"I was on the 2002 Giants and we got beat by that dang Rally Monkey."
You can call Scott Eyre a lot of things.
Call him a long reliever, converted starter, a great teammate and a World Series champion.
Those are all monikers to be proud of, but if you ask Eyre, the most meaningful words you can call him these days are “dad” and “coach.”
A member of the 2008 Phillies World Series champion bullpen and current baseball coach at Landrum High School in South Carolina, Eyre joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.
Despite an outstanding career at Cyprus High School in Utah, Eyre drew little recruiting attention out of fears that an undersized pitcher who threw hard with a good curve ball wouldn’t hold up physically.
However, after further development and a strong season in 1991 at the College of Southern Idaho, Eyre became a ninth round draft pick from the Rangers that spring.
From there, Eyre worked his way through the Rangers and White Sox systems, ultimately getting a callup to the White Sox from AA in 1997.
Eyre pitched in 641 games over 13 MLB seasons with 24 of them coming in the postseason. He was a key member of the Giants’ bullpen during their postseason runs in 2002 and ’03, pitched out of the Cubs bullpen in the 2007 postseason and again was a stalwart bullpen piece for the 2008 and 2009 Phillies World Series teams.
As great as all of that is, when you ask Eyre to reflect on that now, he immediately turns to how he was able to pull from his experience to become a great dad and coach. It’s all about putting things in perspective.
That’s not to say he’s not proud of his Big League career and the stories that came along with that, so let’s go Spitballin’ with Scott Eyre.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Eyre. Looking forward to hearing your stories. Let’s start out at the beginning. What was baseball like for you as a kid?
My parents divorced when I was eight but I grew up with a dad who absolutely loved baseball and a mom who knew the intricacies of the game. She used to ask me some pretty in-depth questions even when I was in high school. I grew up in an era where we were outside playing all the time and living in California, it was warm enough to play baseball most of the year. I grew up a Dodgers fan and loved Dusty Baker. When I was younger, I got his autograph on a hat. Later in life, I was lucky enough to play Major League Baseball and got to play for Dusty. I told him that he signed my hat years ago and I knew I still had it somewhere. My mom found it and I had him sign it again. So I have a hat that Dusty signed for me when I was a 12 year old kid and as an adult when I was playing for him.
Wow, that’s unbelievable! Was there a time growing up when you thought you had a shot to pitch professionally?
I don’t remember ever thinking like that. When I graduated high school I was a little under 6’0” and about 135 pounds. I had a big curve ball and threw hard, but it wasn’t until after high school that I grew a couple of inches. Let’s put it this way, I always was given jersey #1 growing up. There weren’t scouts at my games in high school, even my senior year when we had a real good team and went far in the playoffs. I won some individual awards, but I was told by some college guys that I was undersized. They figured I’d break down, which I did. I had Tommy John in 1994 after I was drafted. Even when I was in the minors, I wondered if I’d ever have a chance.
(On meeting Mark McGwire at 1B) “If I could go back, I wish I could have said, ‘How did it feel to lose to my Dodgers back in ’88? How’d that work for you big guy?'”
You went 25-12 as a starter in 1996 and ’97 in the minors and got called up in August of 1997. What was your first Major League experience like?
It had been cold and rainy and we had been in Mobile on some crappy road trip. Batting practice was rained out and we were waiting to see if the game was gonna be rained out. Me, Brian Woods and Pete Rose Jr. were napping in this family waiting room. Before the games, the room was empty because the families weren’t there yet. We put aluminum foil over the window in the door so it was pitch black in there. It was a sleeping room mostly for the pitchers after batting practice. Evidently, our manager Dave Huppert, was looking for us. He opened the door and said, “Eyre, get in here!” I was like, “Crap, what did I do?”
I had no idea, but the Big League club had made a big trade. They sent Danny Darwin, Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez to the Giants for Keith Foulke, Bobby Howry, Mike Caruso and some minor leaguers. We didn’t have any cell phones to tell us about these trades. Our pitching coach Steve Renko walked in and said, “Did you tell him?” Now Renko was an old pitcher with a long career. He’s huge. His hands were so big that if he were to strangle you, it would take a half a second. I thought I was going up to Nashville, but they said, “Nope, you’re going to the Big Leagues.”
Scott Eyre #47 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch against the Colorado Rockies in Game Two of the NLDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Citizens Bank Park on October 8, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Rockies won 5-4. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Can you take us through your first days in the Majors?
Well, let me ask you a question. You’re in the Big Leagues, right? You fly to a city with your team and you’d think someone would be there to pick you up, correct? I landed at John Wayne Airport and was waiting for someone to meet me. I finally used a calling card to call our trainer in Birmingham. Thank God I remembered the number because I had no idea where I was supposed to go. They probably did tell me all the information I needed, but after I heard, “Hey you’re getting called up; here’s your plane ticket,” I didn’t hear or retain anything else. I landed at 8:00 and had waited for two hours and the airport was closing at 10:00 PM. Evidently, the airport was so close to the stadium, I was supposed to just take a cab to the hotel from the airport on my own. But this was the Big Leagues, I was expecting someone there to meet me!
