"I thought, 'Oh my God, I almost killed Cal Ripken!'”
Here at BallNine, we don’t run away from baseball clichés.
In fact, we embrace and support them; they’re clichés for a reason and there’s usually plenty of truth attached to them.
One of those tropes is that if you have the talent, scouts will find you.
Former Blue Jays pitcher Bob File is the perfect example of that theory and he joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.
File grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, and while there have been some solid Major Leaguers to come out of that area, it’s not Southern California by any stretch.
The path that File took to the Majors is a testament to his determination, work ethic and adaptability. A self-admitted late bloomer, File didn’t start garnering collegiate attention until his senior year in high school.
He drew some interest from Division I programs, but landed at Division II Philadelphia Textile where he developed into one of the top hitters on that level in the country. At the time File was drafted, Philadelphia Textile had produced exactly one Major Leaguer ever and that guy had appeared in eight games to that point.
So how did a third baseman from a Division II school that was barely a blip on the radar of the Major Leagues end up as a pitcher on the highest level of the sport?
If you have the talent, scouts will find you.
File had drawn plenty of attention with his bat, but was given the chance to pitch a little because of his strong arm. Because the school played doubleheaders, scouts could see File hit and pitch in the same day.
Longtime Blue Jays scout Ben McClure took a liking to File and when someone as respected as McClure takes a liking to you, it holds some weight.
After he was drafted, the rest of the climb to the Majors was on File. He played just three seasons in the minors before his Big League debut and was an All-Star in two of them. File had success on the Major League level as well before injuries set in.
File was just the 17,845th person to appear in a game in Major League history and one of many in that group who took an unconventional route to become a Big Leaguer.
Let’s hear his tales from the road less traveled as we go Spitballin’ with Bob File.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. File! Let’s talk some baseball and start by going back to your childhood. What was baseball like for you as a kid?
Baseball was everything to me as a kid. I played basketball a little bit in high school and college, but I was introduced to basketball late, so it was always baseball. Growing up in the Northeast section of Philly, it was a rough area. Lower-middle class at best, having perspective now. We played on shit fields compared to other parts of the country. We played in the spring and summer and local travel teams around Philly and then I stayed in Philly for high school and college. My dad played professional softball for a couple of years and went back to playing baseball again after he was 40 and probably played for another 15 years.
You mentioned attending college in Philadelphia at what is now Jefferson University. When you attended, it was Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. How did you end up there?
I went to Father Judge High School in Philly and I was a late-bloomer there. Typically, you’re being recruited as a junior to play in college, but I wasn’t being recruited. I ended up being MVP of the conference, but I wasn’t being recruited because I was a senior. All the D1 schools had finished their recruiting. Don Flynn, a baseball legend in Philly and the Head Coach at Textiles reached out to me. I applied there, Temple and LaSalle. Ultimately, Coach Flynn offered me a small scholarship, but I also had a lot of academic money. In June, Skip Wilson from Temple was willing to offer me a scholarship to go to Temple. Don Flynn was really cool about it. They’re both friends and he said if I wanted to go to Temple, he understood. Temple was a Division I program. But he said I could come in on the Division II level and play right away. At the time, I liked their computer science program better than Temple. My choice to go to Textiles was based more on academics than baseball. It was the best decision I ever made.
“I try to explain to people just how good the Big League players are compared to AAA players. There should be another five levels between AAA and the Majors.”
You were drafted in the 19th round of the 1998 draft by the Blue Jays. How did you get on the radar for the Major Leagues while playing at Philadelphia Textile?
The chances of getting drafted out of a Division II school in the Northeast is so slim. I had a really good college career as a hitter and after my junior year I had talked to some local scouts. Nothing really serious. My senior year I had a breakout season nationally. The internet wasn’t as big, so getting your name out there nationally was tough. Leading the nation in hitting the whole season helped. Going into the last three games of the season I was batting like .570. I ended up going 1-14 and it dropped down though. But being National Player of the Week and getting awards like that helped me.
My junior year Don Flynn asked me if I could pitch at all because I had a good arm. I had pitched some intrasquad games for fun, but nothing serious. He put me in some games to close my junior year and I did pretty well. My senior year we had a really good season and one of our best pitchers was ineligible. Don Flynn asked me to pitch on the weekends. I hadn’t even pitched in high school. Scouts were already coming to see me hit, and I’d pitch one of the games of the doubleheader and they’d see me do both.
What was your experience like being drafted?
The draft was held over two days back then; 25 rounds each day. I was waiting home that day by the landline and got a call from Ben McClure, who was a scout for the Blue Jays for like 40 years. He was really well respected and wanted to take a flier on me because he saw something there. If it was another scout, I don’t know that they would have drafted me, but because he was so respected, that helped. He told me they were taking me in the 19th round and asked if he could come to my house the next day to sign the contract. I already had a really good job lined up with a computer consulting firm. I was gonna be starting at $80,000 right out of college which was a lot of money back then. I had already signed on and was going to start training that July.
So Ben McClure came to my house and said that even though they drafted me as a third baseman, there was a chance I was going to pitch. He asked if that was OK and my dad said, “Yes, that’s fine.” I went out to Medicine Hat in Alberta and played on their Rookie Ball team and became a pitcher. I wasn’t expecting that, but obviously it worked out.
