Long Beach, California native Don Slaught starred on the diamond at El Camino College and eventually took his catchers gear to UCLA. He was named an academic All American in 1979. That very same year, he hit .428, which was a single season UCLA record that stood for over 20 years.
Slaught was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the seventh round of the 1980 MLB Draft.
“Sluggo” played for seven teams over his 16 year MLB career. His most productive years were spent in Pittsburgh, as he was a part of three Pirate pennant winners in the early 1990’s. During his six years as a Bucco, Slaught had nearly 500 hits, slugged over 20 homers and hit over .300.
Today, he’s an assistant coach for UCLA’s women’s softball team, a partner at OnBase University and the owner and president of RightView Pro, the first video analysis system for baseball and softball licensed by Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and National Pro Fastpitch.
I recently chatted with him about bout his interaction on the diamond with Michael Jordan, his mancave and collecting his own cards.
Tony Reid– When was the very first time you were asked for your autograph?
Don Slaught-That would have been when I went to big league camp. When I first signed in 1980, they needed catching. So, they took a rookie to camp. Just walking out with George Brett, Amos Otis and Willie Wilson, they asked me to sign autographs. I had to work on it. A few months later I had to sign my name for my bat. We had a bat contract with Louisville Slugger. I had to sign and it does not match my signature today.
TR–Did you collect sports cards as a kid?
DS-I did as a kid but not once I got to high school.
TR– Do you remember the first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
DS-The very first card of me was in Triple A with the Omaha Royals. I didn’t even know they had Triple A baseball cards at the time. The team produced them and handed them out at a game or something like that. That was the first time I ever saw it.
TR–Your Rookie Cards appeared in 1983 in Donruss and Fleer products. Do you remember the first time you saw your official rookie cards?
DS-Oh, yes. That was the first time I ever got fan mail, too. Fans are sending me cards in the mail. I really looked forward to signing them.
TR–After a long career in the majors, have you amassed a collection of cards and memorabilia?
DS-I do have a mancave. It’s an office but it’s really a mancave. I have all of my baseballs in a lighted cabinet. I have pictures and paintings. I have collected all of that stuff. I believe I have collected all of my cards. There is one card out there that I have been trying to find again. I found it once. It has Barry Bonds on the front and my stats on the back. That one cost me $26.
TR–Are the baseballs in your collection autographed balls, game balls or just balls that are special to you?
DS-It’s a mixture of guys that I played with and guys that I have met. I have Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, there are a ton of them in there. I have Michael Jordan on a ball when he was playing in Spring Training for the White Sox.
TR–What was it like being in the presence of the greatest and most iconic basketball player in history, especially during his peak?
DS- That is a funny story. I walked up to him in the outfield during batting practice. I had two balls in my hand. I said ‘Would you sign these for me? I’ll throw you all fastballs today.’ The bad part about was that ESPN was right behind me. He signed them and he got all fastballs. That is the way we were going to pitch him anyway. He hadn’t gotten up to the speed yet.
TR–You were receiving behind the plate and basically sharing the batter’s box with him. What was it like to be on field with Jordan?
DS-I loved it. I thought it was great that he was trying to play a second sport. In Spring Training, he was in big league camp. Think about that, especially if he hadn’t swing a bat in twenty years. I have a picture of me behind home plate with him standing at the plate. It’s hanging in my office.
TR-You always hear the ‘If your house was burning down’ question but we won’t go there. What is the centerpiece of the collection for you?
DS-My Enos Slaughter autographed baseball is my favorite, mainly because of my last name. He signed it ‘To another Slaught’.
TR–The back of your 1985 Topps Traded card makes mention that you were a high school quarterback. Tell us about your time under center and on the gridiron.
DS-Back then you played both ways. I was a quarterback and a cornerback. I had a strong arm. I had some really fast wide receivers. I would drop back and throw as far as I could and they would run underneath it. I broke the school record for passing years. I think I had more schools contact me for football than baseball.
TR–Your 1993 Studio card said that Johnny Bench was your boyhood hero. It may be an obvious answer but what endeared him to you so much?
DS-I was always a catcher since Little League. I went to the Dodgers and Reds games as a kid and I was rooting for Johnny Bench. The first time I met him was when I was a rookie. It was Spring Training. I hadn’t even played in AA ball yet. Johnny Bench is standing behind the batters turtle. I walked up to him and he sees the glove in my hand. It said ’It’s all in the feet, kid. You have to get your feet set to throw the ball.’ That is all he said.
It had to be twelve years later. He was announcing one of our games. He came up from behind me and said ‘Hi, Don.’ I turned around and couldn’t even say a word. This is my idol forever. He called me by name. That was really cool.
TR–That very same 1993 Studio card listed knuckleballers as your pet peeve.
DS-Yes they are. They followed me all through my career. Tom Candiotti was with the Royals on the minors and I had to catch him. It was Charlie Hough when I went to Texas. Tim Wakefield was there when I went to Pittsburgh. Then I’m old and slow at 37 years old, playing with the Angels and they go get a knuckleballer. I am in all of the record books for passed balls and everything else. It was those knuckleballers.