In my next interview I am going to take you back a few years in the softball world. Back to when there was no arc limit. Back to where there was no 4 different associations. Back to where there was no different levels and a limit on the number home runs you could hit per game. If you could hit it out it was well earned and the home run was worth it's weight and gold. I am talking about softball back in the earlier 1970's. And today it is my privilege to tell you about an interview I had with one of the greatest if not the greatest softball player to play the game.
His name is Mike Nye. Mike played with the infamous Warren Motors team out of Jacksonville, Florida in 1976 when they were 94 - 2 and won the ASA National Championship at there home town field of Drew Park in Jacksonville. The Motor Men were so famous and so good that they had a radio station that carried all of their games when they played at home. I will get on with the interview and let Mike tell you why they were so good of a team.
Mike Nye set the stardard for batting average way back in 1976. He batted .769 for the season. What I find so fascinating about the whole deal was that he accomplished this feat while there was no arc limit on the pitching. Close your eyes and picture yourself trying to hit a softball that could be thrown as high as the pitcher could do it and control his pitches.
Big Cat : Mike, first off I want to just say thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me and the softball world. Mike : It is my pleasure Big Cat. I am happy to talk about softball when I played. It brings back a lot of great memories.
Big Cat : I was really fascinated with you before I ever saw you play. I can remember people telling me about you and I had never even see you play. They would say you have to see this guy Mike Nye play. He dives all over the field making unbelievable catches and is lightning fast.
Mike : I was very fortunate to start playing the game at such an early age that it taught me what it meant to be a winner and how to win ball games.
Big Cat : Just how old were you Mike when you started playing softball?
Mike : I was actually 12 years old when my brother asked me to come play with the big boys. It was because they needed another player and they saw the way I was fielding and hitting the ball in practice that they invited me to play. So I would say I was 12 years old.
Big Cat : That is quite an early age to start at, but if people knew you the way that I do they would understand. What about after high school. Did you do anything with sports after high school?
Mike : As a matter of fact Big Coon( another one of the nicknames that I have had over the years) I was drafted right out of high school by the Chicago Cubs. I ended up playing 2 years in their farm system in Quincy, Illinois and in Idaho my rookie season.
Big Cat : How big were you when you graduated from high school?
Mike : I was 5 ft. 9 in. tall and weighed 141 pounds. I could run a 4.4 40 and was timed at 3.7 seconds running from home plate to first base at 90 foot bases. I would say that I was mighty fast. .769 batting average
Big Cat : With that kind of speed and could hit the crap out of the ball why didn't you pursue the baseball career more?
Mike : As you know Big Cat I have a pretty nasty temper when it comes to playing ball. I got mad at myself because I felt I should have been doing better. So I just packed up and left.
Big Cat : Do you regret leaving that way and not giving yourself the proper chance to make the kind of money that baseball players were making in those days.
Mike : Yes I regret letting my temper get in the way but that happened a long time ago. I think I had a pretty successful softball career.
Big Cat : Yes, you did have a tremendous career in the game of softball. With baseball behind you and softball in front when was the first time you participated in the world tournament?
Mike : It was in 1966 at the age of 16 when I went to the nationals with a team called Jacksonville Metro. There was 72 teams in the tournament back then. We ended up at 0-2. That was the year that Michaels out of Detroit beat County Sports by the score of 10 - 0 for the championship..
Big Cat : Lets talk a little bit about your career Mike. You played for so many great teams. Nelson's Paints, Warren Motors, Ken Sanders Ford, Jerry's Caterers, Detroit Ceasers in the Pro League, Steele's Sports Company, and many others. Is there anything that you want to say about the sponsors of those great teams?
Mike : I feel like those were the best sponsors the game has ever had. R.T. Nelson was one heck of a man that treated you like you were the best. I want to say that all of these teams sponsors were special people. Mike Illitch from Detroit, Dave Neale from Steele's, Jerry Pendergrass from Jerry's, Harold Warren from Warren Motors, Ken Sanders from his own team. They were all great sponsors and good people and I think that means a lot in trying to put together championship teams.
Big Cat : What about the players you played with over the years? Give me some input on some of the players that stuck out in your mind.
Mike Nye : There were so many great players in those days. I remember when Al White called me and then R.T. Nelson called me to ask me to play for the Nelsons team. I remember flying into Oklahoma and meeting with R.T. about playing for his team. When I arrived Mike Nelson (R.T.'s son) had a uniform for me that was for a much bigger person. "I said hey how come the uniform was so big?" Mike Nelson said "that I wasn't what they thought I was going to look like." They were expecting a much bigger person. I told him that day you might not know me now but I will bet you'll know me when I leave. All I did that year in 1975 was win 7 MVP awards. Here is a 5' 9" 190 lb. ball player winning MVP's like crazy.
Big Cat : You mentioned Al White. What type of player was he?
Mike : He was the real deal. He was actually one of the first legit home run hitters. He was so good that he could pick the team he wanted to play for. He was an extremely talented softball player. He could play first base like nobodies business. What people don't know is that Al's brother Charlie is the father of none other than Reggie White, the All-Pro football player. He was playing on the Nelson's team and told R.T. that we need to pick this player up. So they called me and on the team I went.
