Over a 10-year span from the late-1970s to the late-80s, Kent Tekulve, the a former all-time leader in Major League Baseball (MLB) relief pitching appearances, was one of the marquee names for the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates. Now a color analyst for Pirates telecasts on Fox Sports Net (FSN) in Pittsburgh, Mr. Tekulve, will be presented the 2008 William A. “Bill” Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award during the 62nd Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa., Aug. 15-24.
The award was established in 1987 to serve a two-fold purpose. First, and most importantly, the award is presented to a former Little Leaguer in Major League Baseball who best exemplifies the spirit of Little League Baseball. Consideration for selection includes both the individual’s ability and accomplishments and that person’s status as a positive role model.
“Kent Tekulve has been in baseball a long time, but his first years were spent as a Little Leaguer,” Stephen D. Keener, President and Chief Executive Officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said. “Mr. Tekulve played the game for its enjoyment and had the talent to make baseball his career. Now as a baseball commentator and community liaison with the Pirates he has come full circle with his experiences and enthusiasm for Little League, which makes us proud to honor him with this award.”
Playing for Lindenwald Little League in Hamilton, Ohio, Mr. Tekulve, 61, participated in the Little League program for four years, pitching and playing third base, shortstop and centerfield. As a 12 year-old pitcher and shortstop, he played in the Little League International Tournament and his team reached the quarterfinals of the Ohio state tournament.
“I loved playing baseball as a kid, and Little League was my first opportunity to play organized ball,” Mr. Tekulve, a studio analyst for FSN’s Pirates post-game studio show, said. “At that age it was the anticipation of the next game that got me excited. I could not wait for the next game, because it was so much fun. My dad was a semi-pro baseball player and he had a great love for the game. He was my coach and he made Little League fun because the two of us, my younger brother, and my mother were all able to share time together at the field.”
Mr. Tekulve was not drafted by a Major League team out of Marietta (Ohio) College and signed an amateur free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1969. At the age of 27, and after spending six years in the minor leagues, he made his Major League debut on May 20, 1974. In eight games that year, he posted a 1-1 record with an ERA of 6.00 in nine innings of work.
By 1977, the lanky 6-foot-4, 180-pound right-hander had established himself as an effective set-up man for closer, and 2008 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Rich “ Goose” Gossage. After going 10-1 that year, and following Mr. Gossage’s departure to the New York Yankees via free agency, Mr. Tekulve became the Pirates’ bullpen ace.
In his third Major League season, Mr. Tekulve’s trademark “submarine” pitching style was baffling hitters. He appeared in 91 games, posting an 8-7 record, and set a team record with 31 saves for the ’78 Pirates.
“I’ve always looked forward to the next game,” Mr. Tekulve said. “For me growing up, life revolved around the next game and that didn’t change from when I was nine, playing Little League, until I retired from Major League Baseball at the age of 42. Actually, I still feel that way and I think I’ll take that mentality to the grave with me.
“In the beginning, when you first start in Little League you learn from playing,” Mr. Tekulve said. “You learn about sportsmanship, teamwork, and respecting your teammates, your opponent, and the game. Those were the roots that kept growing throughout my baseball life. The more technical stuff would not have grown if those seeds had not been planted. Little League gets kids off to good start.”
One year later, he again logged 31 saves in a team-record 94 appearances, as the Pirates won the 1979 World Series in seven games over the Baltimore Orioles. In the Series, Mr. Tekulve earned a record three saves, as he struck out 10 Orioles in 9.1 innings. In his postseason career, Mr. Tekulve pitched in nine games, amassing an earned run average of 3.29 in 13.2 innings, while allowing five runs on nine hits, and striking out 14.
During the 1980 season, Mr. Tekulve was selected to the National League all-star team, his only all-star selection, but he did not play in the game. In 1982, he led the National League in appearances (85) and relief wins (12).
After 10 years in Pittsburgh, Mr. Tekulve was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he proceeded to break Spark Lyle’s MLB record for career games pitched without a start, finishing with 943. While with the Phillies in 1987, he became the first National League pitcher to have three 90-appearance seasons, and at age 40, he was the oldest pitcher to lead the National League in appearances.
He pitched four seasons for the Phillies, before being released in December of 1988. At the age of 42, he pitched his final season in 1989 for his home state Cincinnati Reds.
In a 16-year Major League career, Mr. Tekulve appeared in 1,050 games, all in relief; a record that stood until 1999 when the New York Mets’ Jesse Orosco eclipsed the mark. He compiled a record of 94-90, with 184 saves, a 2.85 earned run average and 779 strikeouts in 1,470 innings of work. His 94 wins in relief places him seventh on the all-time list.
“It’s amazing watching the Little League World Series games on TV,” Mr. Tekulve said. “It’s been 50 years since I played Little League, but when I see those games, I become like a kid again. I can imagine the same feelings those kids have.
“I always remember the anticipation about the tournament,” he said. “I remember getting to the field a couple of hours early to work on fielding. It was great that my family was all together because of baseball. I was a third generation baseball player and playing was a family tradition. I loved playing the game and wanted to get better. In playing all-stars you were doing things to get yourself better at playing the game. It was fun to be better at it.”
Retired as a player for 19 seasons, Mr. Tekulve has worked as an advance scout for the Pirates and currently is active in several of the Pirates’ community outreach programs, along with his time spent on the FSN sportscasts.