli joined the Baltimore Orioles as their manager at the beginning of the 1983 season and led them to a victory in the World Series. In 1998, he was the radio voice of the Rochester Red Wings, the Orioles' Triple-A farm club. On April 28, 1998, having been granted a media pass (for the nascent Dave Stieb website that Len Lumbers and I had started in March), I spoke to Joe on the night when Blue Jays pitching legend, Dave Stieb, was making his first official AAA start, in Rochester, during his comeback at the age of 40 after 5 years out of the game. Stieb had moved up from Single A Dunedin, and was 8 weeks away from re-joining the Jays on June 18, 1998. (Follow our @DaveStiebToday Twitter account for your daily dose of Dave Stieb history.)

BELL : You managed the Baltimore Orioles from '83 to '85. Was that the first time you would have seen Stieb pitch?

JOE : I imagine it was when I was managing the Orioles, somewhere in that time.

BELL : And your opinions of him...?

JOE : My opinions? I tell you what - he was a dominating type of pitcher when he was with the Blue Jays. What I thought about as a manager was how we could score maybe 2 or 3 runs off of him and hopefully our pitching staff could hold the Toronto team to less than that. When you start talking about a pitcher along those lines, you know that he dominates. I think one of the things the players used to really get confused about when they hit off of Stieb was his late-breaking slider. He had a slider that broke relatively late. A lot of times, a player picks up the spin of the ball right from the pitcher's hand. In Stieb's case, you couldn't do it. That's why they looked so bad.

BELL : Because it just had such a tight rotation?

JOE : I don't know whether it was the force of the ball, but every now and then, there comes along a guy like Stieb and he certainly made a lot of hitters in the league look very bad.

BELL : When you're the manager, of even what would be a World Championship team, and you go up against a guy like him before the game, how are the hitters feeling? Can you see a lull in their confidence because they know whom they are facing? And how do you approach the hitters to try and get them up, or are they just keen to take their shot at the 'superstar'?

JOE : I think, in preparation for facing a guy like Stieb, I think your thoughts always go 'I hope he has a bad day tonight'. But he pitched us awfully tough. As a matter of fact, I recall a ball game that he started and we only had two catchers; we had Dempsey and Joe Nolan. Nolan was a left-hand hitter and Dempsey was a right-hand hitter, and we started that game, and of course, Dempsey caught; I used Nolan as a pinch-hitter and in the bottom of the ninth, trying to tie the score off Stieb, we used almost everyone on our bench and we did tie it. But I had exhausted both of my catchers.....

BELL : The 'Sakata Game'?

JOE : Yes, I had to go with Len Sakata behind the plate and that was when Tippy Martinez picked off three Blue Jays off of first base in one inning; then, in the bottom of the tenth inning, Sakata hit the home run to win it for us. But that's how much respect was held for Dave Stieb.

BELL : Did your star players have a more aggressive approach when they're facing a 'star pitcher' like that, and did you see your 'lesser-than-stars' wilt back when they go up against somebody like that?

JOE : When you're going up against a good pitcher, and of course, Dave Stieb is that, what you try and do is not go 0 for 4. By that I mean maybe have a sacrifice in there; bunt a ball, maybe to beat it out for a hit - at least go 1 for 4 - but if you are going to take the collar, make it 0 for 2, 0 for 3; try to sandwich a walk in. And I didn't start all of this. I remember talking to Hank Greenberg, the great first baseman for the Detroit Tigers, and he told me the same thing : what he tried to do against the good pitchers in the league was minimize his mistakes and try to minimize his at-bats to the point where he could sandwich a walk in or something like that. I guess if a player tried to approach every game that way, he'd go crazy by the end of the year thinking so much, but he probably would end up hitting .300.

BELL : Stieb had a volatile personality back then. Did you, and your hitters, do anything to try and throw him off his game, or was he just solid in his approach?

JOE : Yes. To me, he was just solid. We never got the opportunity to rattle him. He was always in command out there against us. There might have been one ballgame where he might have shown something like you're talking about, but it was too minimal, really. I think, on my part, I wouldn't want to get him that way. He might have been even better that what he was.

