On February 2, 1958, in Hamilton, Ohio, Mrs. Marian H. Tabler introduced newborn Patrick to his dad, siblings, and the world. Patrick was born into a family of German heritage on both paternal and maternal sides. Sometime after the families were connected, it was discovered that, in fact, both sides immigrated from Alsace-Lorraine, a predominantly German-speaking region that was incorporated into the new state of Germany in 1871. Marian was a nurse and her husband, William J. Tabler, an artist, having graduated from Central Academy of Art in Cincinnati. He worked as a commercial artist in retail at L.S. Ayres, a department store in downtown Cincinnati. Neither parent had prior links to sports and/or athletic endeavors. However, Patrick and his older brother, Greg, of their own determination and initiative got deeply involved in sports with total parental blessing. The boys had one older and two younger sisters, respectively Kimberly, Kateri, and Kristen.
Patrick’s primary focus was basketball. He made varsity as a starter for McNicholas High School in his freshman year. His icon was Jerry West, arguably West Virginia’s most notable basketballer. Pat adopted Jerry’s number 44 for his own in both basketball and baseball. In his sophomore year he was a starter along with Greg. In one notable basketball game against favored Loveland High School, the Tabler boys spearheaded a victory that stopped a 45-game winning streak for nontournament games, which included a 30 home-game winning streak.1 They also went to the final four of the state tournament but failed to win it all. In Pat’s junior year he was named to the all-city team and selected as an honorable mention all-stater. In his senior year he was an Ohio Class AA first-team player for the Southwestern region and shared Player of the Year honors with another athlete. He averaged 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists per game as a guard. Pat established records at McNicholas that still stood in 2022. His number 44 has been ceremoniously retired by his school. It was no surprise that colleges wanted Pat to play basketball for them. He signed a national letter of intent with Virginia Tech.
Baseball was secondary for Pat. He did not go out for the team in his freshman year, nor did he play any summer ball. He thought summers were meant for honing one’s basketball skills. He did go out the next year. Pat Quinn, his baseball coach, thought Pat was the best sophomore he ever had. In fact, he thought Pat had more potential in baseball than in basketball, despite mistakes he had made that Quinn attributed to lack of concentration. For the second summer in a row, he did not play baseball, but the omission was not evident in his play. He started with the team when it hit the gym for preseason workouts. Quinn started him in center field but moved him around to different positions as conditions warranted.2 Pat adapted seamlessly to the changes. The diversity became a hallmark of his professional career. He said the experience of playing several positions extended his playing time in the majors.3 He helped McNicholas win city titles in both his junior and senior years. Pat led the city in batting (.487) his junior year. He got plenty of looks from major-league scouts during those last two years. Two prominent ones were Wayne Morgan and Dave Yokum of the Yankees.
A highlight of Pat’s life was a personal invitation to work out with the Cincinnati Reds of Big Red Machine fame. It was a real ego boost to play ball and talk one-on-one with the likes of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Johnny Bench. Manager Sparky Anderson told him the Reds would draft him in the first round if he was still available.4 For a high-school teenager, it was surreal.
On June 8, 1976, Pat dropped by coach Quinn’s small office to hang out for the start of baseball’s amateur draft. There was hope that he might get a call in one of the early rounds. A reporter was also squeezed in the tiny office. McNicholas’s catcher, Jeff Savage, had precariously perched his 210-pound frame on a tilted chair in the door frame. After 15 picks, the phone rang. Coach Quinn answered the phone. After some pleasantries, he handed it to Pat. On the other end was Yankees scout Wayne Morgan calling from a local hotel. The conversation lasted only moments. The Yankees had taken him in the first round, 16th overall. Pat, a low-keyed kid, was not sure what to think of it all but was inwardly awestruck. He would have liked to be a Cincinnati Red or a Los Angeles Dodger (his two favorites), but the tradition of the pinstripes was magnetic. Fifteen minutes later he left to get a physical exam requested by Virginia Tech and then drove to Hillsboro, Ohio, to play an evening doubleheader.5
It didn’t take Tabler long to opt for the Yankees deal. In the long haul, baseball would be less demanding on his body. There are fewer spots available in professional basketball. He drove to Blacksburg, Virginia, to decline his Virginia Tech scholarship, before reporting to Oneonta, New York, for his first professional assignment. Oneonta has produced a score of notables, of whom the most famous baseball player was Jim Konstanty, a reliever for the Phillies in the 1940s and ’50s and former MVP.
