Dana Kiecker (TRADING CARD DB)

Dana Kiecker

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Dana Kiecker (TRADING CARD DB)At age 29, Dana Kiecker was named Red Sox Rookie of the Year in 1990, a season in which Boston won the AL East. He won eight games in the regular season, posting a 3.97 ERA, and pitched well in the clutch in the one opportunity he had in that year’s American League Championship Series. Had the bullpen done better in Game Two, the Bosox might not have been swept by the Oakland Athletics. Kiecker had a better ERA in the ALCS (1.59) than either of the other two Red Sox starters – Roger Clemens (3.52) and Mike Boddicker (2.25).

He had put in seven years of minor-league ball to get to that point but never returned to his 1990 form. In 1991, he pitched through right elbow pain that prompted arthroscopic surgery after the season and eventually ended his pro career.

Dana Ervin Kiecker was born on February 25, 1961, and grew up on a farm in Fairfax, Minnesota, a community of around 1,300 at the time. Most standard sources correctly note that he was born in the more colorfully named Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, a larger community about 17 miles away. He explained, “I spent all of three days there. The only reason was that’s where the hospital was. Sleepy Eye was much more fun for Jim Palmer and Jon Miller and the announcers to bring up than Fairfax.”1

“My father’s name was Kermit. He was a crop farmer with corn and soybeans and some grains – oats or wheat – but he was noted as a purebred Hampshire hog farmer. My dad was known to have one of the most respected breeding stocks in the upper Midwest. That, for 30-35 years, is what he took great pride in.” Dana’s mother Gladys was for the most part a homemaker, raising Dana and his older brother Brock, while working on the farm. “But when I was in high school, she was one of the first to have a microwave oven. She would go and sell microwave ovens and go and give demonstrations at fairs and different places like that. She was really good at that. That was one of her passions back then.”

Brock was almost exactly 10 years older than Dana and, naturally, someone to whom he looked up. He was also, to hear Dana tell it, more talented in baseball. “Brock was, by far, a much better pitcher than I was in high school and college. He also went to St. Cloud State and beat the University of Minnesota and Dave Winfield. There were scouts watching him. Amateur baseball is huge here, probably comparable to the Cape Cod League. He won three games in five days but injured his shoulder and was never the same.”2

While growing up, Dana spent hours every day throwing a rubber ball against the cinder block wall of the chicken barn and fielding the ball as it came back to him.

He graduated from Fairfax High School in Winthrop, where he excelled at athletics, earning letters in baseball all four years as well as two letters in football and three in basketball. He earned all-conference honors in high school – as a shortstop.

Kiecker had a number of interesting accomplishments in high school. In 1978, he was the Minnesotan sent to Washington, D.C. as part of the American Legion Boys’ State program, a mock government program of sorts that included a paid summer internship in 1979 with Minnesota Governor Al Quie.3 In 1979, he played on the St. Paul Public Safety American Legion baseball team coached by Joe Mauer’s father and grandfather. He was also a semi-finalist in the Mr. Minnesota Teen Program. It was like a “Miss America” competition, but adds, “It wasn’t around fashion. It was athletics, academics, and community involvement. There was no swimsuit competition.”

From high school, it was on to St. Cloud State University, where once again he lettered in baseball all four years. He was a double major in recreation and business management. His degree from St. Cloud was the first of three degrees he ultimately earned.4 Among his teammates with Division II St. Cloud were two others who made the major leagues, Jim Eisenreich and Bob Hegman.5 During his senior year, he was named the Pitcher of the Year in the North Central Conference.

In 1983, the year he turned 22 and graduated, he was drafted out of St. Cloud State by the Red Sox in the eighth round of that year’s June draft. The righty stood 6-feet-3 and was listed at 180 pounds. The signing scout for the Red Sox was Chuck Koney. Kiecker described how it developed:

“When I was a senior in college in 1983, St. Cloud State University had a strong Division II baseball program in the upper Midwest. Our archrival was Mankato State University. We go down there to play and there are probably a dozen to 15 scouts at this game. We had a one-game lead, so we had to win one game to automatically tie for our conference championship and our coach said he was going to pitch his best pitcher at the time, which was me – and they also had a very good pitcher, Brent Wohlers. Long story short, we lose the game, 2-1. There were three home runs. I gave up two solo home runs and Brent gave up one. The game lasted like 90 minutes. We get done afterwards and a number of scouts came over to talk to me. Many of them I had seen; they had been following me. But Chuck Koney, who was a Red Sox scout, I had never seen before. Most of them just said, ‘Good game’ and like that, but Chuck had this different style. He had this questionnaire. It was almost like an aptitude test that I had to take.”