That’s a great callup story. So you finally got to meet the team at the hotel?
My trainer from Birmingham had told me where the team was staying, so I called the hotel and asked if this was where the White Sox were staying. The receptionist told me it wasn’t. I told her the whole story that I had just got called up to the Big Leagues and my trainer gave me that number. In her mind, she was probably like, “Yeah, I’ve heard it all kid. You’re not getting in here.” Finally I just said I was stuck at the airport, I didn’t know where I was supposed to go and I wasn’t lying. I asked if a shuttle was running and she said it was.
I get to the hotel and told her I was supposed to have a room under Scott Eyre. She said she didn’t have that name. Just as I was thinking I was at the wrong hotel, I turn around and see our travelling secretary, Glen Rosenbaum. He says, “Where in the hell have you been!” He was dying laughing. He walked up to the front desk and said, “I need the keys for Mike Warner’s room.” That was the name they had the room under. I think it was his neighbor’s kid. It ended up being good because the trade wasn’t announced until after the game and I would have gotten there before it was announced so the media would have seen me and known something was up.
Scott Eyre #49 of the San Francisco Giants tags out Milton Bradley #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers after he was picked off first base at SBC Park on September 25, 2004 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
So after all of that, what was it like going out and making your first Major League start in Anaheim, not far from where you grew up?
I was born in Fountain Valley and didn’t move to Los Angeles until I was 12. I had played Little League in Anaheim. I left about 40 tickets for people to come watch me pitch. Most of my family came to the game. My brother and one of my best friends immediately got in a car and drove there. They had six hours left on their shift at work, but were like, “Nope, we gotta go!” I had a whole bunch of people there and I wished I had pitched better. I made it into the fifth and had like five walks and a few strikeouts. I gave up a homer to [Darrin] Erstad and hit Tim Salmon. I was nervous and trying to strike guys out instead of just making pitches.
It was much different back then. Nobody came over to me and gave me a scouting report. I had no idea what I was doing. Tony Peña was my first Big League catcher that day and we didn’t even have a meeting to go over batters. Tony Phillips was the first guy I faced and I had no pitching plan to get him out.
During your professional career, did you have any coaches who you felt were influential in your growth?
Steve Renko had a big hand in me blossoming in the minor leagues. He taught me how to pitch and a strong work ethic. We had the Chicago White Sox strength and conditioning running program and he basically said, “Screw that, you’re gonna do this today!” It was some of the hardest crap I had ever done in my life. But you know what, when I was standing there in August pitching in Busch Stadium when it was 100 degrees, my legs felt fine. I had gotten a hit in my first at bat and Ray Durham then fouled off three 3-2 pitches where I was running on the pitch. I had to run three sprints. I think I’m a young kid running the bases again. The inning ended and I rushed to get back to the mound. I didn’t want someone thinking I was big timing it. I threw my eight warm up pitches and couldn’t catch my breath. It was the sprints, the adrenaline of getting a hit, the heat. But my legs were fine.
Race car driver Danica Patrick talks with Scott Eyre (L) and Derrek Lee of the Chicago Cubs before a game between the Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 07, 2006 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
That was actually one of my next questions. You got a hit off Manny Aybar in your first Major League at bat. Can you take us through that?
I hit a line drive off Manny Aybar’s leg and they were out there checking him. I was standing on first base just taking it all in. There’s 30,000 people in the stands and I’m just looking up at them all. Things look totally different from first base than they do from the mound. I was standing next to Mark McGwire, looking at him going, “Oh my God, he’s huge and I just struck him out!” McGwire said to me, “That’s a nice swing there, kid.”
If I could go back, I wish I could have said, “How did it feel to lose to my Dodgers back in ’88? How’d that work for you big guy?” I was screaming in my kitchen watching Kirk Gibson hit that home run. But yeah, my first hit was off Manny Aybar and I ended up playing with him later in San Francisco. We were going to take BP and being an American League guy, people didn’t know if I could hit. As we were walking up to the cages, someone asked if I could hit. I said, “I don’t know, you could ask Manny!” He said something like, “F-you, Scotty!” I was a good hitter in high school and college, but I don’t think I could ever hit consistently in the Big Leagues though.
You pitched in 24 postseason games and were in a lot of tight spots coming out of the bullpen in those games. What was your postseason experience like pitching under all that pressure?
