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No-Hitters Come as No Surprise to Muffett : Baseball: Detroit pitching coach has seen many including few by Nolan Ryan.

HOW THEY'RE DOING: One ina series

August 23, 1993|SCOTT MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — OK, so he doesn't have Nolan Ryan's fastball. So he was washed up--like most normal pitchers--and serving as the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching coach by the time he was 40.

So Billy Muffett, who now oversees the Detroit Tigers' pitchers, won a grand total of 16 games in the bigs.

You can still call him Billy (No-Hit) Muffett.

You see, Ryan throws them, Muffett watches them.

Take the mid-1970s. Muffett worked as the Angels' pitching coach for a little more than three years--and saw five no-no's.

Or, take 1967. Muffett had a bird's-eye view of one of baseball's more remarkable phenomenon when, while he was in the Cardinal dugout, Ray Washburn and San Francisco's Gaylord Perry threw no-hitters on consecutive days.

In all, to the best of his recollection, Muffett has been involved in "nine or 10" no-hitters.

When you see so many, maybe they do tend to run together.

The actual count, as a major league player and a coach: 10.

And that doesn't include the no-hitter he threw in a Texas League playoff game in 1955.

"I've seen quite a few," said Muffett, 62, in his ninth year in Detroit. "If you stick around long enough, you see quite a few things."

Muffett's timing has been exquisite. He was in the Cardinal bullpen in 1958 when Stan Musial collected his 3,000th hit. He was in a Fenway Park dugout when Ted Williams made his last major league appearance in 1960. He was standing in the left-field bullpen in Yankee Stadium that day in 1961 when Roger Maris hit his 61st home run, and he was in the Cardinal dugout in 1968, when Bob Gibson compiled a 1.12 earned-run average for the season and struck out a record 17 Tigers in a World Series game.

And he and "Nolie,"--his nickname for Ryan--could swap no-hit stories breath for breath.

Like his Tiger pitchers this summer, Muffett is in somewhat of a slump. He hasn't been involved in a no-hitter since 1990, when Seattle's Randy Johnson tamed the Tigers.

But most likely, that only means it is just a matter of time.

"He's seen eight no-hitters?" said Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson, incredulously, before research showed that the number is actually 10. "Now I'll have to change. Now I'll have to treat him with reverence."

During that stretch with the Angels in the 1970s, Ryan threw two no-hitters and the Angels were no-hit three times.

Ryan's no-hitters came in September, 1974, and June, 1975.

On the other side of the ledger, the Angels were no-hit by Dennis Eckersley, then with Cleveland, in May, 1977; Bert Blyleven, then a Minnesota Twin, in September, 1977; and by a large portion of the Oakland staff in September, 1975.

That one was the weirdest one Muffett saw. Vida Blue started, but Manager Alvin Dark was attempting to prepare for the playoffs and wanted to get his staff some work. So Blue was followed to the mound by Glenn Abbott, Paul Linblad and Rollie Fingers.

"We didn't touch them," Muffett said. "Did not touch them. I think they really did all get ready."

That was one of the quirkiest no-hitters in history but, for sheer breathlessness, it certainly did not match that two-day span in 1968.

Washburn's no-hitter, on Sept. 18, 1968, will always be special to Muffett.

"Believe it or not, that one's my favorite," Muffett said. "Simply because of the fact that he didn't throw as hard as the other guys. Nolan was just going to overpower hitters."

And Perry's had come the night before.

"It was just an amazing thing," Muffett said. "In a 24-hour period, to see back-to-back no-hitters, those things just don't come along."

Of course, Muffett has seen so many that details become murky.

"Those were such unusual circumstances," Muffett said of that two-day span. "I always kidded Washburn that he didn't get to enjoy his no-hitter because Perry wiped him off of the map the next day."

One problem: Perry's no-hitter came the day before Washburn's.

That's OK, though--of the two Ryan gems Muffett saw, he cannot recall much about the game against Minnesota.

He does, though, clearly remember the second Ryan no-hitter he witnessed--Ryan's fourth of seven--against Baltimore in 1975.

"Against Baltimore, it came down to a 3-and-2 pitch in the ninth, I believe against Bobby Grich, and everybody in the park knew he was going to throw a fastball," Muffett said. "And he threw a changeup. Grich missed it real bad. It was a hell of a pitch."

Indeed, nohitters are what marked Muffett's time with the Angels, who never finished higher than fourth during that 1974-1977 span.

Sure, Muffett had Ryan and Frank Tanana on his staff, but the Angels also had no hitters in their lineup.

"I know this is a terrible thing to say, but the losing part of it is what I remember the most from those years," Muffett said. "I detest losing. If you don't play this game to win, you'd better get out. It's frustrating when you lose. It's no fun."

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