Kiecker signed with Boston and was assigned to pitch for the Elmira Suns in the New York-Penn League. He had a very strong 1983 season: 11-5 with a 2.74 earned run average. He won his final nine starts and set the Elmira record for wins in a season.

In 1984, he pitched for the Single-A Winston Salem Spirits (Carolina League) and struggled, with a 4.38 ERA and a record of 6-11. Putting in another year in Single A, he worked for the Florida State League Winter Haven Red Sox in 1985 and recorded a 2.60 ERA. He was 12-12, led the league in innings pitched (193 2/3) and games started (29), and had nine complete games.

Both 1986 and 1987 were in the Double A Eastern League, playing for the New Britain Red Sox. His ERA was 4.14 the first year, with 24 starts, and 3.82 the second, when he started 17 games but relieved in 22, 18 of them closing games.

With the exception of one game with New Britain, Kiecker worked 1988 at Triple-A Pawtucket (International League), with all but one assignment as a starter. He was named International League Player of the Week June 19-25 and finished 7-7 (3.67).

Kiecker worked the full 1989 season for the Pawtucket Red Sox (8-9, 3.67). He started 19 games and relieved in nine.

After the season, and after seven years in the Red Sox system, he was a free agent but wasn’t sure if it was worthwhile to continue. He married Julie Todd that fall and said she told him he’d been working it at so long, she’d be behind him as long as he wanted to persevere.6 There was some interest from the Twins, but he worked out a deal with the Red Sox and they added him to their major-league roster.7 The Boston newspapers of the day hadn’t taken much note of his progress, though in late February Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote that Kiecker “could make the Boston staff because of his deceptive motion.”8

Kiecker had spent the winter working out with Oakland Athletics catcher Terry Steinbach, who lived near him in Minnesota. He’d asked Steinbach to be candid: did he have a chance to make the majors? Steinbach said he did and, according to Kiecker, “we worked on the physical and mental aspects of pitching. He just gave me tremendous confidence in myself.”9

He had a very good spring training in 1990 (the first year he’d been invited to major-league camp) and made the big club. It might have helped that a lockout before spring training reduced the length of the preseason, and teams were allowed to have 27-man rosters.

Red Sox manager Joe Morgan had seen Kiecker as far back as Elmira in 1983. “He has battled his way all the way to the majors,” Morgan said in mid-May. “I’d say he’s a little faster now than then. But I felt then that he’d probably get as far as Triple A and then it would be anybody’s guess if he made it all the way, like it is with anyone in today’s game.”10 For his part, Kiecker said, “I’ve never been the man on any of the staffs that I’ve been on. But what I lack in ability, I try to make up for with hard work. When I’m out there in the mound, I feel like I’m the best pitcher out there until they prove me wrong.”11 He was seen as a starter but was first called upon in relief.

His debut came in Detroit on the afternoon of April 12, the fourth game of the year for the Red Sox. The Tigers built up a quick 6-1 lead off starter Mike Rochford, who didn’t make it through the second inning. Wes Gardner relieved him, but when Gardner hurt his elbow while facing Gary Ward in the third, Kiecker came on in the middle of the at-bat. Ward walked (it was charged to Gardner). Kiecker then retired the next two batters on fly balls, both deep enough that the runner on second took third on the first and then scored on the second. He hit the next man he faced. Two singles followed, and then a base on balls. By the end of the inning, it was 10-1. Greg Harris relieved in the sixth; Kiecker had worked four innings and given up two earned runs.

His two later April appearances were worse, the second one a start against visiting Oakland (4 1/3 innings and four earned runs on April 27.) After a couple more relief stints in May, with John Dopson unable to contribute, Kiecker joined Morgan’s starting rotation.12

Unfortunately, his first two decisions were both losses – though he threw five scoreless innings in his May 8 start, in which he received a no-decision. He had an ERA of 5.16 at the end of May.