Tabler was a right-handed batter and fielder, 6-feet-3, and weighed 175 pounds. He toiled in the Yankees’ farm system for the better part of five seasons. His first assignment was with Oneonta in the short-season, instructional Class-A New York-Penn League. His manager was Eddie Napoleon, whom he credited as his all-time favorite. Napoleon was patient with him and taught him the ropes for surviving in professional baseball. Tabler cited Cito Gaston as the second most influential manager. Tabler’s offensive production at Oneonta was unspectacular. He hit .231 with an OPS of .567.
In 1977 the Yankees moved Tabler up to Fort Lauderdale (Class-A Florida State League). Napoleon was his manager again. Tabler’s offensive production was only slightly better: .238 batting average and .580 OPS. In 1978 he found himself in Fort Lauderdale again. To break up the tedium of travel around the state in a bus, Tabler became immersed in the soap opera All My Children.6 His passion for the show was triggered by many of his teammates, who routinely watched their favorite soaps. He entertained his teammates with his $200 six-string acoustic guitar. He had taught himself to play back in Cincinnati, where he “jammed” with musical friends. His specialty was folk-country rock. Avowedly, Jethro Tull was one of his favorite artists. Besides his extracurricular pursuits he posted solid numbers at the plate in 1978. He had 455 at-bats, 124 hits, 19 for extra bases, 70 RBIs, and a .273 batting average.
Tabler started the 1979 campaign for the third season in a row with Fort Lauderdale. He seemed to be stuck. By mid-June he had played first base, second base, third base, designated hitter, and all three outfield positions. The versatility seemed to be holding him back even though it was a godsend for his manager. Regardless, it was the one-position players who were moving up. Tabler engaged manager Doug Holmquist on the subject and the latter admitted his grievance was valid.7 After 75 games with Fort Lauderdale, he was elevated to the West Haven A’s of the Double-A Eastern League to finish the season and reunite with Napoleon.
Tabler’s disposition might be described as “straight arrow.” One reporter said that Mother Teresa compared to Tabler “… would come across as exceedingly impolite. The Dalai Lama would be told to do something about his attitude. … Lassie is crankier than Pat Tabler.”8 He followed his manager’s requests without grumbling. Tabler once said, “I’m not a guy that will cause problems.”9 He was not contentious, was even-keeled, and never exerted a negative influence, in fact, quite the opposite, never letting adversity get him down. He learned to adapt quickly to new settings. He was a positive in every locker room he found himself in. When he was traded to Kansas City, he was soon elected player representative.
On October 27, 1979, Patrick married Susan M. Butler of Cincinnati. They had been going steady since they were 10 years old.
Tabler spent the entire 1980 campaign with the Double-A Nashville Sounds (Southern League) and at a fixed position, second base. He put up impressive numbers. He produced 38 doubles, second in the league. He was fifth in total bases with 244, his .898 OPS was sixth-best, and his 83 RBIs seventh, with a respectable batting average of .297. The most notable future major leaguer in the league that season was Charlotte’s Cal Ripken Jr.10
In 1981 the Yankees placed Tabler with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers (International League). He was determined to take advantage of the opportunity and posted solid numbers. By June 12, he had played in 52 games at both second base and third base with vitals of .296/.394/.592. June 12 was the day he was traded to the Chicago Cubs for players to be named later. The Cubs sent Bill Caudill to the Yankees on April 1, 1982, and Jay Howell on August 2, 1982, to complete the trade.11
At first Tabler was chagrined by the trade. The Yankees had told him they had plans for him. After some reflection, he decided he might have better odds getting a shot with the Cubs. Although the Cubs were eager to see Tabler in action, they could not on major-league turf. It was the first day of the 1981 players strike. He was assigned to Iowa of the Triple-A American Association, for whom he played 63 games over the balance of the season with some respectable numbers. Major-league play resumed with the All-Star Game on August 9. Tabler was brought up from Iowa and played his first major-league game on August 21.
