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Happy Birthday Mark Eichhorn

Toronto Blue Jays v California Angels Photo by Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

Mark Eichhorn turns 63 today.

The Blue Jays drafted him in the 2nd round, 30th overall, in the 1979 amateur draft, out of Cabrillo College, CA, where he played shortstop and pitched. Mark quickly rose through the Jays’ farm system and made 7 starts for the Jays as a September call-up in 1982. Unfortunately, they didn’t go well. He went 0-3 with a 5.45 ERA, and to make matters worse, he suffered a shoulder injury. The injury cost him the speed of his fastball.

Returning to the minors, he learned to throw submarine style in the fall instructional league in 1984. Mark threw the slowest pitches in the majors as a right-handed submarine pitcher. He threw an extremely slow change-up, a ‘fastball’ and a slider. He had a massive split in his stats, releasing the ball from very low to the ground, coming from behind a right-handed batter. Righties couldn’t hit him, while lefties hit him pretty well. In 1986, his return year to the majors and his best season as a Jay, right-handed batters only hit .135/.186/.165 against him, while lefties went .259/.345/.434.

In 1986, Mark had the best season ever for a Jay reliever. He pitched in 69 games, throwing a fantastic 157 innings and finishing with a 1.72 ERA. Manager Jimy Williams offered to let him start in one of the season’s final games so that Mark could have enough innings to get the ERA title, but Mark passed on it. He would have likely had the ERA title if he had not spent a couple of weeks on the DL. That year, Fangraphs has him at a 5.3 WAR and Baseball-Reference 7.4 (good for 7th best in Jays’ history). The Sporting News selected him as the Rookie Pitcher of the Year. He also finished 6th in Cy Young voting and 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting, trailing Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner. Williams often used him for multiple innings, pitching as many as 6 innings in a game out of the pen and going 3 or more innings several times.

It is hard to blame Williams for the overuse of Eichhorn. When you have a ‘get some shutout innings free card,’ you tend to use it. Mark was terrific, finishing the 1986 season 14-6 with 10 saves. He gave up only 105 hits in the 157 innings, striking out 166 while walking 45. I’d call it the best season ever for a Blue Jays reliever.

In 1987, Mark wasn’t the same but was very effective with a 3.17 ERA in 89 games, setting the Jays’ record for games pitched in a season. Number 2 on the list is Paul Quantrill at 82 games in 1998. He won 10 games and saved 4 more, serving as a setup man for Tom Henke. Even though he pitched in 20 more games than in 1986, he threw 30 fewer innings. Williams still would have him out there for 3 or more innings on several occasions. He also used him to get one or two right-handers out several times. Jimy used him as an all-propose reliever, sending him out in any situation. Eichhorn made the most appearances and faced the most batters of any AL reliever. He always had a significant split with a .642 OPS vs. RHB and a .760 OPS vs. lefties.

In 1988, he was on pace to get into many games again, but he suffered an injury in early June that kept him out till September. He altered his delivery to make it harder for runners to steal on him, which cost him some effectiveness. His ERA jumped to 4.19. Some of that was because of the number of innings he had pitched over the last couple of years. Since some of his effectiveness came from his unusual delivery, batters may have gotten comfortable with it and had an easier time picking up the ball when he released it. And, even throwing sidearm, that much work has to cause wear and tear on the arm.

After the 1988 season, feeling he had lost effectiveness, the Jays sold Eichhorn to the Braves. After an average season in Atlanta, the Angels signed him as a free agent. After 2.5 good seasons with the Angels, the Jays traded Rob Ducey and Greg Myers to get him back on July 30, 1992, just in time for Mark to get 2 World Series rings. He pitched 4.1 shutout innings over 4 games in the two postseasons.

In 1993, he pitched in 54 games and had a 2.72 ERA. Cito started the season using him as a multiple-inning reliever, but as the season went on, he was used more for one inning as a late-inning setup man. After the second World Series win, he signed as a free agent with the Orioles. Near the end of an excellent season with the O’s, he was injured and missed the 1995 season. He signed back with the Angels in 1996 but didn’t do well. After that, Mark bounced around the minors, pitching in the Jays’ farm system in 2000. He didn’t throw in the majors again.

I’ve always wondered why we don’t see more sidearm/submarine-type pitchers in the majors. The ones we see have success; if I were a minor league pitcher who wasn’t likely to make the majors (the only kind of minor league pitcher I’d be), I’d give it a try or try a knuckleball. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry were successful submarine-style closers. And we have Adam Cimber now. As a group, sidearmers tend to have excellent control, but they don’t have much in common beyond that. Some have been hard throwers, some have had great curves or sliders, and some throw sinkers. Quisenberry even threw a knuckleball, and Eichhorn got by with a slow, slow change. And, of course, we had Adam Cimber the last couple of seasons.

You can see Eichhorn’s delivery in this YouTube video:

Sidearmers are durable and have, on average, had long careers. The most infamous one is Carl Mays, the only major league pitcher who killed a batter with a pitch. The strange delivery may have caused Ray Chapman not to pick up the rise and get out of the way. There were many other factors. Balls were used longer back then and tended to be dirtier. Also, the ball would have been hard to see in the late afternoon with no lights at the stadium. But I digress a lot. Mays was a straight underhand pitcher who threw very hard, an outstanding starting pitcher, just short of being a Hall of Fame type.

My father-in-law threw sidearm, much the same as Eichhorn’s delivery. He tore a muscle in his upper arm, and distrusting doctors, he never had it fixed. He couldn’t raise his arm, but he could whip a ball. Playing catch with him, I’d always back up about as far as I could throw. But, he was throwing to his son-in-law and likely wanted to prove a point. He also had a nice natural curve on his throws. But, again, I digress.

Mark ended his career with a 3.00 ERA in 885.2 innings over 563 games. He is now a pitching coach for a high school baseball team in California.

Mark coached his son’s Little League team, which was featured in a documentary called Small Ball, A Little League Story in 2002. It was about their team trying to make the Little League World Series.

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

Dick Schofield turns 61 today.

The Blue Jays signed Schofield as a free agent in January 1993. Despite winning the World Series in 1992, Pat Gillick wasn’t happy with Manuel Lee’s work at short. To be fair to Manny, his predecessor, Tony Fernandez, left huge shoes to fill.

Schofield played for the Angels for nine seasons (plus a game) and the Mets for one season (minus a game), and if you looked up gritty veteran middle infielder, you would have seen his picture.

Anyway, we signed him for his veteran presence and grittiness.

Unfortunately, he missed most of the 1993 season with a broken arm. He only played 36 games, hitting just .191/.294/.236 with 1 double and 2 triples. He didn’t play in the playoffs.

He was healthier in 1994, playing in 95 of our 115 games (the season was lockout-shortened). Schofield hit .255/.332/.342.

I don’t have fond memories of his defense, but everyone paled compared to Fernandez.

After the season, Dick signed with the Dodgers but was released in mid-May. After that, he returned to the Angels but only played 34 games from 1995 to 1996, which was the end of his career.

Schofield played 14 seasons and 1368 games and had a .230/.308/.316 batting line.

His father, also Dick Schofield, played 19 seasons in the majors and was a similar player. And Dick Jr. is also the uncle of Jayson Werth, who came up in the Jays’ system and played with the Dodgers, Phillies and Nationals.

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