Kiecker’s first win came on June 9, seven years and one day after first signing with the Red Sox. The Cleveland Indians were in Boston for a Saturday afternoon game. The Red Sox scored three runs in the first inning. The 29-year-old rookie pitched six full innings, allowing just one run on three hits and a walk. He struck out seven. There was a lot of scoring late in the game, but Boston prevailed, 11-6. Ellis Burks drove in six of the Sox runs. “I owe Ellis a steak,” Kiecker said.13 The win was their seventh in a row. Kiecker credited catcher John Marzano. “If he keeps throwing like that,” Marzano said, “it doesn’t make any difference who’s behind the plate.”14

He won some and lost some, mostly starting but relieving in a few games. One adventurous start came in Minnesota on July 5. In 5 2/3 innings, he walked four and hit three batters, in addition to giving up five hits. He struck out five. Joe Morgan said, “Kiecker was wild as hell. That might have been good because it made him more effective.”15 He gave up just two runs (one earned), but got a no-decision as the Twins came from behind to win.

His best three games were on July 20 in Kansas City (8 1/3 innings, one earned run), August 24 in Toronto (eight innings of scoreless ball), and September 21 in New York (seven scoreless innings). After the Toronto outing, Kiecker credited catcher Tony Peña for keeping him focused. “He told me to forget the men on base and get the batter out.”16

Kiecker finished the season with a record of 8-9, and an ERA he had brought under 4.00 in his last outing. He did seem to pitch better on the road, but for no apparent reason. After he got knocked out of the box in the first inning during a home game on September 3, Kiecker said, “I actually enjoy working at Fenway Park. I think the dimensions work in my favor.”17 The next day, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe wrote, “Lay off Dana Kiecker. He’s won six more games than anyone thought he’d ever win in the bigs a year ago, and the game he pitched in Toronto was the biggest one of the year for this club.”18

Year-end statistics show that he actually pitched much better on the road than at home: he had an ERA of 6.50 at Fenway Park and 2.14 in away games. That reflected opponents’ batting average against him: .313 at home and .206 on the road.

Why were the figures so different? Asked in 2021, he said, “I wish I had an answer for it. Pitching on the road is the only time when you can take the mound with the lead. If your team does score in that first inning, you go out there …The first inning is the hardest inning for any starting pitcher.” Indeed, Tony Peña said that getting through the first inning was always important for Kiecker.19

Kiecker added, “It’s easy to get caught up in a time – especially early in the 1990 season – it’s easy to get caught up in the atmosphere of Fenway Park. Do the research on this, but I want to say that the distance from the first row behind home in Fenway Park to home plate is probably the closest versus any other park in baseball. You’re there. The fans are there. They’re into it.”

Kiecker was distinctly better against right-handed batters. He had a.183 batting average against righties (second lowest in the majors), but lefties hit .318 against him. Run support was sometimes an issue. Earlier in the year, on June 14, he’d lost a game to the Yankees, but had only given up two runs in six innings.20 In 19 of his 25 starts, pitching in a pennant race for the first time, he pitched into the sixth inning or longer.

On October 1, he threw seven innings and allowed just one run to the White Sox in the game that clinched at least a tie for the division. When he left, Boston led 3-0. They squandered the lead, but came back to win, with Jeff Reardon getting the decision.

Playing on a championship team – even playing on a winning team – was something new to Kiecker. In 1987, while with New Britain, he had told the Hartford Courant, “I’ve never played on a winning team. Not in high school, legion, college, or in the pros…Right now that would be a major goal of mine. The big leagues is a goal, sure. But right now, if I could win a league championship I’d be pretty happy.”21 He’d not been on winning teams in 1987, 1988, or 1989, either.22

The Red Sox (88-74) finished first in the AL East and played the ALCS against the 103-59 Oakland Athletics. The A’s won the first game, 9-1. Kiecker started the second game, against Bob Welch, on Sunday evening, October 7 in Boston. “He’s been our hottest pitcher,” said pitching coach Bill Fischer.23