I was on some really good teams. It was a lot of fun. I was on the 2002 Giants and we got beat by that dang Rally Monkey. Our bullpen had Robb Nen, Jason Christensen, Tim Worrell, Felix Rodriguez and those guys. I was warming up for my first playoff game in Atlanta and Nen said, “Now don’t you think this is any different. It’s still 60 feet, 6 inches.” He gave me that Hoosiers talk. He could tell I was a little tense. I had pitched well for them in August and September and helped them clinch the Wild Card. My confidence was there because Dusty Baker had been putting me in spots to do well. I came in and got Marcus Giles and from then on, I didn’t feel like there was a lot of pressure.
MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 24: Scott Eyre #47 of the Chicago Cubs poses during Spring Training Photo Day at Fitch Park on February 24, 2006 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
You pitched in three different World Series in 2002, ’08 and ’09. What was that experience like?
Pitching in my first World Series [in 2002] was crazy. I’m coming into the game thinking, “Oh my God, I’m pitching in the World Series!” I actually got some text messages last week. MLB Network was showing Game 6 the 2009 World Series and I came in in the seventh inning to face Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui, who was MVP of that World Series. I punched them both out and went back out for the eighth to face Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner. Swisher grounded out and Gardner rolled over on one. I walked off the mound thinking, “Wow, that’s the last game I’m ever gonna pitch.” It was the last game of the series and we were down a few runs with Mariano Rivera was coming in to pitch. Even though we were about to lose the World Series, that was my most memorable playoff game. I pitched really well in a World Series game for my last appearance. It sucks we lost though. I would have rather given up a run and have us win the World Series.
I could understand that. Let’s talk about the World Series you did win. Where were you watching that final out of the 2008 World Series?
I was right on the outfield fence with Clay Condrey. It was freezing cold and we had our jackets on. Brad Lidge was facing Eric Hinske and we were up three games to one. Clay was already saying, “We’re gonna do it! I don’t care if I jinx us!” Our conversation was about whether we were going to jump the fence or run down and go through the gate. I said I was jumping the fence and he said he was with me. He said, “I don’t care how cold it is, I’m going jacket off so everyone can see my name on the back of my jersey when we’re celebrating!” Lidge got the strikeout and we ran to the mound. As I was running, I was wishing that I was faster so I could get to that big old pile.
(L-R) Philadelphia Phillies Scott Eyre (47), Joe Blanton (56), Chad Durbin (37), and Ryan Madson (63) victorious with 2008 banner flag after winning game and series vs Tampa Bay Rays. Game 5 concluded on Wednesday two days after it began due to rain and bad weather. Philadelphia, PA 10/29/2008 CREDIT: Damian Strohmeyer (Photo by Damian Strohmeyer /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images
There are so many great players who have never won a World Series. Looking back at your career now, what are your thoughts when someone refers to you as Scott Eyre: World Series champion?
Things change when you get older. When I first retired, I loved the attention of being a World Series champion. I still love that and always will, but now that I’m older, being a dad is so much cooler for me. I coach baseball now at Landrum High School in South Carolina and most of the kids don’t ask me questions about Big League stuff. Every so often I’ll get a kid who says that his dad called him into the living room to watch a game where I was pitching. They’ll tell me it was really cool to see. They don’t see me as a Big Leaguer, they see me as Coach Eyre. That’s even more special. One kid didn’t even know I played Big League ball. I was in the bullpen working on some things with him. He came to the team late because he was playing basketball and I heard him say to someone, “Who’s the new guy trying to change my mechanics?” I had just shown him how to be a little easier on his arm while creating more velocity. He tried it and said, “Oh, that really works. How’d you do that?”
It hasn’t really been too long since you retired, but I feel like the game has changed a lot. What are your thoughts on the state of baseball today?
It’s a different game and it keeps evolving. I grew up a National League fan and I enjoyed watching the pitchers bat, but I understand the change. But to me, if you’re trying to make the game faster, adding another batter is going to create more offense which will slow things down even more. I’m all for the DH though. I agree that you’re paying these pitchers $20 million dollars a year or more and you don’t want them out there running the bases and pull a hammy and miss 12 starts. I am not a fan of the shift though. I get that people say it works, but I’d rather just see guys stay in their position and field the ball. Again, it’s slowing the game down as guys are moving around all over all the time.
The biggest thing that irks me about baseball now is the signs. I watch college pitchers and they’re looking at their wrists to get text messages telling them to throw a fastball in or whatever. That’s sad. Our high school uses a number system, so I’ll say, “3-4-5” and that’s a fastball in. Personally, I want my catchers to learn. If they look at me, I’ll give them a sign. But they should learn to call a game on their own. I know people say pitching is better these days, but why is ERA higher? Strikeouts are up too. Who cares? It’s like they say in Bull Durham, “Strike outs are boring and besides that, they’re facist.” Nobody makes an adjustment and there’s no two out approach anymore. The game is evolving into a 6’5” league where if you don’t hit bombs, you don’t get any money. There’s no Brett Butlers anymore, slapping balls through the left side. Guys today are bigger, stronger and faster, but I don’t think they’re better baseball players.