This blog post is about Ted Kubiak’s career and his time in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform.
I contacted Ted earlier in the summer, and he didn’t respond until recently with well thought responses to my questions. Ted grew up in New Jersey and loved all sports, but baseball emerged as a favorite in high school. He played shortstop on the high school team and was named MVP during senior year. Ted was then invited to a tryout camp for the Kansas City Athletics (A’s), and wound up being offered a spot in their minor league system on the second day of camp. This included a signing bonus of $500.
Ted did have plans to attend college and become an architect. He has said in interviews that his parents let him decide which path to choose. He thought a baseball career was “such a strange opportunity to be given” that it was the clear choice. Admittedly he does have some regrets about not returning to college.
Ted started his climb toward the major leagues in 1961, playing for Class D Sarasota (Florida). As he moved up the ranks, working hard on his defense became a priority. This was important as he committed over forty errors during each of his first three seasons. But by the end of his six years in the minors, the error totals had decreased dramatically and Ted was part of more double plays than ever before. In a 2007 interview with David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus, Ted said, “I received one suggestion – the smallest amount of instruction – in my first spring training, and after that, everything I learned, I taught myself. In order to make myself into a good defensive player, I had to dissect what I was doing and make changes on my own. I had to determine how to maximize my talents while judging what my talents were.”
Ted was never known as a great hitter and has mentioned this fact in many interviews. One thing he did to make himself more valuable at the plate was working to become a switch hitter after the 1962 season. He credits this with keeping his career moving forward, and by 1967 he was with the Kansas City Athletics. Ted Kubiak was a major leaguer at the age of 25, and would never see the minor leagues again until his post-playing career as a coach. While he wasn’t an everyday player, Ted’s work ethic and willingness to learn and take on new challenges served him well. He started filling in at second base and third base even though his natural position was shortstop. A young Sal Bando was on the team, and of course Brewers fans remember him from his later years with the team as a player and General Manager.
In 1968 the A’s moved from Kansas City to Oakland. Ted continued in a reserve role, and seemed to get the most playing time when starters were injured or in a slump. He played the most innings (363) and had the most at bats (305) during his time with the A’s in 1969. He also hit his first career home run that year. As things were starting to turn the corner, Ted was traded with pitcher George Lauzerique to the Seattle Pilots for Ray Oyler and Diego Segui. He never played a major league inning with the Pilots as they moved to Milwaukee from Seattle just before the 1970 season opener – but that’s another story!
That’s where a lot of my interview questions for Ted pick up. I asked him about the city, Opening Day in 1970, living situations, and his share of a Brewers record. Here are a few of his responses:
“Milwaukee was just a great town. A group of us lived in Waukesha and I loved the area and the people. The Midwest is a special part of our county; not as fast as California, and I remember when I was traded back to Oakland, having left the Midwest, I had to get used to the speed of the drivers again. The fans were great. You don’t get to meet with them much but my wife and I lived almost two years in Waukesha and when we had to leave, I hated selling my snowmobile.”
The Brewers had a rough home opener that year, losing to the California Angels 12-0. It had only been seven days since the sale of the Pilots to Bud Selig’s ownership had been approved, so many of the players were still in shock. A couple that I’ve interviewed said they participated in a long workout at County Stadium the day before, and that may have contributed to the tough loss. Ted had this to say about Opening Day:
“The home opener was nerve wracking for me because it was the first time in three major league seasons that I was going to be a starting shortstop. Lew Krausse pitched and we lost to the Angels, being shut out by Andy Messersmith who to me was the toughest pitcher I ever had to face. I couldn’t hit him in the minor leagues and was not better in the major leagues. I never knew what he would throw and I just couldn’t pick up the ball out of his hand. It was a long afternoon and a little embarrassing.”
Ted went 0-3 that day at the plate, striking out once and drawing a walk. A lot of trips to the plate were in his future, as he wound up playing in 158 games. He was utilized by manager Dave Bristol at second base and shortstop. His batting average improved to a career high .252 that year, while he drove in 41 runs.
“I had sat on the bench the three previous seasons and had my doubts as to whether I was even good enough to play in the major leagues because of that. But the season I had in 1970, though nothing spectacular was enough for me to believe I was a major league player. I was not the shortstop I should have been because I ‘d lost a lot not playing regularly for three seasons prior and did not feel good about that at all. Whatever success I had was because of the work ethic I had. I did what I could to keep my skills honed but it was difficult. I worked so hard in the minor leagues to perfect my fielding that it remained sufficient to sustain a ten year career.”
What about the record I mentioned? Memorize the following if you ever want to impress your friends with Brewers trivia. On July 18, 1970, Ted set a Brewers record for runs batted in (RBI’s) in a single game with seven. This record has been equalled several times in the years sine, but never surpassed. On that day Ted had 4 hits in 5 at bats and capped the day off with a ninth inning grand slam. The Brewers won 10-5 with his amazing individual accomplishment becoming a huge highlight in an otherwise disappointing season for the team. Ted recalls:
“My claim to fame regarding the 7 RBI day was that I hit it (the grand slam) off a young man by the name of Ed Phillips. I had hit a homer off him in Milwaukee a few weeks before I believe (on May 6), and unfortunately he was either released or sent down. Boston figured if I could hit him, maybe he didn’t have much!!! It was just one of those days that happen. I didn’t hit but a few home runs and every one was unexpected. I had no idea I could even reach the Red Sox bullpen like I did.”
Ted told me the 1970 season was a difficult one and that losing in the major leagues is tough to take. The Brewers finished with a 65-97 record in the American League West, 33 games behind the Minnesota Twins. Ted says “We had a great bunch of guys, many who were cast-offs of possibilities like I was and we did the best we could.”
On July 29, 1971, Milwaukee traded Ted and minor leaguer Charlie Loseth to the St. Louis Cardinals for José Cardenal, Bob Reynolds, and Dick Schofield. Even though Ted was having another good year with the Brewers, the 1970-71 seasons were marked by a lot of trades. After his stint in St. Louis, Ted played for Texas, Oakland, and San Diego. His return to Oakland coincided with the A’s winning three consecutive World Series titles (1972-74). Ted made appearances in the playoffs and World Series. After not being able to finalize a deal with San Diego for the 1977 season, Ted’s playing career was over. He then briefly did some baseball broadcasting and sold real estate before returning to coach for Oakland’s minor leagues in 1989. He summed up his post-playing career by saying:
“I’ve just recently not had my contract renewed with the Cleveland Indians after 21 years with them managing and coaching in the minor leagues. Before that I was with Oakland for five years. I am not learning how to live in semi-retirement as I am in the final stages of a book I have been writing for years about my time in the major leagues and how I learned the game and the changes I’ve seen in my forty plus year career.”
Ted has a great background in writing from his long coaching career. He was the minor-league defensive coordinator for the Indians from 2004-2008. During that time he wrote an infield manual that consisted of 300 pages, and had many great tips and wisdom. I’m looking forward to reading his book and will do my best to keep you updated as to when it becomes available.
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