Kiecker threw three scoreless innings, then the Red Sox scored a run. In the top of the fourth, Oakland matched that run. In the top of the sixth, he gave up a single, got a double play, then gave up two more singles. Morgan summoned Greg Harris to relieve. The Athletics did not score. Kieckcr had worked 5 2/3 innings and left with the score tied, 1-1. Oakland got one in the seventh and two more in the ninth. Boston didn’t score again. The Boston Herald’s Joe Giuliotti wrote, “Once again they got outstanding starting pitching – this time from Dana Kiecker – only to have the bullpen lose another.”24

One never can know what might have been, but Jackie MacMullan offered an appreciation in the next day’s Globe: “Kiecker has been the most pleasant surprise of this surprising pitching corps. His 8-9 mark this season barely tells the story of a young pitcher on the verge of being out of baseball who turned it around and became one of the hottest Red Sox pitchers down the stretch.”25

In 1991, Kiecker signed a one-year deal and hoped to make the team as the fifth starter. He made the roster after allowing just one run in 19 innings during spring training, but once again initially worked as a reliever. He started on April 28 in Kansas City and won, 2-1. He picked up another win on May 11 against the Rangers, but in two late-May starts gave up 11 earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings of work. He went on the disabled list with an inflamed muscle in his right elbow. The issue had arisen during spring training but been overcome.26 He said it had kicked up several weeks earlier, but he had asked trainer Charlie Moss to keep it quiet.27 Joe Morgan was understandably angry when he found out.28

On June 23, with his elbow still subpar, Kiecker went to Pawtucket on a rehab assignment. On July 20, the Red Sox cut Mike Marshall and brought Kiecker back. He relieved in five games and started one, ineffectively. After the team picked up Dan Petry, Kiecker was sent back to Pawtucket. He was recalled in early September. The general feeling was that by trying to pitch through his injury, he had harmed himself.29

The Red Sox were very much in contention, getting as close as a half-game out of first place on September 21, but used Kiecker just once down the stretch (a two-inning appearance out of the pen on October 1). They lost six out of seven, and 11 of their final 14 games, finishing seven games back. Within a week, the Red Sox replaced Joe Morgan with Butch Hobson. In November Kiecker had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow.

When the year was over, Kiecker’s playing career was pretty much over, too. He joined the Red Sox in Winter Haven in the spring of 1992, though he had to return to Minnesota for four days because his wife was having a difficult pregnancy. One of several who were seen as a possible fifth starter, he was released on March 31. He’d thrown only seven innings. He admitted that he should have dealt with the elbow issue earlier, instead of trying to pitch through it, noting, “I was always one to pitch with my heart more than my arm.”30

Still badly hampered by right elbow soreness, apparently because of bone spurs, he signed a minor-league deal with the Cleveland Indians organization, but was unable to pitch effectively and was released in July. He later played some for the Dundas Dukes in the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Association.31 That November, he had another arthroscopic surgery. Giving it one more shot, he went to minor-league spring training with the Minnesota Twins in early 1993, but elbow pain still prevented him from pitching effectively and he elected to retire.

“Baseball was the best job I ever had,” Kiecker told Boston writer Jon Goode in 2004. “I lost my effectiveness. My injury forced me to change some mechanics, but when balls don’t sink and sliders don’t break down and away like they used to before, they start getting hit. That’s basically what happened.”32

Starting in 1988, he had worked for United Parcel Service in the offseasons. He then joined fulltime. “I made more money driving for UPS as a seasonal delivery driver beginning in September and ending the first week in January than I did playing minor league baseball,” said Kiecker. “It worked out perfect because as soon as the minor league season was over I was able to come back, start a new job, and make a few dollars, and then in January start preparing for spring training.”33

Kiecker had been offered a position in management and decided to take it. He had first worked as assistant manager of a sporting goods store, but UPS offered some real opportunity. Around 1990, when he first made the majors, the chief operating officer for the Minnesota district of UPS was apparently a huge sports fan. “I don’t know how it came up, but he knew my name and we connected. He said, ‘Hey, I want you to stay connected with UPS.’ I did some speaking engagements, things of that sort. They wanted me to come back and even deliver packages – just take 150 residential stops. I looked at my major-league contract and I said, ‘You know what? I’ve been fighting to make it to this level. If I slip and fall and break my elbow or whatever, my contract would be null and void.’”

