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Todd Stottlemyre Interview: Part One

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Todd Stottlemyre

I talked to Todd Stottlemyre last week. He has a book coming out, Relentless Success. It’s part baseball and part life advice. Or more it’s life advice told through baseball examples. I haven’t read the book, it comes out July 1. It is available for pre-order at Amazon and Chapters as well has all the other usual outlets. And, through his website, you can get an autographed copy.

Todd was the Blue Jays first round draft pick in 1985 (number 3 overall). He had a 14 year career, 7 seasons with the Jays. He won 138 games. He is 8th on the Blue Jays all-time win list with 69 wins. And he has 3 World Series rings. His father, Mel Stottlemyre, was a pitcher for the Yankees, back in the 60s and 70s and then became a very respected pitching coach with the Yankees.

Since retiring as a player, Todd has worked as a financial adviser and motivational speaker and a father to five kids.

We talked on the phone for about an hour. He was very friendly, very interesting. I really enjoyed talking to him and I’m interested to read his book.

I’m going to break the interview into two parts as it is pretty long. I want to thank my son Tommy for transcribing it (though not for his editorial remarks about his dad’s interviewing style). I edited lightly, mostly for length.

Tom: You have a book coming out?

Todd: Yep, I’m excited about it. Relentless Success. It is in pre-order right now. I’m doing a special limited edition autographed copy through my website I’m excited about the release of the book.

Tom: What made you decide to write a book now?

Todd: It started two years ago, my father had battled a blood cancer called multiple myeloma for the last 16 years. Two years ago, my mother called frantically. My dad wasn’t doing well, was back in the hospital. I was in Phoenix, they lived in Seattle. I went straight to the airport, jumped on a plane, landed in Seattle, walked into his room. He was running a fever of 105 plus and delirious and he wasn’t doing well. Three days later he led the family out of the hospital. We were all in disbelief, wondering what in the world. We got back to his house and he looked at me and said ‘hey man do you want to take a drive in the mountains’? I’m like sure.

We are up driving through the mountains and there are homes everywhere and he says “you know Todd, there are some beautiful homes up here, one day I’m going to buy a home up here in the mountains”. And the world froze for a second and all I could hear him say was “one day”. What it really made me realize was that he wasn’t given any power over his circumstances. That he focused on the future and his vision. And it really blew my mind. I spent about ten days with him and it just hit me like he’s inspired me my whole life, but never more than today. I got to grow up in the lights of Yankee Stadium, be around some of the greatest athletes, and going through my career playing with some of the greatest athletes, having some of the greatest coaches. Having extraordinary mentors my entire life.

I decided that at that point, how selfish am I? Not to share stories of times where we went through tragedy and triumph, and all the people in my life who helped me get from one place to another. And it was really a wakening to where I just wanna go help other people live their Championship lives and live out their goals and dreams. Let them know that all aspects of my life weren’t roses, that there were tough times, that there were real tragedies. But because of them, and because of where I was at that particular time I developed this 9 point system that every chapter is a different point in the system. It could’ve been a great moment and it could’ve been a terrible moment. From the loss of my little brother, to police brutality, to economic collapses, to doing great, to winning championships. But every piece and every story in there, it was really the collection of somebody else or some lessons I learned in order for me to achieve the next point. So I tell people the first half of my life was all about me. It was about me living my goals, my dreams, doing my own thing. The second part of my life was gonna be all about other people, and how many people I can impact and help. So I had better write the book.

Tom: Your dad was a pitcher and a pitching coach. I always figured pitching coach and motivational speaker is pretty much the same thing in a lot of ways. Did you ever consider becoming a pitching coach?

Todd: You know, I don’t want to say I never considered it. I was grateful that when I was done playing I was offered a lot of different jobs in baseball. The reason I chose not to was that I was growing my family, I had a young family, I’d started late. I have five kids now that range from two to twenty one.

Tom: That’s quite a spread.

Todd: Yeah. So, I wanted to be a part of their life. I wanted to take them to school, I wanted to have dinner with them. I wanted to venture off and find different things, but what’s unique is- and you really nailed it -is my dad coached professional pitchers. And today it’s like I’m coaching people, but it’s whatever game they play. Whether it’s a job, a business, a career, but at the end of the day I feel like all the steps for success or the path to success often leads through a lot of failures. In my opinion, it leads through a system and principles and discipline and commitment and behaviors and the reason why we do things and things we gotta overcome and the things we gotta give up in order to reach the pinnacle. It doesn’t matter whether it’s baseball, business, family or just life. So I’m coaching, just something different.

Tom: Your dad must’ve been your favorite pitching coach. What’s the best bit of advice he gave you?

Todd: Well there was always so many different things, but I’ll never forget in 1989, there’s two different stories. I tell them both in the book. One was in 1989, the Toronto Blue Jays had just sent me down, it was Cito Gaston’s first day as interim manager. I was frustrated because it was my second time being sent down in the second consecutive year. I remember calling my father and I was frustrated, aggravated, complaining. I remember my dad letting me pour it all out, and when I was done, and at the time he was the pitching coach for the New York Mets, and he said “You know Todd, we’d love to have you as a starting pitcher here in New York.” And then he kinda took a breath, and then he says “But not the way you’re pitching today.” And it was kind of that wake up call that I needed.

