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Conversations with the Herd: Bob Patterson

By: Brian Frank

Bob Patterson starred for the Bisons in their first two seasons at Pilot Field and was a hero in the first game ever played at the downtown ballpark. He’ll be honored for his achievements this Saturday, when he’ll be inducted into the Buffalo Baseball Hall of Fame along with fellow Bisons legends Jhonny Peralta and Ben Francisco.

Patterson had a remarkable outing in the inaugural game at Pilot Field – a game that will always hold a special place in Buffalo baseball fans’ hearts. Patterson threw a no-hitter for the first 6 2/3 innings, before Denver’s Tim Pyznarski beat out an infield single. Patterson ended up tossing 8 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just five hits and one walk while fanning seven batters in Buffalo’s 1-0 win.

Patterson pitched 8 1/3 shutout innings in the Pilot Field Opener. Photo Courtesy of the Buffalo Bisons Baseball Club.

“I remember it was chilly, which was good because a left-hander getting inside on right-handers – they don’t like that when it’s cold,” he said with a chuckle in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles. “Especially with wooden bats.”

The lone run of the contest came on a home run by catcher Tom Prince in the third inning. Patterson credits Prince with some of his own success that day.

“He called a great game,” Patterson said of Prince. “I think we meshed pretty well together. It’s interesting with catchers – (Pirates catcher) Mike Lavalliere had the same attitude – when he knew a pitch was right he would stay with that. Sometimes you’d shake it off and they’d go back to that particular pitch. And Princie, that’s a feature that, it’s a fine line between calling a game and trying to interrupt the flow and calling a game and knowing that that is the right pitch and kind of going with it. That’s a good quality of Tommy Prince.”

Patterson got off to a great start for the Herd. He was 2-0 with a 2.32 ERA through four starts when he injured his throwing shoulder during a late-April start in Oklahoma City. The injury required surgery and caused him to miss the rest of the season.

“It was disappointing,” he said. “But in hindsight it probably helped me pitch better because I didn’t quite have the same fastball. That really made me do rehab on arm weights. After that I kind of stuck with them pretty well. Just small dumbbell things. It probably helped me in the long run in learning how to pitch.”

Patterson came back from his injury and started the Bisons’ 1989 season opener at Pilot Field against Louisville. He gave up one run in six innings in the Bisons’ 8-3 victory. He went on to have a terrific season for Buffalo, finishing 12-6 with a 3.35 ERA in 31 games (25 starts).

He was part of a strong Bisons starting rotation in 1989 that also included Dorn Taylor (2.58 ERA), Rick Reed (3.72 ERA), Bill Wilkenson (3.57 ERA), and Morris Madden (3.39 ERA), all under the guidance of manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Jackie Browne.

“Terry is a very good student of the game,” Patterson said. “He knows situational things. He’s a very good manager. I never had any problem with Terry at all.”

“Jackie had always been one of my favorite people, much less a pitching coach. We got along tremendously.”

Patterson went 12-6 with a 3.35 ERA for the '89 Bisons. Photo Courtesy of the Buffalo Bisons Baseball Club.

The ’89 Bisons finished in second place in the American Association Eastern Division with an 80-62 record. Patterson believes that the relationships formed on the late-80s Bisons teams helped fuel the success of the parent club in the early 90s..

“Pittsburgh had a talent for developing players at that time,” he said. “That’s kind of what made it so rewarding when you got to the big leagues and you felt comfortable around the guys that you had come up with in Triple-A. That helped. It kind of gave you a foundation. It’s not easy in the big leagues. There are highs and lows and when you do have the good outings you want to be grounded enough to know that you just need to go back out there in five days. It’s kind of short lived. The guys from the minor leagues will keep you grounded.”

After making his major-league debut with the Padres in 1985, pitching in eleven games for the ’86 Pirates, and appearing in fifteen games for the ’87 Pirates, Patterson rejoined Pittsburgh in September of 1989. He went on to become a key piece of the team’s bullpen on their great teams of the early ‘90s. He had a 3.28 ERA in 169 games from 1990 to 1992, helping the Pirates win three consecutive National League East titles.

