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When San Jose’s aces ruled Major League Baseball

They grew up here, the three of them close in age, closer in geographic proximity, and they grew into three of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball during the 1980s.
Thirteen All-Star Games, seven Gold Gloves, more than 400 wins and 255 saves.
All from three guys who grew up within 20 minutes of one another.
“I was always proud to say, ‘Yeah, we’re from San Jose,’” Dave Righetti said recently. “Nobody knew where that was. There was no Sharks. There was no Silicon Valley.”
Righetti is the most San Jose of them all. Born here, still lives here.
Mark Langston was born in San Diego, came here at age 5.
Dave Stieb, born in Santa Ana, arrived as a high school freshman.
Their story is more than 60 years in the making, This story, almost 30. Righetti pitched it to me in 1994. You’re seeing it now because tonight Stieb, the pride of Oak Grove High School, will be inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame where plaques of Righetti (Pioneer High) and Langston (Buchser High) already hang in the concourse of SAP Center.
Back in their day, there was no social media, no Max Preps, no travel ball teams. But Langston knew of Stieb and Righetti.
“Those guys were legends,” said Langston, 63. “I didn’t know them, but I knew all about them. They were guys I always looked up to.”
Because of the age difference — Stieb is 66, Righetti 65 this month — Langston never played against them. In fact, there is only one known meeting between any of them. It was in a CCS playoff game between Righetti’s Pioneer team and Stieb’s Oak Grove team.
Stieb’s team won 2-1.
“Stieb threw out my brother at the plate from centerfield,” Righetti said. “He threw a rocket.”
Stieb remembers. “I threw a bullet.”
The next year Righetti and Stieb were teammates at San Jose City College. Langston was headed there too until San Jose State offered him a scholarship. Imagine those three on the same pitching staff. It never would have happened, because Stieb and Righetti had moved on after one year. Langston was still in high school.
And, besides, one of them wasn’t a pitcher. Funny, but Stieb, the second-winningest pitcher of the 1980s — only Jack Morris won more games in the decade — didn’t throw a pitch in high school. Or in college until his third year.
Stieb was an outfielder. He was a college All-American his junior year, hitting .394 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI in 51 games for Southern Illinois University,
He still wonders what might have been had he not become a pitcher. He might have been like Shohei Ohtani, in the lineup every day, on the mound every fifth day. It’s a notion that Langston, who follows Ohtani closely as an Angels broadcaster, does not rush to dispel.
“I’ll always wonder,” Stieb said, wistfully. “But the way things turned out, I don’t really have any regrets. I can’t say I would have hit as I advanced up through the minors.”
Pitching found Stieb, not the other way around. Injuries had put the Southern Illinois staff in crisis. Stieb agreed to help out of the bullpen. He was pitching in relief one day against Eastern Illinois. Two Toronto Blue Jays scouts were in attendance, checking out the shortstop from the other team. They liked what they saw from Stieb the pitcher.
Stieb was drafted by the Blue Jays in 1978 and was in the majors within a year.
Righetti followed a month later, a September 1979 callup by the Yankees.
Langston arrived in 1984 and went 17-10 for a Seattle Mariners team that finished 14 games under .500. He also led the league in strikeouts, the first of three times. In a rookie class that included Roger Clemens and Kirby Puckett, Langston finished second. His teammate and roommate Alvin Davis won it with 27 homers and 116 RBI. (Oh, the aforementioned seven Gold Gloves; those all belong to Langston.)
Righetti won Rookie of the Year in 1981, led the league in saves once, and would have made many more All-Star teams under today’s rules. (Back then, there were no honorary selections. If you weren’t available to play in the game because of injury or otherwise, then you weren’t selected as an All-Star.)
Stieb won an ERA title, led the league in complete games and shutouts and twice led the league in innings pitched. (Fiery Dave also led the league in hit batsmen five times.)
By the end, they all had pitched no-hitters. That’s a sentence Langston does dispute.
“They had no-hitters,” he said, referring to Stieb and Righetti. “Mine was combined. You can’t put me in there with them. Those two were legit.”
In 1990, in his first game with the Angels — against his old team, the Seattle Mariners — Langston pitched seven hitless innings. Because spring training had been reduced to three weeks as a result of a labor lockout, Langston hadn’t gone more than four innings in a game. The decision to come out after seven innings was left to him.
“I had nothing left,” he said. “I couldn’t have gone another two innings.”
Righetti got his no-hitter on July 4, 1983, a Yankee doodle dandy on a 94-degree day in the Bronx against the hated Red Sox, no less. He struck out Wade Boggs to end it. Boggs struck out 36 times that year in 685 trips to the plate.
Stieb got his in 1990, finally. Four times he had gone into the ninth inning with a no-hitter. The fourth time was the charm.
Of the 13 All-Star Game appearances among the three of them, Stieb had seven. Langston four. Righetti’s two came back to back, 1986 and 1987. The latter was in Oakland, so close to home, and Righetti wanted all three of them to make it. Stieb, an All-Star in three of the four previous seasons, was the one who didn’t.
“I was coming off my worst season,” he said.
None of them remember pitching against the other in the majors, which makes sense in one case. Righetti became a reliever in 1984, the year Langston reached the majors.
Langston pitched 16 years, almost exclusively in the American League. Ten of those seasons overlapped with Stieb’s career, but never a day that either can recall.
There was a night, though. After a game in Seattle, Langston invited Stieb to his home.
“He was a guitar guy,” Langston said. “We played guitars.”
“He had a nice little studio, lots of guitars,” Stieb recalled.
Langston remembers a night out with Righetti in the Bay Area. Righetti remembers a night out with Stieb in college; they went to see Andre the Giant at the Cow Palace.
But the three of them together? Never happened.
It won’t happen tonight either. Langston spends his offseasons in Tennessee. Righetti has a previous commitment.
But it’s OK. The three boys who grew up here, grew up to dominate major league pitching in the 1980s, will be hanging together on the concourse walls at SAP Center for the rest of time.
“Anything that happens in your hometown is so special,” Langston said, who was enshrined in 2018. “That night was very, very special for me. I’m sure it will be for Dave too.”
EVENT IS SOLD OUT
No tickets remain for the induction of the greatest class in the Hall’s 26-year history. In addition to Stieb, Patrick Marleau, Chris Wondolowski and Lorrie Fair are being inducted. The selection committee waived its five-year waiting period for Wondolowski and Marleau following their retirement as players in 2021 and 2022, respectively, because of their deep roots in the area.

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