"They busted my balls and said it was the longest home run trot they’ve seen."
BallNine is all about baseball stories.
When we’re not yelling at clouds about all the nonsense going on in the game today, we want our readers to feel like they’re pulling up a barstool with their favorite former Big Leaguers to share some brews and shoot the shit.
Perhaps no former player has embodied that idea as much as this week’s guest on Spitballin’, Jeff Juden.
Arguably the top high school pitcher in the country in 1989, Juden was picked 12th overall in the 1989 MLB Draft. He would have gone even higher, but after notifying the Mariners (picking third) that he wanted to go to a National League team so he could hit, he ended up with the Astros.
It’s just one of the many stories that Juden looks back on fondly with a laugh.
Juden pitched for eight teams over the course of his career and as you can imagine, he collected his share of stories.
Like the time in 1995 when he told anyone who would listen that he was going to take fellow rookie Hideo Nomo deep that day, despite having just one career hit at the time. Nomo got knocked out of the game in the third, but Juden belted a grand slam off reliever John Cummings, just as he called.
Or the time he went toe-to-toe with Roger Clemens, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning in front of a Canada Day crowd of over 50,000 in the first ever interleague series between the Expos and Blue Jays.
We’re less than a week away from Thanksgiving and the hot stove is just starting to get heated up. There’s no better way to pass the time in the offseason than sharing baseball stories, so grab a beer and pull up a chair as we go Spitballin’ with Jeff Juden.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Juden. Let’s jump right in and start at the beginning. How did you get your start playing baseball as a kid and did you have any favorite teams or players growing up?
Like most, I started in Little League and always wanted to be a pitcher. I had to fight with the coach to get myself out on the mound, but he gave me the opportunity. I played hockey as a kid too and that was more my dream of what I wanted to become. Baseball was something I just did in the summer as a kid. I didn’t do clinics or anything like that. I liked watching the Phillies; we used to get them on a few channels back in the day. The Red Sox too with El Tiante and The Spaceman and the rest of the crew. My father loved sports so much; they were always on our TV.
I always love hearing about how baseball is passed down from the generations. It’s great to hear your dad had such an active role and loved sports.
Oh yeah man, we’d watch The Baseball Bunch with Johnny Bench and The Chicken. He would ask me what the lesson of the day was and then take me down to the park and hit pop flies, ground balls, line drives, do pickoffs. Whatever the lesson on the show was, we would practice. In the backyard he would catch me pitching and I would work on hitting my spots. I didn’t know much about the teams though. I couldn’t tell you who was in the National or American Leagues even into high school. When talk started about me being drafted, people would ask me if I wanted to be in the National or American Leagues and I didn’t know the difference. I said I didn’t care, I just wanted to hit. That’s how I found out pitchers only hit in the National League, so that’s where I wanted to be.
“And we’re in Philly, so of course the fans behind the plate are yelling, ‘Swing the bat you pussy!’ I’m thinking, ‘Dude, I’m on the Phillies and they’re yelling at me like that!’”
What was your thought process in passing up a scholarship to pitch at Miami once you were drafted? What was your experience like starting your pro career?
Seattle called me up the morning of the draft and they had the third pick. I said, “I appreciate it, thank you very much, but I want to hit. I hope you don’t take it the wrong way.” I wanted to take my chances that a National League team would take me. The Astros picked me 12th overall and I went down to Instructional League to get my career started I got hit in the face with a ball, broke my nose in a few places and had to shut it down. Then they changed my mechanics, which I thought was a mistake. They wanted me to throw a sinker instead of a four-seamer, a slider instead of that big curve ball. Then they had me throwing a changeup too. Took me a while to figure it out, but I had some success the following year. Made it up to AAA in ’91 and won the PCL with the Tucson Toros then got called up to the Big Leagues as a 20-year-old.
Your first start came against the defending World Series champion Reds. What was it like getting called up and being so young pitching against them?
I was the youngest guy in the league at the time. We won the PCL on a Friday night and I made my Major League debut that Sunday. We were celebrating the victory then I traveled to meet the Astros in Cincinnati, so I didn’t get much sleep the two nights before my first start. My debut I couldn’t even find my glove on the bench. They told me Chris Gardner was going to go six or seven innings and they’d get me an inning. I had my shades on, hat pulled down and was slouched down on the bench. Gardner pulled a hamstring early and they said, “Go ahead Juden, get warmed up.”
