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Todd Stottlemyre Interview: Part two

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Todd (center), his dad (Mel Stottlemyre) and Joe Torre at Monument Park at Yankee Stadium.

Part two of my chat with Todd Stottlemyre. If you missed it, part one is here.

His book comes out today. 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.

Thanks to my son Tommy for transcribing (if I had to transcribe it all, we’d be waiting another week or two before it would be posted). I was tempted to leave his little editorial comments in.....but then most of them were him insulting his father, so I didn’t.

And thanks to Todd for doing this. I enjoyed talking to him.

Tom: Back in 1983, you were drafted by the Yankees, which was your Dad’s team, and yet you didn’t sign with them. That must’ve been a tough decision to make.

Todd: Very difficult, yeah. In fact, growing up in Yankees Stadium, it was always the Yankees. Growing up, obviously that was my team, because of my father. Then to be drafted by the Yankees it was almost like, well in fact it was a dream come true. That summer I played American Legion baseball, and the Yankees had made several attempts in the summer to sign me. I would tell you that part of me really wanted to sign. My mother really wanted me to go on to college. My brother had gone to college the year before. She saw how good it was for him, and she wanted me to be a part of that. My father? When the discussions got difficult, and it was like am I signing, am I gonna be a New York Yankee? I remember my father saying “Man this is up to you. This is your life, it’s gonna be your career.” Mom probably won over at the last minute. And then I thought, well if I’m gonna go to college, I’m gonna go play college baseball, if I’m gonna get an education I may as well go where my brother was. I ended up following him to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. But what’s crazy is when I got to school I was like “Man I didn’t really wanna go to school. I just wanna play baseball.” I would say it’s a difficult decision, probably not as hard as the decision some of these guys gotta make today, just because of how big the money is, and how uncertain it is that they’ll even make it, or even play Major League Baseball.

Tom: And then you were drafted in the first round, by the Jays. What’d you think about coming to Toronto, coming to Canada?

Todd: So I was ready, man, I was ready I just wanted to play baseball, it’s all I was thinking about, first thing was, ‘wow! A team in Canada.’ At first I was like ‘Well I don’t even know where Toronto is, in Canada.’ But I will tell you, they flew me to Toronto, I agreed and ended up signing with them, in August, actually right before I went to go to school. I actually met Pat Gillick and Paul Beeston, at the LaGuardia Airport, because at the time my dad was the pitching coach for the New York Mets. So I went up to New York, and Paul Beeston and Pat Gillick, they flew in to New York and they got a conference room and we actually met and made the deal at the LaGuardia airport. And they flew me up to Toronto, and put me up at the York Hotel, and took me to the Exhibition Stadium and just showed me around. I was so excited. Literally day one I fell in love with city. I was like ‘wow this is so cool, it’s the center of the world here, people from every country,’ and you could feel at that time, that the Blue Jays were starting to get good.

I just thought this could be perfect for me.

Tom: Very cool. Can I ask you about a few of your teammates over the years?

Todd: Sure, yeah.

Tom: Dave Stieb, when I was young, he was a great pitcher, he didn’t seem like he’d be a very nice teammate. What was he like?

Todd: So Dave’s mindset was very much centered around him doing well. And you want that. Dave was kind to me, a lot of times, people on the outside of the locker room, whether it’s media, whether it’s fans, sometimes they can get the impression of something that doesn’t really exist. I would say that we never had a clubhouse problem, at any point in Toronto. And I think about Stieb and Key and Clancy and Flannigan, and I joined those four guys. They were all veterans, and great pitchers and I learned from each one of those guys. All of them were always great to me, they were great to the younger guys, but at the same time, they were there to perform. Dave Stieb was a great pitcher, he probably had one of the most incredible sliders and breaking balls I’ve ever seen in my life. On top of that, he was a great athlete.

Tom: Pat Hentgen seems like the nicest person, so I thought I’d ask about him, too.

Todd: Yeah, you know that’s what he was. He was that kid that grew up in Michigan, he was a Tigers fan and a Jack Morris fan, And he got to be teammates with Jack Morris. Pat was always so humble, and so grateful, to play Major League Baseball. He’s a great great person. There’d be times where he’d be sitting in the dugout and he’d say ‘man, I can’t even believe I’m sitting here! Look over there, there’s Jack Morris over there! I grew up watching him pitch!’. He was always so grateful, so fun to be around. He was also my fishing partner, during spring training.

Tom: How about Ricky Henderson, he came into the team for just a couple months. What was he like as a teammate?