BELL : What were your first thoughts when you heard he was coming back?

JOE : I probably said, what took you so long? Maybe with the pitching the way it is today changed his mind. But if I were a Dave Stieb, I wouldn't have taken five years to try and come back. I'd probably done it within the first year of my retirement.

BELL : When was the last time you saw him pitch?

JOE : The middle '80's. I didn't get to see him pitch much when he left Toronto.

BELL: What do you expect tonight? From a pitcher like him who hasn't been in the majors, or any level, for five years, how does he approach a game like this when he doesn't know any of the hitters?

JOE : I think he's wise enough, because of the experience he's had, to go with what he's got. If they can hit that, he'll probably say more power to you. What he'll do is try to throw strikes, but it's tough time for pitching because they're really not as sharp. Our season has just began and the slider is a difficult pitch to try and hit corners with, and that's what I think he'll try to do. He could be off the plate, and a lot of the times, with a name like Stieb, sometimes the umpire might give you that pitch on the outside corner. In any way, it's going to be an interesting ball game. I can't wait to watch him and see how he's doing, cause I'm going to pull for 40 year-olds.

BELL : Even though he is 40, what is a Triple-A ballplayer's reaction to someone like him? Do they feel intimidation or do they think 'I can prove myself, to the big club, by nailing this guy'?

JOE : Some guys don't even know who he is. Some guys, who haven't been playing more than 3 or 4 years probably don't know who Dave Stieb is and maybe haven't read about how good he was, so they might be better off. For the guys that have seen him, or heard about him, they're probably in a situation where they're going to think 'well, I've got to just try to stay on the baseball and hit it somewhere'.

BELL : Who are the guys to watch on this Rochester Club? Who's going to give Stieb the most trouble?

JOE : Possibly, our left-handed bats. Maybe a guy like Bo Dotson or Derek Lee. We do have a strong right-handed hitter, Otanez, playing third base and we do have a really spark-plug-type of player in second baseman, P.J. Forbes. These might be the guys that do a little damage against Stieb.

BELL: Who are the best slider-type hitters? He told me downstairs, when I talked to him, they weren't going to see a lot of fastballs.

JOE : Yes, that was his bread-and-butter pitch; his slider. If he keeps it up and in to the left-handers, he might be more successful than keeping it down and in. It'll be interesting to watch him pitch tonight.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Tom Cheek interview: Dave Stieb in 1998


By Blake Bell

Thursday April 23, 1998

Tom Cheek was the radio voice for the Toronto Blue Jays from their inception in 1977 until his retirement in June 2004. He called 4306 consecutive games over those 27 years, landing him on the Blue Jays' Level Of Excellence and in the Baseball Hall Of Fame.

On April 23, 1998, having been granted a media pass (for the nascent Dave Stieb website that Len Lumbers and I had started in March), I spoke to Tom Cheek on the night when Blue Jays pitching legend, Dave Stieb, took his comeback at the age of 40 (after 5 years off) to the next level. Stieb started for the Syracuse Sky Chiefs in an Exhibition game vs the 1998 Blue Jays, moving up from Single A Dunedin, still 8 weeks away from re-joining the Jays on June 18, 1998. (Follow our @DaveStiebToday Twitter account for your daily dose of Dave Stieb history.)

BELL : When you heard Stieb was coming back, what was your first reaction?

CHEEK : My first reaction was a little bit of confusion because I had breakfast with Dave in the Skydome when the Blue Jays were there to play an exhibition against the Cardinals and he was there as a guest coach. We talked about Dave and the club wanting him to continue as a coach and he was...kind of...considering, but maybe towards not doing that. And then three or four days later, I hear about the comeback bid, so I was a little bit confused as to whether that was always in the back of his mind. He told me this morning before this outing here that that was not the case, that he knew that he felt good when he was pitching down there but Sal Butera, the bullpen coach, caught him in the spring time down there and said, ''Boy, from what I've seen, you can still pitch'', so...I think it's great; I'm pulling for him.

BELL : Do you think he's going to crack the line-up?

