Thanks to Minor Leaguer we able to get an interview with one of my favorite former Blue Jay pitchers, Pat Hentgen. Minor Leaguer got to meet Pat (and a few other former Jays) at the Cito appreciation game. He was nice enough to pass on an interview request for us. I owe you big, ML.
Hentgen was great to talk to, very articulate and, of course, is very knowledgeable about baseball. We talked on the phone for 45 minutes, much longer than I had planned, partly because I tend to go off on tangents (see the digression about Dave Stieb in this part of the interview) and in part because he gave great detailed answers.
Pat Hentgen is number 8 on our Top 50 Jays list. He won the Cy Young in 1996. He was named to the AL All-Star team in 1993, 1994 and 1997. He was part of our two World Series wins. He started Game 3 of our 1993 World Series win over the Phillies.
He is still a part of the Blue Jays, helping with the pitchers at spring training and, this past year, he spent some time at three of the Jay's minor league affiliates, helping with the pitchers. His role with the team is up in the air with the change of manager.
Once again, I've proven to myself that transcribing is not one of the few things at which I'm skilled. Between my slowness at that and some computer troubles that forced me to redo some of the transcribing, this has taken longer to get posted than I had hope. I apologize to Pat for that.
As it was a long interview, I am going to break it up into 5 parts, posting them over the course of the next week. My question are in bold.
When you were drafted in the 5th round by the Jays and you had the choice of joining the Jays or going to college, how hard of a decision was it for you?
I had a half scholarship to Western Michigan, back then it was about $2500.00, at that time you could go to Michigan for 5 grand, and Western was maybe $4500 or $5000 total. I got a half scholarship for my freshman year and it (the rest) was going to be kind of a wait and see thing. When then Jays drafted me in the fifth round I was offered $35,000. After taxes I felt like that was going to pay for my four years of edication. So that was the route I should take, I could try the minor leagues till I was 21 or so and if it didn't work out I was going to go back to school with that money.
It was a good choice.
In the end it worked out great but I got the opposite, I've told this many times, I would have rather gone to college. The way I look at it is this: if you are good you are going to get drafted anyway. The only thing you got to careful of is injury. In professional baseball they monitor and take care of player's arms a lot better than in amateur baseball.
In the long run the healthier way to go is to go to the minor leagues as far as the training expertise. There is a sports trainer at every level. Minor league baseball is very good. Very good.
It is a tough decision, now a days it is even easier for the players because signing bonuses are so large. It is pretty hard to tell an 18 year old kid not to take a million dollars and go to what ever school. Signing bonuses are big. I don't blame players for signing out of high school, I think it is a good route to go right now. You are going to get more than enough money to pay for your education.
I'm always amazed when a young kid can turn down $1,000,000.
I agree, I sometimes shook my head when I was playing hearing guys turn down money in the big leagues. I always thought a good deal was one you can get.
What pitchers helped you early in your career?
Morris and Stieb and Cone. I'd say those three.
From the outside it always seemed like Stieb wasn't the greatest person?
For some reason he took a liking to me when I played there, so we were able to get pretty close for the first year I played with him and we stayed in tough through the 90's until he made his comeback in 98. We shared the same agent. There's always been a connection there, he's always helped me, he's always been a guy I could call while playing. Call him and just talk about the mental focus and things that he did and tools he did to get back on track. Itwas nice to have a guy that was 10 years out in front of me in age, experience and life in general. It's been a great relationship.
He was a hero of mine as a kid, I guess because he was the best player on the team at the time.
He was very good. I mean it was way before satellite TV and all that crap. My agent used to tell me he'd go months without a ball hit hard off him. You try to make it through one game without a ball hit hard. I remember Bob, my agent, telling me that Dave in his prime going months without a ball hit hard. Give up singles and balls that bloop in, but no one would hit a ball hard. He was big time dominant. He was so dominant.
It is too bad he didn't have good teams to pitch for in his prime.
Well in 85, 87, 88, 89 team, those teams were pretty good. The 79-84 teams, that was a rough go.
He didn't always seem to enjoy his teammates.
No kidding. I am sure, and he has said this to me that, he regrets some of the things he did early in his career as far as some of that kind of stuff on the field. A very fearous competitor, you got to his place to play darts, it is ‘look out, game on' you know. What ever you play that is just the way he is. I don't know if it is that he had an older brother, he was trying to keep up with him or what but he is one hell of a competitor.
You made the team in 92 then in 93 you had an great season, you were 11-2 at the end of July, did you think ‘this is just too easy' that first year?
You know what, first I pitched in the 5 hole. I made the team out of spring training in 93 in the bullpen, Dave Stewart tweaked his elbow a little bit. I filled in and won 7 in a row. When he came back they moved someone else to the pen, I think Lieter. What happened is I played for a great team, we played great defense, we had a great closer Dwayne Ward. Starting pitching is, first of all, so many people look at wins and wins are sometimes out of your control and it goes the other way too now. I won 19 as a rookie starter, keep in mind, look at the team I pitched for, look at the slot I pitched in. It makes a big difference when you are pitching against the other team's 5 hole guy and you are playing for the Toronto Blue Jays World Series champs. We had an overhaul on the roster and but we kept our nucleus. Our nucleus of players were defenders too, guys that could play all the positions. They could do it all, Alomar, Carter, they could play defense and offense and run the bases. So when you have those players it's going to make starting pitching look good.
So to answer your question, I didn't think it was easy, I just thought I'm playing for a great team, let's go one hitter at a time.
You were on the All-Star team but didn't pitch.
Yeah that was when Cito called us into the offense prior to the All-Star game and said hey listen you guys are young, I got some other veteran guys that made the All-Star team, I'm going to pitch them and save you for back up incase we go extra innings. So you basically are not going to pitch. The way I see it you are young and you'll be back another one. I remember walking out of his office thinking, darn, I can't believe he is thinking that. But he was right. At that time, did I think I'd make another one? I wasn't so sure, I didn't know. You have a lot of doubt as a professional athlete. Not everyone is super super confident. He was right, I made another one and pitched in 94 and 97. That 93 one was a great experience. I got to be in the outfield and rub elbow with those guys. It was fun.