In his major-league debut, at home against the San Francisco Giants, Tabler came to the plate against pitcher Tom Griffin in the bottom of the second with one out and Jody Davis on first with a walk. Tabler hit the ball to shortstop for a single. Shortstop Billy Smith threw wild trying to get Davis at third. Ken Reitz’s double scored Davis and send Tabler to third, where he was stranded. He failed to hit in three other at-bats. Tabler started at second base in 31 games for the balance of the season and was the designated hitter in four. His hitting statistics were not impressive during that period: .188 with 5 RBIs.
Tabler spent most of the 1982 season at Triple-A Iowa. It was his minor-league high-water mark: career highs in runs (89), triples (11), homers (17), RBIs (105), stolen bases (15), batting average (.342), OBP (.444), slugging (.581), and OPS (1.025). Iowa fans really took to the tall blond with an infectious smile.12 The Cubs brought Tabler up at the end of the season. In 25 games, he batted .235 with 7 RBIs.
On January 25, 1983, Tabler became property of the Cubs’ crosstown rivals, the White Sox. Tabler, Scott Fletcher, Randy Martz, and Dick Tidrow went to the White Sox in exchange for Warren Brusstar and Steve Trout. Eddie Napoleon came back into Tabler’s life. He was now a Cleveland Indians coach. Cleveland manager Mike Ferraro had also coached Tabler in the minors. The White Sox coveted Jerry Dybzinski but could not dangle enough bait in front of the Indians during the winter meetings.13 When the White Sox acquired Tabler, they dangled him in front of the Indians, who eagerly took the bait.14 On April 1 Tabler was traded to the Indians for Dybzinski. In some quarters it was thought that defensive lapses are what got him traded by the White Sox.15
Tabler was placed in Triple A with the Charleston (West Virginia) Charlies but was called up after four games. The Indians’ third baseman, Toby Harrah, had suffered a broken hand.
Tabler played his first game as an Indian on April 18, at third base, getting two hits in three at-bats as Cleveland fell to the Baltimore Orioles, 4-1. The Indians were not a competitive team during Tabler’s five-plus years with them.16
Tabler’s 1983 season was his first full one in the majors. He played in 124 games, 88 of them in the outfield. He led the team with a .291 batting average and was third in RBIs with 65. His on-base percentage of .370 was the best of his 12-year major-league career. He led the team in batting average with runners in scoring position with .386. At 25, Tabler was the sixth youngest player on the team. The Indians finished seventh (last) in the AL East Division, 28 games off the pace with a record of 70-92.
The 1984 season was nearly a cookie-cutter of 1983. Tabler hit .290 and drove in 68 runs, third-best on the team. His value as a utilityman was plain. He played first base (67 games), second base (1), third base (36), left field (43), and DH (1). To top it off, he pinch-hit eight times and pinch-ran four. The Indians improved to 75-87 and moved up to sixth place.
In 1985 Tabler played 92 of his 117 games at first-base. His time as first-sacker was at the expense of Mike Hargrove, who publicly voiced his objection to the situation because of his greater fielding prowess. Manager Pat Corrales replied that Hargrove would get little sympathy from anybody. Tabler’s “amiability is hard to hate.”17 Tabler’s hitting declined to .275 with 59 RBIs. Against the Seattle Mariners on June 8, he drove in six runs. His production for the year was curtailed by surgery to remove degenerative torn knee cartilage on September 5, causing him to miss the balance of the season. The Indians won just 60 games (60-102).