Big Cat : You say that you did not finish the season with Nelson's.
Mike : The funny part about the whole season was that I was playing good and having fun. Not only did I play ball for R.T. but I worked for him too. He would come in one day in a bad mood and fire every body. The next day he would hire us back. So I got tired of fooling around with him and just quit and went back to Jacksonville.
Big Cat : Were you mad at R.T. and hold a grudge about it.
Mike : As a matter of fact no. I played in 1976 with Warren Motors and in 1977 R.T. asked me to play again. I started the season with him and quit and joined the Pro League and played with the Detroit team. When R.T. passed away a couple of years ago we were still best of friends.
Big Cat : Mike you say that you have been playing softball for over 30 years. So we know you have to be in shape mentally as well as physically to be able to compete at the highest level. What are some of the things that you use to do or think about when you were getting ready for the season?
Mike : I always thought that I was ready to play ball anytime , anyplace. I was always thinking of myself making that great play. Being in the field and hoped that someone would hit the ball to me so I could have a chance to make that great play. I use to watch Brooks Robinson play and would watch him make the one great catch a game. I always believed in catching what you are suppose to catch and then try to make that one great catch. To steal that one out per game.
Big Cat : Mike you tell me that you did things different back then in 1976. Explain what you mean by different.
Mike : We had a coach by the name of Darrell Leeks. Darrell was a former All-American who knew the fundamentals of the game. (I put him and Dave Neale in the same category as far as the best coaches that I played for.) Anyway Darrell use to make a practice a place of excellence. He made sure that we would all take our 50 or 100 ground balls every time we hit. Every time we hit we took our ground balls. You see what I mean. There is more to the game than just hitting. Every body can hit at this level. I believe it is the defense that separates the winners from the losers. So when we practiced every body took their grounders, their fly balls, and worked on hitting to the opposite field. He had us in such good shape that we would actually wear people down. Every body had a good understanding of each other.
Big Cat : How about you Mike. You led the nation in hitting in 1976 with a whopping .769 batting average. The most impressive thing to me is that you had to face the unlimited arc back then. The talk today is mostly on home run hitting. Can you give some tips to the players today that are trying to hit for a higher average. For the ball player who can't hit the home run. Give us an example on how to improve our average.
Mike : My batting practiced would be something like this. I would get either 3 cones or garbage cans and put them in certain positions on the infield. I would put one can in between the pitcher and first and work on hitting the can or cone. I would put the other cones or cans in between third and the pitcher and do the same thing. Trying to hit the ball as hard as I could to get it between the players. You have to remember that it was unlimited arc back then. You had to learn how to tomahawk the ball down to get the base hit. I would work on 3 holes during the game. I figured if I hit my 3 holes per game that is 3 hits per game and I thought those were pretty good odds back then. I worked on it all the time.
Big Cat : Your Warren Motors team won the ASA in 1976. Can you comment on that tournament. What are some of the things that stood out.
Mike : Our team in 1976 was a lot of fun to play on. I do believe that we never missed a championship of the winners bracket game that year. We lost to a team called Tom's Peanuts out of Georgia in the winner brackets game in an earlier tourney only to come back and double dip them for the victory. Ronnie Ford and myself were tabbed for the MVP award at the ASA World tournament in 1976. Ray Fleetwood led our team and the tournament in home runs. I batted .793 for the batting crown for the tournament and wound up at .769 for the year. I want to make a point right here and say that walks did not count as hits when we played. I ended up 326 for 424 for the season.
Big Cat : Mike who was some of the best ball players that you played with or against. Give me your list of players that you would have on your team?
Mike : 1b. - Al White, 2b - Mike Macenko, 3rd Charles Wright, ss - Greg Whitlock, catcher - Bill Gatti, Dh - Bruce Meade, pitcher Craig Elliott (took more balls off the shins than anybody I know), of - Ron Ford, of - Mike Cellura, of - Britt Hightower, of - Ray Fleetwood, of - Cecil Whitehead. Now there are a bunch of players that could be here as far as anyone else. Curtis Williams was a phenomenal ball player. Denny Jones, Herman Rathman. There was one player that sat the bench a lot but he could play on my team any day of the week and that was Rick Weiterman. The most improved player I have seen is Ricky Huggins. He just keeps getting better with his age. When I first saw him play he was batting 10th on the team. A couple years later I see him and h is batting 2nd or 3rd.
Big Cat : Do you think there is any difference between the game today and years ago?
Mike : I haven't watched the big boys play too much but when I do I notice that they don't hustle like they used to. You hardly see anybody trying to break up a double play. I like to play the game the way it is supposed to be played. Take that extra base, break up that duce and always think positive.
Big Cat : I read in the Steve Dimitry web page how you were the MVP of the League and the World Series the same year in the Pro League.
Mike : In 1977 I lost the batting title to Benny Holt from the Chicago Storm but we won the league and the championship that year so I wasn't concerned with not winning the batting title. I wanted to win that championship for Mike Illitch. I was playing very well at the time so I was happy with being named MVP.