He and Julie Todd had married in October 1989. “She was a stylist in a pretty high-end salon back here in Minnesota, and she was the manager of that salon, so she stayed back here while I went to spring training and played baseball. That first year, she took her vacation and came out for maybe two or three weeks.”

After he was released in 1992, he was at a crossroads. Their daughter Paige had just been born. He’d built on the speaking engagements and had begun to, in effect, help UPS with marketing. His mentor at UPS had told him, “If baseball ever does not work out for you, I’ve always got a spot for you back here.” It seemed like it might be time to move on to the next stage of his life.

UPS offered stability – and, it turned out, significant opportunity for advancement. The company paid for him to get an additional degree in marketing. In time he advanced to become National Accounts Manager. He had 14 account managers working beneath him on the corporate chart and was responsible for managing over 600 million dollars of revenue in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Iowa. Clients included national firms with headquarters in the Twin Cities – such as 3M and Best Buy – as well as companies like Boston Scientific, which had a large presence in the region. “I was still responsible for them in this region even though corporate was out in Massachusetts. A lot of revenue. A lot of packages. Pretty exciting. Pretty dynamic.”

In addition to holding an executive position with UPS, he spent 19 years working as a color analyst broadcasting baseball games. For the first 10 years, he helped broadcast every home game for the St. Paul Saints, then in the independent Northern League. “I was the color analyst working with Anthony LaPanta, who was the first play-by-play guy. He’s now the play-by-play guy for what was Fox Sports Net. He’s in the NHL right now with the Minnesota Wild and also does some Twins stuff. My second partner was Kris Atteberry. He is on the radio side for the Minnesota Twins. Out of the 19 years, I got to spend about 12 years with those guys, who were extremely talented individuals. They made it to the major leagues in baseball and the NHL right now.”

He was able to retire at age 55, though he stayed on two more years to help with transition before retiring for good in 2018. He has put in some time working as proprietor of a lawn service company, Sox19, and as a starter at a local country club.

Dana Kiecker is still active with baseball today, though no longer as a player. “I stopped playing competitively five years ago [in 2016]. I played for 40 years.”34 In 2017, he became a pitching coach at Dakota County Technical College, mainly for the enjoyment of it, but also because “I’ve always been big on giving back to the game, because it’s a wonderful game. If I can help some kids when they’re 18, 19 years old, to either go on to a Division I or Division II school, I feel I owe that back to the game of baseball.” He is currently coaching baseball at Century Junior College in White Bear Lake.

The two children the Kieckers raised are active in their own lives. “Paige is 29. She got married a little over a year ago. She is the Digital Product Manager and Strategist for the YMCA of the Twin Cities. She just got an award for Top 30 under 30 females, or something like that. My son Mitchell just turned 26. He’s a civil engineer for the State of Minnesota.”

Other than the brief signing with Cleveland, Dana Kiecker never played for another professional baseball organization. He retains nothing but positive feelings regarding his time with the Red Sox and the way the organization works with alumni. “It was an honor to play major-league baseball and even a greater honor to have played for the Boston Red Sox. And then to get into the playoffs and be able to play in that atmosphere was just something I’ll never forget.”

Last revised: January 20, 2022

 

Sources and acknowledgments

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author thanks Dana Kiecker for time spent answering questions and to SABR’s Scouts and Scouting Committee chair Rod Nelson.

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Bryan St. Amand and fact-checked by James Forr.

 

Notes

1 Author interview with Dana Kiecker on September 9, 2021. Unless otherwise indicated, all direct quotations attributed to Dana Kiecker come from this interview.

2 He added about his brother, “He’s 70 years old right now and he still pitches. His team has won the Roy Hobbs Tournament for two or three years. He’s well known down in Fort Myers at both the Red Sox and the Twins parks, because that’s where they play that tournament. He’s got quite a passion for the game.” Kiecker noted that Dave Winfield was an All-American the year after Brock, at the University of Minnesota.

3 “It’s ironic,” he said, “because my neighbor and good friend, for almost 30 years, is Tim Pawlenty.” Pawlenty was two-term governor of Minnesota from 2003-11 and briefly ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2011.