Both Tabler and the Indians bounced back in 1986. His .326 batting average led the team and was fourth in the league. The Indians had four hitters over .300. Tabler had a personal-best of 154 hits, a personal-high OBP of .368, and a career-high slugging percentage of .433. He played 107 games at first base and 18 as designated hitter. The Indians won 24 more games than the previous year, 84-78, climbing to fifth place.
The 1987 season was Tabler’s pinnacle year on offense. He set or tied major-league career highs in most of the standard stats. He led the team in hits (170) and doubles (34) and was second in batting average (.307) and RBIs (86). He was selected as a reserve on the All-Star team at first base. His season, however, ended on a negative note – an 0-for-33 slump, a drought that ended with hits in his final two at-bats of the year. The Indians finished seventh with a record of 61-101, 37 games off the pace.
Tabler’s woes at the plate continued to nag him in 1988. It was slow going. It was not long before he was relegated to DH duty. By early May his batting average since the prior September 9 was .177 (20-for-113). The next day, Tabler had a breakout game against the Angels. He got four hits, including a home run, three RBIs, and seven total bases.
Despite the Indians’ perennial plight, Pat and Susan Tabler liked Cleveland. It was a great place to raise kids. Pat liked the team, the locker-room camaraderie, and the Indians organization. They both liked it so much that they bought a house.18
During his tenure with the Indians, Tabler earned the title of Mr. Clutch. He was 29-for-54 with the bases loaded over five seasons with the team. People – including his wife – often asked him how he did it, and when he couldn’t explain, they offered the obvious advice to pretend the bases were loaded at every at-bat. In 2001 the club celebrated its 100th anniversary. In commemoration of the event, a panel of veteran players, baseball historians, and journalists selected Tabler one of the team’s 100 greatest players.
Kansas City gave Tabler a royal welcome. Bo Jackson was hurt and in need of a replacement. Tabler was given the assignment even though he had not played the outfield since 1984. He quickly earned the respect of his new teammates and they made him their player representative before the end of the season. When he arrived, he was batting .224. He still had plenty of work to do to shake the bad taste of the slump. As it turned out, the change in venues introduced him to Mike Lum, the Kansas City hitting coach. Lum made Tabler a special project. He was a good teacher and Tabler was a good learner.20
Lum’s tutelage was a plus for Tabler, who rebounded solidly from the “slump.” He compiled a .309 average during his 89 games with the Royals. He stroked 93 hits that produced 49 RBIs. He led the club with a .337 average against lefties. He certainly made things happen on the diamond. In his specialty, hitting with the bases loaded, he was 5-for-5 with a walk and 12 RBIs. He continued to carve out a niche as a utilityman, playing five positions during the season, with designated hitter being the most prevalent. He batted .322 as the DH, far and away the best on the team. The Royals finished third in the AL West, 19½ games behind Oakland.
Hit on his left knee by a pitch on September 18, Tabler soon realized that despite trying to play in three more games, he was dealing with a season-ending fracture and not a bruise.21
The 1989 season saw Tabler hit .259 in 123 games. The Royals made a good run for the pennant, coming in second to Oakland, seven games short.
Tabler had a one-year contract with Kansas City for 1990. He was suddenly the forgotten man. Manager John Wathan could not find productive roles for him in the lineup. In late June his work picked up when George Brett was hurt. Tabler did get into the lineup against left-handed pitchers, against whom he had the team’s best batting average. He wound up batting .272, tied in team stats with Bo Jackson for fifth place and sixth best for OBP at .338. At age 32, though, he was dealt to the New York Mets on August 30 for 23-year-old right-handed pitcher Archie Corbin.