Todd: You know it’s crazy, Ricky’s become one of my best friends. Ricky was the guy who, you think about the 89 team, when we competed against the Oakland A’s, Ricky had one of the most extraordinary American League playoffs ever. Stealing bases, I mean he was like superman against the A’s. The guy’s a Hall of Famer, obviously. But he’s the guy you never want to play against. When he’s on your team, you see an entirely different side of Ricky Henderson. You see somebody who laughs, has fun, loves his teammates. Then after Toronto, I moved onto Oakland, and Ricky was also playing with the A’s again. So I got a chance to not only play with him in Toronto but also in Oakland. I would just say he’s a beautiful person. And behind the stardom and all that, he’s just a happy-go-lucky lovable guy. He became a dear friend of mine.

Tom: Any time I talk to one of you guys who were on the bench during this time, I always ask, what was it like when Joe Carter hit that home run? What were you thinking when he came to the plate, and what was going through your mind when he hit that?

Todd: So, I had a unique view. It’s called no view. This was funny, because I didn’t even see the home run. I was warming up. They called down to the bullpen, and Cito was like, if the game’s gonna be tied, I’m going in to pitch the next inning. So I’m warming up in the bullpen, I’m getting hot. Then all of a sudden, in left field, where the bullpen is, you hear the roar of the crowd, I saw the ball come over the fence. I run to the window and Joe’s jumping up and down, everybody’s rushing the field, and I’m like ‘we just won the world championship.’ It’s so funny because, the only thing I’d seen live was I’m warming up in the bullpen and I see the ball coming over the fence, other than that, I’ve seen the highlights, but didn’t see it live. It was so funny because I was so focused on getting ready for the next inning, and there was no next inning. It was crazy times.

Tom: I’m always curious about the relationship between pitcher and catcher. Who was your favorite catcher to throw to, and what makes a good catcher, for a pitcher?

Todd: Great question, obviously Pat Borders was my guy in Toronto, he was the guy I came up in the minor leagues with, he was my roommate up in Toronto. He’s one of my best friends in the game. So we had probably a unique relationship in that aspect. What makes a great catcher is the guy who’s behind the plate, he’s sixty feet and six inches away from you, that is fighting tooth and nail for you to have a good game. It’s not about him, it’s about his pitcher, on that mound. That’s what Pat Borders brought to the table. I remember I was pitching a game in Baltimore and I was pitching a shutout and they had a man on third base with one out, it was the seventh or eighth inning, He calls timeout and comes to the mound and he says “Look over there, Todd.” I said “Yeah.” He said “You see that guy standing on third base?” I said “Yeah.” He says “I don’t want him to score.” And it’s like well of course, I don’t want him to score, I’m the pitcher. We had a big lead, of course, so him scoring wasn’t gonna affect the game. But Pat wanted me to throw a shutout. And he came up to let me know, let’s buckle down, bear down, and do everything we can. Let’s keep that guy at third base. To me, that story really exemplifies Pat Borders as a catcher, and the pride that he took in his pitchers doing well.

Tom: It was as important to him that you do well as it was to you.

Todd: Yeah, he was fighting for you back there. Which, as a pitcher, when you have that going on you know you’re not out there by yourself.

Tom: I always thought he was the toughest guy in the world. You know, he’d get run over but he’d stay out there. I thought Borders was the toughest catcher I’d ever seen. It seemed like nothing could take him out of the game.

Todd: Well he’s country strong. Mentally and Physically. So the nicks, the ticks, the bruises, the beat ups, he could take it. And he was an incredible athlete at the same time.

Tom: How’s your dad, now?

Todd: My dad is doing great, he’s been through some struggles over the last four years. One of his cancer counts is basically at zero, he’s fighting one other count right now. He’s doing great, I talk to him frequently. As a matter of fact two weeks ago, I called him I said how are you doing, he says “I’m out on the boat.” And he was out fishing, and doing what he loves to do. It’s amazing, he’s been in this fight for 16 years, and just continues to be a warrior, fighting through it. The same way he was as a pitcher, and the same way he was as a pitching coach. It’s incredible.

Tom: I always felt like he was sort of a cautionary tale, you know, how pitchers used to throw 250 innings, or more, and careers ended early. His career ended earlier than if they’d been a little more careful with him.

Todd: Well he was one of those guys who’d throw 275 to 300 innings per year. He got hurt at an early age, thirty two years old when he got hurt. He had a lot of years left. And when you look at his career, you look at those ten years, in those ten years he went to 164 games, and in ten years he threw forty shutouts. And in ten years he won twenty games three times and pitched in five all-star games. And I always say, just imagine giving him five more years, what would he look like? Some of the guys now are pitching forty up until the time they’re forty, so it’s pretty crazy.

Tom: Yeah, if he had five more years he’d be a possible Hall of Fame pitcher. You had a lot of 200 inning seasons too, didn’t you? You don’t see that as much anymore.