They had to stop the game and let me take all the time I needed because there was an injury. I was used to throwing 20-30 minutes to warm up. I’m trying to warm up and throwing curve balls to the backstop. People are yelling at me to hurry up and I was panicking. They were rushing me on one hand, but then telling me to take all the time I needed. When I got out there, I was shaking like a leaf to be honest with you. I really wasn’t ready and then had to face Billy Hatcher, Mariano Duncan, Hal Morris, Paul O’Neill. Those guys could hit. I gave up a home run to Duncan and they had the fireworks like you used to see on RBI Baseball. I had no idea there were going to be fireworks; I was ducking. They scared the shit out of me!
Pitcher Jeff Juden of the Montreal Expos throws a pitch during a game against the San Francisco Giants at 3Comm Park in San Francisco, California. The Expos won the game 19-3. (Credit: Otto Greule Jr. / Allsport)
The ’91 Astros had a lot of great young players on that roster. What was it like coming up through the system with some of those guys?
It was a blast. In Spring Training I’d go fishing with Jeff Bagwell, he was a New England guy too. Darryl Kile, Bags and [Craig] Biggio used to like to golf, so I’d do that with them. Mark Portugal too. Yogi Berra was a coach when I got there so that was cool. Ken Caminiti actually got me my first drink. He was a wild guy and I’m sad that he’s gone. I had a lot of fun hanging out with Cammy. We’d get [Charlie] Kerfeld and go to this place in Kissimmee called Lucy Bluz. You’d get chicken wings for ten cents and they let you fill your beer stein for a buck. Anything with a handle qualified. I got a three foot stein with a handle and some of the other guys went the same route. We were like, “Fill this for a buck!” Then we’d have like 50 wings for five bucks and give them a 40% tip and it would only be $10. It was killer. A whole bunch of us would go; like 10-20 guys there every Monday night.
I could only imagine what that experience was like with those guys! You mentioned your batting earlier. I wanted to ask you the story about the grand slam you hit.
As you know, I always wanted to hit. My mother and father were there. It was when Hideo Nomo was a rookie and you remember how big of a deal that was. I told my mother I was gonna beat Nomo for her birthday and take him deep. I was talking all this shit in the clubhouse. Larry Bowa was saying stuff like, “You’re a pitcher! You’re a rookie! Shut the fuck up. We got real hitters on this team and you ain’t one of them!” The guys were laughing and we got a kick out of it. Bowa was the third base coach and asked me if I was gonna give him a high five or a low five. I said it better be a low five because your ass can’t jump that high! He called me The Fonz, so he was like, “Fuck you Fonz!”
Mark Whiten said, “If you’re gonna take this guy deep, you’re gonna need a handle on that bat.” So, he taped a handle on the bat for me. The boys were raking that day. We ended up with 17 runs, [Greg] Jefferies hit for the cycle. The fourth inning came around and I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the Home Run inning. There was a mother of four children whose husband had just died of cancer and her name was called on TV. She ended up winning $10,000 on my grand slam. I asked her if she was watching on TV. She said her youngest heard her name called on the game and came running into the kitchen. She got all excited and asked who the batter was and the kid said, “Oh man, it’s the pitcher!”
Jeff Juden #43 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches during a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 27, 1995 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
That makes an awesome story even that much better. Can you take us through that at bat?
There was a large amount of media and fans there for Nomo and he got knocked out in the third, so the stadium started to empty out. He was such a big deal. Hundreds of cameras, he showed up in a big limo. It was like Jesus showed up. Nomo had struck me out on a nasty split-finger my first at bat, but he got pinch hit for and John Cummings replaced him. I came up with two outs and the bases loaded. It was 3-0 and Larry Bowa gave me the take sign. The pitch was a cock shot and I was thinking, “Fuck man; that was it!” I look down again and he gives me the take sign again. I’m thinking, “Fuck man, we’re up 10-2, why am I taking?” And we’re in Philly, so of course the fans behind the plate are yelling, “Swing the bat you pussy!” I’m thinking, “Dude, I’m on the Phillies and they’re yelling at me like that!”
So I just said, “Fuck this. I don’t give a shit where he throws this, I’m swinging. I’m not up here to walk.” I just made up my mind that I was swinging. Little did Cummings know he could have thrown the pitch 50 feet and he would have got me. But hindsight is 20/20 and he laid it out over the plate and I just closed my eyes and swung hard. I knew I made contact and thought I pulled it, so I’m looking out to left, but out of my right eye I see it tailing out to right. I couldn’t believe it. It went out opposite field. I tripped on first base and almost fell on my face. Sure enough, when I rounded third, Larry Bowa was there with the low five. They busted my balls and said it was the longest home run trot they’ve seen. The look on Tommy Lasorda’s face was great too.
That’s such an unbelievable story. I read it was just your second Big League hit too.