CHEEK : Well, I think the hitters will tell him if, and when, it's time to abort or press on. I mean, it's just that simple. He will, or he won't be able to get them out and the Triple-A thing here will be telling.

BELL : Richard Griffin, the writer from the Toronto Star, said that Gord Ash was the one who was most reticent about bringing him back because it would be a step back for the organization - this is what Griffin was 'reading' off Ash. Do you get that sense from Gord at all?

CHEEK : That's a tough one to answer. Gord is supported of Dave. I think people are protective of Dave. I sat up here and watched it going on down there and I could remember a Dave Stieb circa 1981, 82, 83. Back at that time, these guys wouldn't have touched him. I would not want to see Dave embarass himself. He had...I think it is something Dave had to prove to himself one way or another. I don't know what's in Gord Ash's mind, but they are supportive of Dave. Dave's a favorite son.

BELL : Did Dave say he definitely wanted to be a starter. Did he give you that impression; as opposed to a reliever?

CHEEK : No, he really didn't. I really didn't broach that with him. I did a little interview with him this morning but we didn't even broach that aspect of it. It was more 'how are you feeling', ' what are you pinging on the gun', 'what are the hitters telling you' - that kind of thing. I think he understands that to get back to the big leagues and to participate and contribute in whatever role would be a wonderful story at his age and everything else. I will say this - the man is in superb shape, as he was when he played; when he was a younger man, so I wouldn't bet against - nor would I bet that he's going to pull it off. I think it's just let's take a wait and see.

BELL : What did you think of today?

CHEEK : I thought, at first when I saw him out there that, you know, maybe this is a mistake, but then he settled down and I can see the old conpetitive juices flowing. I saw him run over to cover first base one time; kind of 'turn-back-the-clock' stuff in my head, so...I don't know. I'd like to see - I won't be around to see a couple more of these. I only saw him in the spring time, pitching against batting practice hitters and that kind of thing. Today was the first of these and I kind of have mixed emotions about it at the moment.

BELL : What is your favorite Dave Stieb memory?

CHEEK : Without a doubt, the last out in Cleveland back in '90 when he pitched the no-hitter.

BELL : What was the best game you ever saw him pitch; because I don't even think he would rank that as the best game he ever pitched.

CHEEK : Well, it was a no-hitter. I saw him again in Cleveland when he probably was as good, or better, and the ball inexplicably bounced over Manny Lee's head - to this day we don't know. I saw him take it to the 9th inning when Roberto Kelly - Stieb, a pitch he would like to have back. It would be hard to rank them but that was the no-hitter and that's a favorite moment because I know all the frustration the man had trying to do it.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Preview P1: Images from "Outer Limits: The Steve Ditko Archives vol. 6"

Just leafing through some of the original comic books that will be included in my next book, "Outer Limits: The Steve Ditko Archives vol. 6" and it's great to see that, even at volume six, the book leads off with a bang. 

Check out page three of "The Time Chamber" from Out Of This World #11. It was published by Charlton Comics, with a January 1959 cover date, meaning that Ditko likely drew the story five-to-six months in advance of that date. Is it difficult to see how Ditko would go on to create those amazing alternative dimensions in one of his signature strips, Dr Strange?

The work in this volume of the Steve Ditko Archives series coincides with Ditko starting back up with Marvel Comics and Stan Lee for their uninterrupted run of 7+ years which encompassed the creation of the Amazing Spider-Man, as well. Truth be told, Ditko's favourite work of mine is the period of 1959 to about 1961 on these five-page "Twilight Zone"-type stories, with the shock endings. His line work, under the influence of his study of John Severin's inking, is so detailed, yet the layouts are so fluid, so easy to interpret; perfect comic-book storytelling.

And, in the late 1950s, not a lot of artists, especially on these non-superhero books, were breaking apart the traditional 6 or 9-panel page grid. As we know, however, Ditko was not "a lot of artists" and he was doing this frequently during this late 1950s period to great effect. Click on the image below to enlarge...