Todd: Yeah, the game started a transition, probably in the early nineties. In that decade with closers, and that middle guy, the seventh or eighth inning guy, that was really starting to show up in baseball. If you remember, it was Dwayne Ward, Tom Henke. So at that point, it was beginning, and since then it’s become even more specialized. You’ve got left handed pitchers who will come out of the bullpen and sometimes only face one hitter, and it’d be a left-hander in a unique position. Then you’ll have your seventh eighth guy, then you’ll have a guy who, if the starter gets in trouble in the fifth inning, he’s your fifth inning guy. You have your sixth inning guy, and it’s pretty crazy. I think because of specialization, I think what happens is if the pitcher gets in trouble, any time from the fifth inning on, they just go to the specialty guys. It’s decreased innings and decreased pitch counts.

Tom: I remember, when you went over to the national league, you were one of the pitchers who could hit. Did you take pride in that?

Todd: It’s funny because I was a good hitter in amateur baseball. So at that point I hadn’t taken up a bat in about a decade, besides to bat in the ’93 world series. And I’m over there with St. Louis, and I worked really hard all spring at my hitting. I wanted to play both sides of the ball. I didn’t just wanna be an easy out, I wanted to be a good hitting pitcher, and I worked really hard. But I got to the end of Spring Training, and I hadn’t gotten a hit all Spring. Matter of fact I hadn’t even hit a ball out of the infield all spring. On the last day of camp, the team was away and some of the guys who weren’t staying were starting to pack and get ready to go to New York, we were gonna open up in New York, and Lou Brock, who’d played against my dad in the 64 World Series, said “Hey Todd, do you wanna go to the cage?” I was like “Woah, yeah man.” He said “Yeah we’ll work on your hitting.” And I was like a kid in a candy store. Here I got Lou Brock taking me to the batting cage, gonna throw me batting practice and work with me on my hitting. I couldn’t even dream this one up, it’s so cool. Literally for about two hours, Lou worked with me in that batting cage, It was awesome. Then I went and pitched the game in New York, and I went two for three. *laughs* And I just took pride in it. I wanted to be a guy that could, you know, hit more than my weight, and get on base, and find ways, and become a good bunter and slap hitter. My mindset was anything I could do, whether it was on the mound, or at the plate, to help myself win ballgames, I worked hard at it. Our pitchers worked hard at it in St Louis. We had a lot of fun pushing each other to be the best hitters we could be.

Tom: That’s pretty cool, having a Hall of Famer as your hitting coach.

Todd: Like I said, I couldn’t have even dreamed it. When I look back and it’s like ‘man, I’m in here with Lou Brock, and he’s teaching me about hitting!’ it was so unbelievable.

Tom: I guess he didn’t teach you anything about sliding into bases. You probably hear about that far too much.

Todd: Everybody remembers that one. Gotta be remembered for something, and when people bring it up, I’m like “Well, yeah, whatever.” *laughs*

Tom: *laughs* Oh well, you have world series rings, that’s more than most guys can say. Do you wear them?

Todd: I don’t, I keep them in a safe, I take them out occasionally. I’ve done some special events and other things and people wanna see them. And they wanna put the rings on and take pictures. I take a lot of pride in what those rings represent. But they’re too flashy. When you put those rings on they draw attention, I’m not looking to draw attention from a world series ring. They mean a lot to me, even if I don’t wear them.

Tom: Well I’ll ask you one more, then I’ll let you go. You work as a motivational speaker now, what kind of advice would you give yourself when you were about 19 and got signed by the Jays?

Todd: Wow. Great question. Well I tell people all the time that number one, it takes time. And success isn’t gonna happen overnight, and the focus should be every single day getting a little bit better. And you have to come to a place of resolve, where ‘quit’ is never an option. So I would probably start there, with me at 19. And I probably would’ve told myself at 19, instead of speaking or acting on all my emotions, I probably would’ve told me, Todd, pour all those emotions out on paper, in a journal, and that’ll keep you out of a lot of trouble.

Tom: *Laughs* yeah, I do remember the odd newspaper story. But, when you’re that age.....

Todd: Everybody knows. And it’s like, you asked me a question, and I gave you an answer, and sometimes it’s not politically correct. But at the end of the day, all those lessons, they were important, to happen to get me where I am today. So I’m grateful and thankful for them all.

Tom: I always think, most of us get to screw up in private. But ball players, when they screw up, we all get to see it.

Todd: Yeah, that’s a good point.

Tom: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the book?

Todd: Just that the key element of the book was a dedication to my father, and to leave behind for my children, to understand that to succeed is not just to show up one day and have success. You’re gonna go through everything that everyone else was gonna go through. It’s how you handle it, and how you react to it. But at the end of the day, the understanding should be that anything is possible. The impossible just hasn’t been done yet. But it doesn’t make it impossible. That’s the story in the book, that anyone can have everything they want, and they can succeed at whatever level they want, they just have to be willing to go through the necessary challenges in order to achieve that success.

Tom: Thank you very much for this. Good Luck with the book.

Todd: Thank you.