Where Are They Now?: Ken Dayley
Lefthanded starting pitching prospect Ken Dayley was hailed on the September 1981 cover of Baseball America as a “Future Star in Atlanta." He had just completed a season at Richmond in the Triple-A International League with a 13-8 record and 3.33 ERA.
Years later, Dayley would achieve a modicum of stardom as a reliever with the Cardinals, rolling up 20 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason that included World Series appearances in 1985 and 1987.
In an 11-year major league career, Dayley had what he said he believes to be the quickest return—six months, two weeks—from Tommy John surgery and saw his career short-circuited by a bout with vertigo. The standard recovery time from Tommy John is 12 to 18 months.
Today, the 58-year-old Dayley sells farm real estate for Trophy Properties and Auction and resides with his wife of 33 years, Jill, in the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield. The couple has five grown children.
Dayley was on the front end of the Braves’ rebirth in 1981. The 1980 draft was the start of the turnaround in Atlanta. The Braves made the southpaw Dayley the third overall pick in 1980 out of the University of Portland. Other future major league pitchers selected by the Braves in the various phases of the 1980 draft included five righthanders. They took Jim Acker (first round), Brian Fisher (second) and Darrel Akerfelds (ninth) in June; Jeff Dedmon (first) in the June secondary phase; and Craig McMurtry (first) in January.
Dayley was the first of the group to reach the big leagues. From 1982 84, Dayley was a reliable starter and swingman, compiling a 10-17 record and 4.48 ERA. Then Atlanta third baseman Bob Horner broke his wrist in June 1984, and the Braves immediately traded for St. Louis third baseman Ken Oberkfell. In exchange, Atlanta shipped Dayley and first baseman Mike Jorgensen to St. Louis.
“Any time you get traded . . . you feel like you’re not wanted, or you couldn’t do it, or you’re not going to do it,” Dayley says today. “It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”
Moved to the bullpen, Dayley proved to be an effective relief pitcher for the Cardinals over the next seven seasons, appearing in 327 games while compiling a 23-28 record and 3.18 ERA with 39 saves.
The 1987 season was his best. That year he earned National League comeback player of the year honors on the heels of Tommy John surgery in 1986. He went 9-5, 2.66 with four saves in ’87.
Dayley’s postseason scoreless inning streak was snapped when Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek belted a grand slam in Game 6 of the 1987 World Series. The Twins won that game and the World Series in the seventh game.
“I had just punched him out the night before by pounding him in,” Dayley says. “I thought, ‘I’ll show him one away off the plate and I’ll go back and pound him in.’ The one away didn’t get away.”
Mike Soroka Rewards Braves For Defying Convention
The Braves don't believe that curtailing workloads for young pitchers is beneficial, and Soroka provided a point in their favor.
By 1993, vertigo had forced Dayley from the game. A bout with meningitis in 1987 could have led to the vertigo. Today, Dayley says he has learned to live with vertigo by better understanding that quick changes in barometric pressure, too much intake of salt, lack of sleep or alcohol can lead to it rearing its ugly head.