You know I can sit around and complain and point fingers and play the victim all I want, but at the end of the day, what he was saying was ‘you haven’t even come close to living out your potential, and it’s time to go back to work.’ I was vulnerable at that time, and I started to wonder, for the first time ever in my baseball career. Was I not like my father, could I not follow in his footsteps, was this even gonna be possible? That night I made a decision to go all-in. What I couldn’t see was thirty days later the Toronto Blue Jays calling me back, and pitching game two against the Oakland A’s in the playoffs, and going on to play fifteen years, landing on three world championship teams. I think to myself what if I were to quit, how would my life be drastically different? And the most important lesson out of that was, if I had quit, I wouldn’t have been a believer of big dreams and (thought) big goals don’t happen. Which is the opposite, I am a believer, and I talk about this in the book, everything is possible. It just takes time, it takes sacrifice, it takes pain, you’re gonna go through some failures, and it’s the people who just persist, and who strive to get better and work at it, ultimately reach the top of their game.

That was a big deal at that particular time. It was a big moment in my career. And then in 1992, I was struggling, and not pitching well and didn’t beat around, and it was in August, and I called my father and I said “Dad it seems like when I’m making good pitches they’re getting hits and when I’m making bad pitches they’re hitting home runs!” And he says “You know I’ve been watching you on ESPN, and those pitches you think are good pitches actually aren’t good pitches.” And I was like “Well tell me about it.” And he says “You’re pitching up in the strike zone way too much. Can you do me a favor?” And I said “Yeah.” He says “I want you to keep it simple. Here’s all I want you to think about between starts when you go do your bullpen. I want you to stay back, I want you to finish strong and I want you to think down in the strike zone.” I said “Well I can do that, that’s simple.” He says “Well that’s all I want you to do, and when you go out and pitch your next game, I want you to write a word under the bill of your hat.” I said “All right, what word do you want me to write?” He says “K-I-S-S.” And I said “Kiss?” He says “Yeah. It stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid. And whenever you start overthinking, I want you to think ‘stay back, finish strong, and think down in the strike zone.’ That’s all you gotta think about. And I went out and threw a one hit shutout against the Chicago White Sox, where I gave up my first hit in the eighth inning.

Tom: Your dad is a smart man.

Todd: Yup, yup yup.

Tom: I want to ask about Cito Gaston, because from where we sit he always seemed like the strong silent type, and we never actually got a clue as to what he was like. I always got the feeling that he didn’t really like pitchers all that much. From the outside I felt like he was a batter and he thought of you guys as the enemy.

Todd: I will say this, there’s no doubt that he was an offensive player. Right? He was a hitter as a player. And he played in an era where pitchers would knock down hitters at the blink of an eye. So obviously there was a hate built in there, but Cito was what I called my ‘Canadian Father’. He was so big for my career and we became very very close friends. I used to actually call him dad. He may not have loved opposing pitchers, but he loved his pitchers, but he also loved his pitchers to do well, and when I wasn’t doing well, he was frustrated, not at me, but for me. And Cito was the strong silent type, but when he spoke, everyone listened, and you could hear a pin drop in the locker room. He didn’t have many team meetings, but he had a handful and those meetings that he had, they were critical, and they came at critical times. And I’ll never forget the one meeting in 1992, where we’d had a big lead and we’d blown our lead, the other teams had caught up to us, he pulled the troops together in the locker rooms and he said “Look guys, there’s three things. Number one you gotta recognize what your strengths are, number two you gotta recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your own team, number three you gotta recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the competition. And if you guys can master these three things, we have the team in this locker room, that can win a world championship. But you guys are gonna have to perform on those three things.” And it was crazy, and it was a simple message, and like I said you could’ve heard a pin drop, and then he turned and walked out of the clubhouse. Then we went on a tear to never look back and ended up becoming world champions. So Cito was incredible.

Tom: Well that’s great I’m glad to hear that. It’s really hard to tell from the outside because he was very quiet in interviews, really wouldn’t say all that much, and I always wondered what his strengths and weaknesses as a manager were.

The clearest memory I have about you is when the mayor of Philadelphia said nasty things about you, which I never understood, I always figured if you’re mayor, talk about your team, don’t talk about the other team. But I was wondering what you thought about it at the time.

Todd: Well you know, I’m going through my pre-game interview, before game 4. And, ya know, the questions start. I remember (Jays PR man) Howard Starkman was like “don’t answer that question.” And it was one leap to another and it was all about the Mayor, and the Mayor’s comments, and Howard Starkman’s doing everything he can to keep me from answering questions. And I just get to the point where I’m like “Well go tell the mayor to grab a helmet and a bat and let’s get this over with right now.” And you know when I look back on it, it was a great learning moment, unfortunately the learning lesson was that I didn’t pitch well, all of my energy and all my emotions were spent on somebody that I wasn’t even pitching against, the Mayor of Philadelphia. And it was almost like a pivot, it was like I gotta stop listening or buying in to or even caring or giving my mind to things that don’t matter. I was an easy target. And I’m sure that’s what the Mayor was doing at that time, he knew I was an emotional pitcher, someone who wore my emotions on my sleeve. And he actually accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish. I pitched poorly, and he accomplished everything except for we still ended up winning the game, and went on to win a world championship. But I was an easy target, and I was young, and full of rambunctiousness. But it’s crazy because I still think it was uncalled for when I look back. But at the same time I was an easy target, I should’ve known better.

Tom: That’s very level headed of you, now. I don’t know if I could come around to that.

Todd: Well I’ve gotten older.

Tom: *Laughs* Haven’t we all?