Big Cat : After all these awards and team championships is there any one play or tourney that stands out in your mind?
Mike : That is a hard one Big Cat. If I take a second and think about some of them the one that comes to my mind is when I was playing with Vernons out of Jacksonville in 1991 in Maryville, Tennessee. We were playing Ritch's Superior in the Smoky Mountain Classic. The score was 20 -18 with us losing when we came to bat in the bottom of the seventh. What made it so special was that the year before I was playing for Ritch's, and during the off season they made some moves. Even though I knew that I could still play with that team, they merged and brought other players in. That left kind of a shitty taste in my mouth about the whole situation. So I was very pumped up when the situation came about. Like I said it was the bottom of the seventh and with 2 outs and 1 man on I homered to right field to tie the game. I will never forget that feeling running around those bases. Weiterman tried to slip me one of his off speed herky jerky pitchs by me but I was waiting on it. Mike Jacobs singled, Caleb Rabenold singled, and then Ronnine Ford singled the winning run in. Game Over.
Big Cat : You were saying something about the Pro League.
Mike : That is another time that sticks out in my head. I was playing with Detroit in the Pro League. My teammate Ronnie Ford and myself are battling it out for the batting title. He has won the Home Runs and RBI's so he is trying to win the triple crown and I am trying to win the batting title. We played those double headers in those days. So we finish up on Sunday and the first game of the twin bill I go 1-4 and Ronnie goes 3-5. Our coach comes up to both of us and says "hey guys you want to sit out this last ball game?" My reply was "what are you nuts or what?" You couldn't keep me out of that game. I was so pumped up that I went 6-6 with 2 grand slams and Ronnie goes 2-5 and I win the batting title. I played every game like it was my last.
Big Cat : Mike what team would you say was the best that you played on during your softball career and tell us why.
Mike : The Warren Motors team in 1976. The reason why we were so good was every body would do what it took to get the job down. Our home run hitters knew how to hit the ball down and would when ever we need them to. We had enough power to keep us rolling also anytime. I feel that our defense was what really separated us from the other teams. During most of our games we might let you get one run, but that was it. We weren't custom to giving up runs on overthrows or throwing to the wrong base. We had a double play combination in Ronnie Ford at shortstop and a player named Darryl Hanselon at second base that was unbelievable. When we practiced we spent most of our time playing defense and working certain situations. We practiced a lot of game situations. My het goes off to our manager Darrell Leeks, because he had us prepared for every game.
Big Cat : I have talked to Jerome Earnest about some of the players with the better arms in softball and he would always say a player by the name of David Frost. What is your opinion on David?
Mike : Best arm I have ever seen. For example I remember when he used to play left field for Nelson's. He could throw the ball side-arm from left field like it was going to to be to the left of second base and he would throw it so hard this way that it would spin back around the runner and land at first base. I saw him throw more than one runner out like that.
Big Cat : There is another subject I want to talk to you about Mike. Weight lifting for softball today. What are your thoughts and views of that part of the game?
Mike : Big Cat you know that the stronger you are the harder you are going to ht the ball. And the harder you hit the ball the faster it is going to go through the infield. I am a firm believer in getting as strong as possible. When I was 200 lbs I could bench press 530 pounds. I always knew that the stronger I was the faster that ball was going to go. To me that meant more hits. I just turned 50 this year and can still bench 475. Not bad for an old man. Right Big Cat!
Big Cat : Not bad at all Mr. Nye.
Big Cat : Mike you have told me before that the first time you saw Craig Elliott he was playing left field. The Cranker was quite an competitor himself wasn't he Mike.
Mike : Yes he was. He never got cheated when he went to the plate. I remember a particular time when I was pitching for Ritch's in 1989 we played your Steele's team on the upper field at Oklahoma's ASA Stadium. The wind was blowing in from left field all day. Every time Craig would come up he would just hit the crap out of the ball and it would seem like it was going on the moon. But the wind would hold it up enough to be caught. He would be still running the bases by me at second base the ball went so high. I would say to him hey big man you just missed it. His comeback was oh yeah . See if I miss the next one. Same results. We ended up winning the game because of the way I pitched him. He very easily could have hit it out to right with the wind but not Craig. That wasn't his style. He was determined to hit it out through the wind, hail, sleet, snow, lava or what ever else was in the air.
Big Cat : Mike you say that you are going to play 50 and over this year. You still get that urge to compete don't you.
Mike : Yes I do. I love the competition. I am looking forward to playing with some of my old friends. Darrell Leeks is going to play also so it should be fun.
Big Cat : Mike it has been fun talking to you. I am sure that the people will like this interview also. I think they need to know more about the game from years back. Is there anything you want to finish up with.
Mike : I just want to say that I thank the lord for giving me the strength and ability to play the game the way it was meant to be played. For the support that my children have givin me. I want to say that it was a pleasure playing with all the different players over all these years. The Bruce Meades, Ray Fleetwoods, Craig Elliotts, and all the other great players that there are. Once again a special thanks to the sponsors of all the teams that I played on. Without sponsors we wouldn't have big time softball..