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Happy Birthday: Dustin McGowan and Dirk Hayhurst

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by A Marlin/Getty Images

Two of my favorites have birthdays today.

Dustin McGowan turns 38 today.

Dustin was a first round pick back in 2000, 33rd overall. Not our first first round pick, we had the number 18 pick that year and we choose Miguel Negron, an outfielder who never made the majors, having a career .263/.326/.358 line in 1019 minor league games. Dustin was a supplemental pick for the loss of free agent Graeme Lloyd.

Dustin was doing well, in the minors, until needing Tommy John surgery early in the 2003 season.

He was called up to the Blue Jays at the end of July of 2005 when Ted Lilly went down with an injury. Dustin made his first MLB start July 30th, allowing 2 hits, 1 run, with 3 walks and 6 strikeouts in 5 innings. He’d make 7 middling starts (well, 6 middling ones, one terrible one, giving up 12 runs in 4.41 innings to the Tigers) and was moved to the bullpen when Lilly returned to the lineup. In all, he pitched in 13 games, 7 starts and had a 6.35 ERA.

In 2006 he spent the season moving up and down between Triple-A and the majors. He pitched in 16 games, 3 starts with a 7.24 ERA. In 2007 he was called up to the majors to stay at the start of May. He made 27 starts, had a 12-10 record and a 4.08 ERA. In 169.2 innings he had 144 strikeouts.

We thought we had the makings of a pretty decent rotation. We had Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett at the top of the rotation and young pitchers McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch filling the other spots. The future looked bright.

In 2008 Dustin made 19 starts and had a 4.37. He was pulled after 4 innings of his start on July 8th. He had an MRI the next day and would have surgery to repair a frayed labrum. He was expected to be back in 2009 but his recovery was slower than expected. Then, when he could start throwing he hurt his knee. In 2010 they found a torn rotator cuff.

He wouldn’t pitch in the majors again until September of 2011. He made 5 starts, had a 6.43 ERA and we thought he might make it back from the endless injuries. At the start of the 2012 season, after signing a 2-year contract extension for $3 million, there were more shoulder troubles.

Dustin made it back to the majors again in June of 2013. It was a pretty emotional moment. I remember standing and cheering at home. He would make 25 relief appearances with a 2.45 ERA with 12 walks and 26 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. We were hopeful again.

McGowan started the 2014 season in the Jays rotation. He made 8 starts, had a 5.08 ERA and the decision was made that he should be moved back to the bullpen. He ended up making 45 relief appearances, with a 3.35 ERA, holding batters to a .215/.284/.405 batting line. We thought maybe we had a future closer.

But, after the season, the Jays declined his $4 million option, a rather understandable decision and he left as a free agent. From there he bounced around, Dodgers, Phillies, Marlins, Rays and Marlins again. He’d pitch in 132 games, from 2015 to 2017, with a 4.29 ERA. In 168 innings he allowed 80 walks, and had 148 strikeouts.

In total, he pitched in 10 seasons, had a 4.50 ERA in 290 games, 69 starts.

He’s among the ranks of hundreds of pitchers for whom we wonder ‘what if?’.

Happy Birthday, Dustin. I hope it is a good one.

Former Blue Jays pitcher/TV and radio analyst/author Dirk Hayhurst turns 39 today.

Dirk made 15 appearances for the Blue Jays in 2009 and had a 2.78 ERA in 22.2 innings. He ERA is misleading as he gave up a .274/.351/.417 batting line, but, for a non-prospect, he wasn’t all that bad.

More interestingly he authored 4 books, after writing several posts for Baseball America titled Non-Prospect Diary.

The first was Bullpen Gospels. Hugo gave it a rave review back in 2010. From the review:

But it sure has it. The Bullpen Gospels is hilarious, touching, unflinching in its honesty, and unapologetic in its basic decency. Major league athletes are expected to be confident to the point of arrogance – in fact, we think of it as essential to their success — but in Gospels, the author turns a hard, narrow focus on his own self-doubt. The hilarious minor-league antics and touching tales of stepping out of his uniform to act like a real person, I had come to expect from Hayhurst’s “Non-Prospect Diary”, but I wasn’t prepared for the raw honesty regarding offseason life back in Ohio or the nagging self-doubt that regularly accompanied the pitcher everywhere, including the mound.

If you haven’t read it, you really should. It remains one of my favorite baseball books of all time.

2012’s Out of My League was more for the same, with perhaps even more ‘raw honesty’. We reviewed it back here. There is some stuff about his family (they seem a bunch of people you really wouldn’t want to meet) and stuff about his soon to be wife (he married above his level, like many of us) and a fair bit about the depression of having a major league dream come true, only for it to go poorly. From the review.

Perhaps the funniest bit in the book is the conversation he and his mom have when she phones him, waking him up, to say how proud she was to have seen him on ESPN SportsCenter’s highlights. The highlight? He gave up a big home run to Manny Ramirez. She claims not to understand why he’s not thrilled to be on national TV. It is just hilarious, a proud mom, excited that she saw her son on TV, and a son that wishes he could just curl up and die.

His third book, Bigger Than the Game, focused on his second season in the Blue Jays organization. I said in my review that it was my favorite of the three. He talks about the depression that goes along with rehabbing an injury, how teammates reacted to his first book coming out and, as always, is filled with his terrific sense of humor.

I thought a good movie could be made from the books.

After leaving the game as a player, Dirk worked as a TV analyst (sometimes alongside Gregg Zaun). I thought he was pretty good in the role, but he did ruffle some feathers with his honesty. J.P. Arencibia, in particular, wasn’t a fan. After the TV job ended (I don’t think Dirk was great on the political side of things) he worked in radio for a couple of seasons.

Happy Birthday Dirk. I hope it is a good one and that life is good for you.