The Mets were absorbed with Tabler’s “Mr. Clutch” legend as much as anybody. Tabler got his first hit with his new club on September 10, with the bases loaded, a pinch-hit single that drove in two runs in a 10-1 victory over the Cardinals. The Mets came in four games short of the division-leading Pittsburgh Pirates. Tabler hit a respectable .279 with one homer and 10 RBIs during his short stay.
After the season Tabler was a free agent. He negotiated a $1.6 million two-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. He wanted to quit playing for losing teams. The Blue Jays had finished second in 1990 and first in 1989. They had made some trades before the 1991 season that promised to keep them at the top of the heap. One of those acquisitions was his favorite player in baseball, Joe Carter, a former Indian.
On a personal level, the season did not go as well as Tabler probably wanted. He played only 21 games in the field and 56 as DH. He did get 33 pinch-hitting opportunities. He always seemed to hit better the more he played. It is probably not surprising that he had mediocre offensive stats. He batted only .216, the lowest he ever had in a full season. He had only 185 at-bats, hit one home run, and drove in 21 runs. Still, the Blue Jays won the AL East title. Tabler had two plate appearances in the ALCS, a walk and an out.
The 1992 season was Tabler’s last as a player. He got even fewer appearances than in the previous year. (He did manage to raise his batting average to .252.) However, he did get to experience the thrill of being on a World Series championship team. He had two at-bats in the World Series; in Game One, he popped out to center pinch-hitting in the eighth, and in the top of the 10th in Game Six he lined out to the pitcher. The Blue Jays won that game – and the Series – in the 11th.
Released after the season, Tabler thought he could still contribute and considered several playing options. Some well-founded opportunities he rejected out of hand. One that he actively pursued with the Reds dried up. While he was in this state of flux, he found worthy pastimes. He was faithful to his alma mater McNicholas. He helped with fundraisers and coaching.22 He also had more time to watch his own five kids play their sports. When one door shuts another opens, usually unexpectedly. In Tabler’s case, it was about to happen.
The family took a vacation in the spring of 1993, their first since 1975. While they were away, the Blue Jays at their home opener handed out the players’ World Series rings. Subsequently, the club invited him to come to Toronto to receive his ring.
At his hotel in Toronto, Tabler bumped into a baseball acquaintance, Tommy Hutton, an ex-major leaguer who was beginning a career as an announcer for the Blue Jays. Hutton invited Tabler to come to the announcer’s booth for some on-air dialogue. An official of The Sports Network, which carried the Blue Jays’ games, was impressed with Tabler’s natural ease on the air.
Back home, Tabler had hardly unpacked when he got a call from TSN Baseball asking him to return for an interview and test for a job as a color commentator. The network was starting a pregame segment called Baseball Tonight and was eager to have him audition for a spot on the program. He repacked his bags and flew back to Toronto. He did an interview and underwent a voice test. The network hired him on the spot. That evening he was working his new job. In 2001 he became a full-time analyst in the broadcast booth with Buck Martinez and Dan Shulman. As of 2022, he has been in broadcasting for 29 years and is entering his 46th year working in professional baseball.
Tabler holds the major-league record for the highest batting average with the bases loaded. Over his career, he finished 43-for-88 (.489). He can also vie for the title of “Mr. Utility.” During his career he played all the infield positions except shortstop, as well as left field and right field (but never center, his position in high school). He was also a designated hitter.
Pat Tabler played baseball at its highest level for a dozen years, a proven clutch hitter, and an All-Star who capped his career as a member of the world champion 1992 Toronto Blue Jays.
Last revised: October 27, 2022
In addition to the sources listed in Notes, the author used Baseball Reference.com, Ancestry.com, Retrosheet.org, and the following:
Miami Valley Society. “Winklejohann-Tabler,” Dayton Daily News, March 20, 1955.
“Pat Tabler valuable DH,” Coshocton (Ohio) Tribune, March 6, 1988.
Associated Press. “”Two-run Single Gives Mets Fans Look at Clutch Hitting of Former Royal,” Kansas City Star, September 12, 1990.