4 In his post-playing years, United Parcel Service paid for him to add a marketing degree to his resume.

5 Hegman appeared in just one major-league game, with the 1985 Kansas City Royals. He played second base for one inning. Eisenreich played more than 1,000 games over the course of 15 seasons, primarily as an outfielder. He played for the Twins, Royals, Phillies, Marlins, and Dodgers from 1982 to 1998.

6 George Kimball, “Kiecker’s impact no longer Minny-mal,” Boston Herald, April 5, 1990: 28.

7 Nick Cafardo, “Kiecker is making a strong bid,” Boston Globe, April 5, 1990: 38.

8 Nick Cafardo, “Gorman’s position: He won’t take fifth,” Boston Globe, February 25, 1990: 44. Cafardo added that he could be tough against right-handers. On April 2, he wrote that Kiecker was starting to gain support.

9 Nick Cafardo, “Kiecker is making a strong bid.”

10 Sean Horgan, “Kiecker Impresses Morgan,” Hartford Courant, May 15, 1990: D3A.

11 Horgan, “Kiecker Impresses Morgan.”

12 Dopson had Tommy John surgery later in the season.

13 Joe Giuliotti, “Kiecker gets a lift from Burks,” Boston Herald, June 10, 1990: 38.

14 Marvin Pave, “The long wait ends for Kiecker,” Boston Globe, June 10, 1990: 50.

15 Nick Cafardo, “Twins get back at Red Sox,” Boston Globe, July 6, 1990: 25, 27. The Red Sox lost, but the loss came in later innings and was not his.

16 Michael Gee, “Morgan gambles on ace,” Boston Herald, August 25, 1990: 14, 20.

17 Nick Cafardo, “Fenway’s not friendly to Kiecker,” Boston Globe, September 4, 1990: 63.

18 Bob Ryan, “Touching the bases,” Boston Globe, September 5, 1990: 72.

19 Mike Shalin, “Kiecker having a ball,” Boston Herald, August 30, 1990: 102. Statistics available on Baseball-Reference.com demonstrated that he gave up more runs in the first inning as the second and third innings combined.

21 “Dana Kiecker,” Hartford Courant, August 2, 1987: E9, E12. He had been 8-12 in his years at St. Cloud. See Kimball, “Kiecker’s impact no longer Minny-mal.”

22 At the time, he had apparently forgotten the 1985 Winter Haven Red Sox, who were 71-68.

23 Nick Cafardo, “Team set to pick up Evans’ option year,” Boston Globe, October 4, 1990: 98.

24 Joe Giuliotti, “Welch puts Sox in jam,” Boston Herald, October 8, 1990: 78.

25 Jackie MacMullan, “Kiecker had no luck dodging the hook,” Boston Globe, October 8, 1990: 45.

26 “Tightness” had been reported. See Nick Cafardo, “Trade isn’t likely,” Boston Globe, August 31, 1990: 42.

27 Mike Shalin, “Gardiner, gets the call, ball,” Boston Herald, May 30, 1991: 94.

28 A profile of Kiecker at the time of his unconditional release was offered by George Kimball. See “Sox make the unkindest cut,” Boston Herald, April 1, 1992: 85.

29 Matt Toll, “Mound of woes for Dana,” Boston Herald, September 18, 1991: 14.

30 Nick Cafardo, “Kiecker hitting the road,” Boston Globe, April 1, 1992: 57, 59.

31 An article at the time offered a good look back at his career, with his take on things. Associated Press, “Kiecker: long fall since Red Sox,” Hartford Courant, July 27, 1992: B1A.

32 Jon Goode, “Delivering in the Clutch,” Boston.com, August 20, 2004. http://archive.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/articles/2004/08/20/delivering_in_the_clutch?pg=full. Accessed August 21, 2021.

33 Goode, “Delivering in the Clutch.”

34When he did play, it was as a pitcher, and it wasn’t in a beer league or softball. It was competitive baseball, although among older players, many of whom had played college ball or professional ball. If one of them got a hit off him, they might understandably show a bit of a smile at getting a hit off a former major-league pitcher. But he said with good humor, the next time they came up, “I probably let them know that I’m going to come hard and it was probably a different result the next time.”

Full Name

Dana Ervin Kiecker

Born

February 25, 1961 at Sleepy Eye, MN (USA)

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