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Steve Ditko Archives vol. 6" in new Fantagraphics Winter Catalog

We posted on Wednesday the news about my next book, Outer Limits: The Steve Ditko Archives vol. 6 - the cover, release date, and some notes about what to expect.

Almost surreptitiously, Fantagraphics then followed my post with the online release of their Winter catalog which features a spread on volume 6. Click on the image below to expand...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Preview: "Steve Ditko Archives volume 6"

Anyone who says "half of writing is rewriting" is about one-third correct. Today is a good example of that. I was set to hand in the introduction for my next book, "Outer Limits: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 6" (to be published by Fantagraphics Books, Inc.), so I sat down in front of my computer for one last read...and then completely tore up the first twenty percent.

I still plan on getting it out today, and that should close down my work on this one. I would guess-timate that it will be in stores come March 2016. (Book #12 for l'il old me.)

This volume should be of particular interest to all Ditko fans, because it's really the close of the first (big) chapter of his career (1953-59). The work represented in the 200 pages of remastered Charlton Comics artwork lands in the second half of 1958 time frame, just when Ditko is headed back to Marvel Comics and Stan Lee. Sure, it would be another four years until the two men would create Spider-Man, but the groundwork for their working methodology (i.e., the "Marvel Method"), and its seeds of discontent, are first sown during this period.

I say that the work within volume six represent closure on that first big chapter of Ditko's career also because the final stories mark the first unbroken string of work provided by Charlton Comics since late 1956. Ditko would focus on Marvel work exclusively for about 6 months before pulling double-duty with both companies...and on Ditko's first superhero character, Captain Atom (a Charlton comic, not a Marvel one).

But it isn't just the shift in narrative focus; the stylings of the work also takes a turn once he starts at Marvel. And it appears in that "second phase" of his Charlton work too.

Of course, all of this plays out in a Manhattan studio that Ditko started to share with Eric Stanton, the (in)famous fetish artist, in 1958, as well. If that isn't enough of a dichotomy - the buttoned-down, straight-laced, shy Ditko stepping over half-naked models, bound and gagged on his studio floor - then imagine Ditko the superhero artist dipping his pen into the murky ink of Stanton's pornography. Explain that one, Ayn Rand!

We explain it all in "Outer Limits: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 6", out in stores ~March 2016.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Official "Blake Bell" Facebook Page up w/ exclusive content!

Okay, there's so many things going on this year that I need to get my collective "Blake Bell Awareness" act together and start acting like a writer! To help facilitate that, I've debuted the official "Blake Bell - Writer" page on Facebook. You can "like" it here:

Today, I've just added a series of images for my "Steve Ditko Archives" series, which also includes exclusive commentary on the volumes. (This includes the cover for the upcoming volume five in the series, well into production now!)

Last night, I added the same for my four main books, and we'll continue in this vein, as well as offer glimpses into past, current and upcoming projects, so see you there at

Monday, May 5, 2014

Memories of Dick Ayers

90 years is a good life. And so is being able to make a living at what you love to do for most of that life.

Dick Ayers, the artist most famous for his contributions to the Silver Age of Marvel Comics (inking Jack Kirby, and a 10-year run penciling Nick Fury), passed away yesterday. (Read more about his career here.)

We've lost not just a member of our community, and an important ambassador for the medium's history, but we also lost a gentleman and, more importantly, a husband and life partner to his lovely wife, Lindy.

Lindy is the source from which my personal association with Dick was fostered. My first book, I Have To Live With This Guy!, told the tales of the spouses/partners of comic-book greats and, given Dick's long and multifaceted career, I was ecstatic when Lindy and Dick agreed to be part of the process.

Thanks to my Secret History Of Marvel Comics co-author, Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, I had the pleasure of visiting the Ayers' home on two occasions in late 2001/2002. They lived near by Doc V. and the first visit (in Nov '01) was really a visit to Dick and his home studio...


One of the memories of this visit that is seared into my brain is something you don't see in this picture. Just before you walk into this room, on the wall to the left, is a letter from DC Comics to Dick. It was a formal acknowledgement of his role in the creation of the character, Scalphunter, who first appeared in the 1977 comic book, Weird Western Tales #39.