Hoynes, Paul. “Tabler Versatile Indian,” Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal, February 26, 1984.
Luder, Bob. “Tabler Wants to Add Homers to Repertoire,” Kansas City Star, August 30, 1988.
Melvin, Chuck. “Tabler Excelling as Starter,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 26, 1983.
Ocker, Sheldon. “Torn Knee Cartilage Ends Season for Tribe’s Tabler,” Akron Beacon Journal, September 5, 1985.
Sachare, Alex. “Basketball Wrap Up,” Lancaster (Ohio) Eagle Gazette, March 10, 1976.
1 J.P. Lyons, “McNicholas Guns Down Loveland’s .45 in AA Showdown,” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 23, 1974: 32.
2 Denny Dressman, “Tabler’s Baseball Talents Hidden by Basketball,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 26, 1975: 32.
3 Author interview with Pat Tabler on January 19, 2022.
4 Lonnie Wheeler, “Be It Ever So Humble, Tabler Finds Place in Cleveland,” Cincinnati Enquirer, February 9, 1984: 33.
5 Joe Quinn, “Pat, This Is the Yanks …,’” Cincinnati Post, June 9, 1976: 25.
6 Greg Cote, “Before the Game, He’s a Soap Opera Addict,” Miami Herald, August 25, 1978: 165.
7 Greg Cote, “Pat Tabler’s Playing Everywhere, but It’s Not Taking Him Anywhere,” Miami Herald, June 14, 1979: 338.
8 Craig Daniels, “For Jays’ Mr. Utility, Boring Is Just Fine,” National Post (Toronto), March 1, 1991: 41.
10 On 10 offensive statistics, Ripken led in runs, hits, homers, and total bases. Tabler led in doubles, triples, RBIs, stolen bases, batting average, and OPS. He had 79 fewer at-bats.
11 As part of the overall deal, the Cubs had exchanged pitchers, sending veteran Rick Reuschel to the Yankees for Doug Bird. Associated Press, “Cubs Trade Reuschel to Yankees,” Vedetter Messenger (Valparaiso, Indiana), June 13, 1981: 15; Marc Hansen, “Tabler Now Sees Trade as Break,” Des Moines Tribune, July 24, 1981: 17.
12 In 1993 Iowa fans were asked to participate in a survey to select the best player at each position during the previous 25 years of American Association baseball in Des Moines. Tabler was elected number one at third base.
13 Paul Hoynes, “Indians Deal Dybzinski to White Sox,” Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal, April 2, 1983: 13.
14 Chuck Melvin., “Tabler Excelling as Starter,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 26, 1983: 29.
15 Sheldon Ocker, “Tribe Spotlight on Tabler Now,” Akron Beacon Journal, April 19, 1983: 44.
16 Cleveland hovered near last place most of his career with them. In only one season did they play above .500.
17 Mike Bass, “Tabler Finds Happiness in Cleveland,” Cincinnati Post, April 10, 1985: 31.
18 Tabler interview.
19 The trade was made one day after the renovations on the Tablers’ new home were completed. At the end of the day the Indians were 1½ games out of first. That lofty position did not last long. They finished the season in sixth place with a record of 78-84.
20 Bo Jackson was a special player to Tabler. They were friends. Tabler believed Jackson was the greatest baseball talent he had ever seen and the greatest athlete who ever lived. In one famous incident, Jackson nonchalantly broke a bat over his head. It was a great stunt. The truth was that the bat was already cracked, and he was wearing a helmet. One day at the end of batting practice, Tabler broke a bat over his own head as he left the batting cage and said for all to hear, “Bo Who?” Dick Kaegel, “Tabler Believes He Can Help When Given a Chance,” Kansas City Star, June 28, 1990: 48.
21 Bob Nightengale, “Injury Will Keep Tabler Out for Season’s Last Week,” Kansas City Times, September 27, 1988: 5.
22 Dave Schutte, “McNick Baseball Gets Expert Help,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 11, 1993: 31.