“I really think that it was Jim Leyland on down,” he said of the Pirates’ success. “He probably brought me up and sent me down four or five times. Can you imagine that kind of patience with someone? But I wasn’t quite ready until ’90 and then I finally figured out how to pitch was basically the same way you pitch that got you there. You challenge hitters the same way you do in Triple-A and you pitch your game – it’s not just because the guy can’t hit a curveball, you don’t try to come up with one to throw to him. You’re kind of fighting a defeatist battle there trying to do something you don’t have. But I finally learned that. I think that patience was kind of infectious with guys that you played with in Triple-A that were in the big leagues with you. It nurtured a camaraderie that you don’t find in every team you go to. You just don’t find it. It creates a bond. You make your best friends in the minor leagues.”

The success Patterson enjoyed in the regular season carried over to the playoffs. He had a 1.93 ERA in five NLCS games with the Bucs, including earning a save in Game Five of the 1990 NLCS against the Cincinnati Reds when he induced Jeff Reed to ground into a double play with the bases loaded in the ninth inning to preserve a one-run Pirates win.

Raise the Jolly Roger! Patterson picked up a clutch save in Game 5 of the 1990 NLCS.

When asked if there is any particular game that stands out to him from his time with the Pirates, Patterson answered immediately with a game from September 1990.

“The one that stands out the most to me was getting the save for Drabek’s twentieth win,” he said. “It meant so much to him to get that win. Looking back on it, I pitched pretty well, but beside that, it meant so much to me because he was such a good player and person. The one thing about Doug Drabek, you couldn’t tell the next day if he had pitched a shutout, a no-hitter, or if he gave up five runs. He was the same person. I learned a lot from him and it meant a lot to me to help him achieve that twentieth win.”

Patterson went on to a long, successful major-league career. He pitched in 559 big-league games during a 13-year career that saw him pitch for the Padres, Pirates, Rangers, Angels, and Cubs.

During his travels, he became known as the Glove Doctor for his ability to repair baseball gloves. He chuckled as he recalled a former teammate giving him the nickname “Emmett” after the character on the Andy Griffith Show who ran a fix-it shop.

“I actually had a glove from college that my parents had given me,” he said, explaining how he began repairing gloves. “The inside pocket, on the inside where your palm is, had basically rotted away. I didn’t want to go buy a new glove because I loved that one. So, I made a new palm for it, put it in there, and kept using the glove. I just took it apart. I still like taking things apart to this day.”

The Glove Doctor used his newfound talent to begin fixing teammates’ gloves.

“It was always a conflict of interest for guys that used to be teammates that were on other teams,” he said with a laugh. “But I enjoyed it.”

Looking back on his time in Buffalo, Patterson remembers the City of Good Neighbors living up to its moniker.

“We had just had a newborn so things were kind of tight being in the minor leagues,” he said. “I remember staying with the Albigs, one of the booster club families. It was really nice to be able to have a family atmosphere. They took me in and put me up for a couple months. It was great having that feeling of having a base, a foundation. When you’re going all over the place and traveling all summer long, it’s nice to have that comforting feeling and support. We all don’t have great years, or great outings for that matter, time after time. It’s nice to be able to talk to people and it was very kind of them to take me in.”

After all his success in the major leagues, Patterson still looks back fondly on his two seasons pitching in the Queen City.

“My time in Buffalo was very rewarding,” he said. “Good people. I think Pittsburgh and Buffalo have a lot in common – salt of the earth people.”

“I had a lot of support in Buffalo. I’ve always felt like the people there came to the game to see great baseball and they supported me in trying to do that – give them great baseball. It’s an honor. I’m very thankful to Buffalo. It’s just a great city. I’ve always thought that.”

The Bisons will host a Hall of Fame Induction dinner on Saturday, July 30 at Consumers Pub at the Park with an all-you can-eat buffet from 4-5:00 p.m. and a conversation with Bob Patterson and Ben Francisco from 5-5:30. You can RSVP for the dinner here: .


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