Q&A With Former MLB Catcher and Coach Dave Duncan

Pro Perspective: Dave Duncan

Former Athletics catcher Dave Duncan

Pro Perspective: Dave Duncan

Teams

  • Kansas City Athletics, 1964, 1967; Oakland Athletics, 1968 - 1972; Cleveland Indians, 1973 - 1974; Baltimore Orioles, 1975 - 1976.

Brief Bio of Duncan

Sandlot Roots

Dave Duncan was born on September 26, 1945 in Dallas, Texas. As a kid he took to the game quickly, and played a lot of sandlot Baseball in Dallas.

He moved to San Diego at age 13 and went on to play ball at Crawford High School. Interestingly, Crawford has produced a number of major league catchers including Duncan (1x all star), Bob Boone (4x all star), Dave Engle (1x all star), Ed Herrmann (1x all star) and Tim Blackwell. 

Duncan signed with the Kansas City Athletics in 1963 at the tender age of 17, after finishing high school. When he signed he received a $65,000 bonus, an impressive sum at the time - especially for a teenager!

Soon after signing he met fellow A's prospect Tony La Russa, and what would follow would be a close working relationship that would last over many years with multiple teams.

Duncan went on to spend 47 games in the minors in 1963 and 37 games in 1964. That season he would make his major league debut.

Beginning His MLB Playing Career

Dave Duncan made his big league debut on May 6th, 1964 in an away game against the Chicago White Sox. He was only 18 years old and less than a year out of high school at the time of his debut!

Dave Duncan and Tommie Reynolds rookie card, 1964 topps

Dave Duncan's rookie card, 1964 Topps.

Duncan played in 25 games for the Athletics in 1964, in addition to time in the minors. All of the 1965 and 1966 seasons, and part of 1967, were spent in the minors as well. In fact, Duncan collected an incredibly impressive 46 home runs and 112 RBIs with Kansas City's single-A team (Modesto) in '66.

Duncan made it back to the majors in 1967, appearing in 34 games with his big league club, which coincidentally would be the A's last season to play in Kansas City. 

Big League Regular

In 1968 Duncan spent the majority of the year with the Athletics in their newly adopted city of Oakland. He was used as one of the regular catchers for Oakland in 1969, along with other catchers like Phil Roof

Duncan hit much better in 1970, and continued to do so into 1971. In fact, his strong first half in 1971 led to his first and only AL all star selection.

The 1971 all star game was one of the most legendary in recent times, highlighted by Duncan's teammate Reggie Jackson and his mammoth home run at Tiger Stadium.

The following season (1972) was a career year for Duncan, as he smashed 19 home runs and helped the Athletics win the World Series.

The next year, however, he was shipped off to the Cleveland Indians, where he would go on to play for two seasons.

Duncan was the primary catcher for the Indians those two seasons, though a wrist injury kept him out for two months during the 1973 campaign.

Former Cleveland Indians catcher Dave Duncan

Dave Duncan while playing for the Cleveland Indians.

He was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in early 1975 where he would stay for two seasons. After the '76 season, Duncan was released by the Orioles. He decided then that it was time to hang up his (playing) cleats.

In 929 career MLB games, Duncan collected 617 hits, 109 home runs and 341 RBIs. He had a career .214/.279/.357 slash line, a .636 OPS and a 6.5 WAR.

Known for being an excellent defensive catcher, Duncan had a lifetime .984 fielding percentage behind the plate with 225 runners caught stealing (32%). He led all AL catchers twice in Range Factor/Game with 7.05 in 1971 and 6.67 in 1973.

Coach Dave Duncan

Shortly after his retirement as a player, Duncan got into coaching. He began his coaching career as Cleveland's bullpen coach in 1978, and soon thereafter became the Indians' pitching coach.

Duncan quickly built up a reputation around the majors as a solid pitching coach. 

In 1982 he moved to Seattle to become the Mariners new pitching coach. 

Then after just one season in Seattle, Duncan joined the Chicago White Sox as their new pitching coach under the leadership of Duncan's former A's teammate, Tony La Russa.

Dave Duncan as pitching coach with the White Sox in the 80s

Dave Duncan at the mound with Carlton Fisk, during Duncan's coaching years with the Chicago White Sox.

That would be the start of a long and fruitful coaching partnership between Duncan and the future Hall of Fame manager La Russa. 

After a few years in Chicago, Duncan and La Russa moved to Oakland to manage their former team, the Athletics.

They helped lead the club to victory in the 1989 World Series, and their Athletics teams made two other World Series appearances during the Duncan/La Russa era.

Duncan and La Russa departed Oakland after the '95 season to lead the St Louis Cardinals, where they would stay until the end of 2011. While in St Louis, Duncan was a part of two World Series championships (2006 and 2011) and a number of division titles.

After leaving the Cardinals, he served as a pitching consultant for the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago White Sox.

During his time as a pitching coach, Duncan won three World Series rings, coached four Cy Young award winners and is credited with reviving the careers of several pitchers.

Quite simply, Duncan is revered as one of the best pitching coaches in modern baseball history. 

St Louis Cardinals coaches talking during a game

Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan while with the St Louis Cardinals [Getty Images].

Q&A with Dave Duncan

Dave Duncan is not only a world-class coach, but a former all star catcher with over 7,000 innings spent catching in the big leagues.

He has also coached in the MLB for parts of five decades, playing with - or coaching - many Hall of Famers along the way. Men like Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Dennis Eckersley, and others.

I contacted Duncan a few weeks back seeking his feedback on my typical questions for catchers. He signed some cards and kindly answered my questions, as you can see below.

Like our other posts in this series, we wanted to share Duncan's input to our readers.

Our goal is that Duncan's point of view – as well as the other MLB catchers highlighted on our site - will help catchers that want to improve their game.

Here are Duncan’s responses to my questions, as you can also read in the image below.

Question 1: What is your favorite memory from playing in the major leagues?

Answer: 1972 World Series vs. Cinn. A’s win 7 (games).

Question 2: What do you think is the most important skill that a catcher should have?

Answer: Good arm, strong legs, ability to communicate with pitcher and teammates, brains.

Question 3: If you could give only one piece of advice to young catchers hoping to make it to the next level, what would it be?

Answer: Work hard everyday. Make the pitchers know you think their success is very important to you.

Interview and letter with former MLB catcher and coach Dave Duncan

Duncan was not only a great player, but one of the best pitching coaches of his generation. His feedback has the tone of a coach, which I think is great.

Yes, there are some practical things to work on (i.e., good arm, strong legs, work hard, etc.). These shouldn’t be ignored.

However, there are also some intangible skills that catchers should aim to improve. Things such as improving your Baseball or Softball IQ, and perhaps most significantly, strengthening your communication and relationship with your pitcher(s). (See our post on catchers leadership and management for related content on this.)

Duncan has attributed his successes as a coach to being able to deal with and encourage pitchers who have a wide variety of personalities. This same skill is just as crucial for catchers as it is for pitching coaches.

Thanks for Reading

We enjoy sharing Pro Perspectives with readers and we plan to post a few more soon. Keep an eye out for them! 

We hope you enjoyed this post and learned something from it. If you ever have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us by sending an email to scott [at] catchershome [dot] com.