Yeah, and its part of a record too. Me, Denny Neagle and Donovan Osborne all hit grand slams that year. It’s the only time three pitchers hit grand slams in the same season. I’m proud of that. Also, I was a switch-hitting pitcher, even though it isn’t documented. To this day, I’m the only pitcher to have a four-RBI day from both sides of the dish. I only got 13 career hits. By no means was I any great Big League hitter. My batting average was like a-buck-ten, but I had some special moments. The four-RBI game I had as a lefty was a game where I gave up back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs and the last one was hit by the pitcher, David Weathers. That’s gotta be a record too.
Pitcher Jeff Juden #57 of the New York Yankees poses for the camera on Photo Day during Spring Training at Legends Field in Tampa, Florida. (Credit: Vincent Laforet / Allsport)
I wanted to ask about the Canada Day Game in 1997. It was the first year of interleague play and the first series between the Expos and Blue Jays. I’ll let you tell the story from there.
When I was in high school there was a writer who was asking me who was my idol. My main guy was Nolan Ryan. I wanted to be the strikeout king. Then Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson. I was tall and I wanted to be intimidating. I looked at those guys as pitchers who would pitch inside, throw hard and throw great curve balls. It was a big deal with Canada Day, so they wanted to promote the game by saying to come on out to the ballpark to watch me pitch against my childhood idol. My dad was in the stands watching that day.
Clemens was out there dealing and I had the best seat in the house. I was in awe of him and how well he was throwing, but basically I just followed along and was trying to do what he was doing. Rondell White hit a home run out to right field and we scored when their outfielder lost a ball in the sun. That ended up being the winning run. If the roof was closed, he would have caught that all day. I pitched pretty well and had a no-hitter into the eighth. I gave up a hit on an 0-2 curve to Shawn Green. I tried to trick him, but I should have bounced the pitch. It went inside and he smashed it out of the park, so there went the no-hitter and shutout.
From the sixth inning on I had this asshole heckler screaming at me, “Hey, you got a no-hitter going!” The only bum running down the aisle screaming and it got to me. Finally in the ninth inning, I was like “Fuck that guy!” There were police on the field and it was intense; emotions were flying in every direction. But I was very blessed to have such a great game against a great pitcher that I respect tremendously to this day.
In the 1997 season you were traded to the Indians, who ended up winning the American League that year. What was your experience like in Cleveland?
What a great team. Mike Hargrove could sit in his office and throw a dart at the wall and anyone he landed on would go up and crush it. There wasn’t a weak spot out there. Being a part of them seems surreal even to this day. [Orel] Hershiser, Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar, Marquis Grissom, [Jim] Thome, Dave Justice. The talent was so unbelievable and we had such a great time. We had a lot of laughs and it was a great environment. The pitching staff had guys like Charles Nagy and Eric Plunk, Paul Shuey and Mike Jackson. We’d play ping pong in the clubhouse. Hershiser had a great ping pong game. [Justice] had some game too from the left side. Grissom too. Charlie Manuel and Dave Nelson were great coaches too. Love Davey and Big Chas, two of my favorite coaches ever.
I know the Marlins had some good players and great pitching, but I still can’t believe they won that Series. What was your World Series experience like?
I got a couple innings in the World Series and wish I could have had some more. We were right there though. Just didn’t work out. It was a great experience. The place held 70,000 and there was another 30,000 outside and they were all going wild. One of the games, fans had been heckling me and a foul ball came my way. All of a sudden when you have a ball in your hands, they go from hating you to loving you. I thought to myself, being naïve and stupid, that I was gonna fake like I was throwing it to them. I thought I was just messing with those few people, but everyone in the stands, 70,000 people, started booing me. They threw popcorn and beer cans were flying in the bullpen. Cops came running out of the tunnel telling me to throw a couple of balls up. The cops were like, “You’re the best! We can watch the game from the field now. We don’t have to stand down in the tunnel!” It was always a dream to play in the World Series and we came as close as you can get to winning it. Still hurts today that we lost. I’m living in Florida and see things that remind me of it every so often.
I absolutely love hearing stories like this and so do our readers. Last question is open-ended. Do you have any final reflections you’d like to leave our readers with?
I feel blessed and grateful that I had the opportunity to play Major League Baseball. I came from a small town with humble beginnings. I wanted to be a hockey player and a pilot, but I grew up to be a baseball player. I am grateful that the game chose me, and I got to travel the country and meet these great players that I watched and rooted for as a kid. I got to pitch to Darren Daulton, he was a guy I was rooting for when I was 12. Even someone like Bob Uecker. He’d walk in with his cowboy hat and say, “What’s up, JJ!” It was really surreal with some of the guys I met. I was living the dream. It’s hard to put in words and think that I was a part of all that. I still have a love for the game and now my sons, Fredrick and Dalton, are out there playing and doing well. Keep an eye out for them. They’re both pitchers and great athletes.