You had some real good early success making the All-Star Games in the Florida State League and Southern League while you were in the minors. How did you make that transition to a pitcher on that level without really ever having done it before?
The first 12 days I was in Rookie Ball I didn’t pitch at all. I was annoyed and just sitting around the bullpen wondering what I was doing there. We had a closer from Ohio State and he blew two saves in a row. We were in Great Falls, Montana against the Dodgers affiliate and I came in in the seventh inning and I was pissed. I knew how to pitch to a certain extent, but I had a lot to learn. I just threw a sinker-slider as hard as I could and ended up striking out eight of the nine batters I faced. They left me out there instead of bringing the closer in and I got the three inning save. I became the closer from there. That first year was key for me because I got by on physical ability and grit. I didn’t know how to pitch yet. I had a great catcher, Mike Kremblas from Ohio State. He was a defensive wizard and taught me a lot. These were all guys from big time schools and I learned a lot from them. We had like five Big Leaguers on that Rookie Ball team. Guys like Jay Gibbons and Orlando Hudson.
You played that Rookie Ball season in Medicine Hat in 1998 and by 2001, you were making your Big League debut. What was it like to get that call to the Majors?
After Spring Training, I didn’t break with the team out of Spring Training. Lance Painter had to go on the DL and someone else had to get released. They said that me and Pasqual Coco were going back to AA and they’d call us up in ten days. I was thinking to myself, “Yeah right, you’re so full of shit.” Rocket Wheeler was the manager and I had just dominated the season before in AAA, so it was the weirdest thing. I didn’t believe anyone, so I called my agent and he said they were going to do those moves and it was 100% that I would be called up. I had to pitch a couple games to stay sharp, but I didn’t want to get hit around – because who really knows.
The day I was called up I was actually on the way to the gym. There was no team bus, so we had to walk or find a cab. So me, Jay Gibbons and Michael Young were on the way to the gym. I was literally in the middle of crossing a highway type of street and found out. We were jumping around and all excited about it.
What was it like your first time going into the clubhouse as a Major Leaguer and making your debut?
The actual day I got called up I had to go from Tennessee to Toronto and had to take like three flights. I showed up at the field and went out to warm up. I was thinking, “Wow, this is the Skydome, this is amazing!” I get back in the dugout and all of a sudden, a piece of the roof comes crashing down to the field and they canceled the game. I was thinking that it was probably a blessing because I was so tired. I had no sleep. I didn’t pitch for maybe the first seven days. Buck Martinez kept telling me he was going to put me in a game with no pressure.
Bob File receives congrats from teamates.Esteban Loaiza pats him on the head as he leaves the fieldwith pitching caoch Mark Connor (right) Blue Jays beat the Royals in the bottom of the Ninth 5-4 as Carlos Delgado singled in the winning run making a suprise winner out of the Jays rookie relief pitcher who came in in the top of the ninth and faced one batter. (Photo by David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
What was your first game experience like when that call finally came?
I went in against the Royals and we were down 3-1. I got to pitch against Hector Ortiz who was like the eight-hole batter. I was fine warming up, but when I got on the mound, my legs felt like Jell-O. I felt like I was going to pass out. It was the weirdest feeling. I didn’t feel nervous, but I was trembling. I still look at the video from my first pitch and it was high. I thought I’d never be able to throw a strike. I ended up getting one over and breaking his bat on a ground ball. I threw about four or five pitches and got out of the inning. We came in and scored a bunch of runs off Roberto Hernandez, one of the hardest throwing closers in baseball, and came back to win. I got a win in my debut. It was pretty unbelievable.
Looking at your game log from your rookie year, your second appearance came against that great Yankees team of 2001 and you pitched four innings in relief. Can you take us through that game?
I consider that game the greatest experience of my life as far as sports are concerned. I waited 11 days to get in that game. I remember being so mad at sitting around. I was wondering if I did something wrong. That Yankees game went 17 innings. In the 13th inning, they started warming up Steve Parris who was a starter. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting in this game, and I was getting pissed. I actually said to the bullpen coach, “Could you let Mark Connor,” the pitching coach, “know this is fucking bullshit?” I didn’t care, I was so mad. He came back and said, “OK, you’re gonna warm up and go in.” I warmed up and went in the game and wasn’t nervous at all. My first inning out there I faced Alfonso Soriano, Chuck Knoblauch and Scott Brosius. These are the same Yankees I watched win back-to-back-to-back World Series in college.
Before I went out for my second inning, I talked to Darrin Fletcher and said they had lefties Paul O’Neill, Dave Justice, Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada coming up. I’m a sinkerball righty guy, so I said give me my location and I’ll go with backdoor breaking balls on them. I had never thrown a backdoor breaking ball ever. I literally made it up. My first time throwing it, I struck out Paul O’Neill. I got Tino Martinez on it too. I was like, “Oh my God, this is the best!”
Toronto Blue Jays catcher Kevin Cash and pitcher Bob File at practice March 3, 2004 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
That’s an incredible story. How did the game end up?
Well I got through the first two innings and they asked me to go out for a third. I got through that inning and was hoping we’d win it in the bottom of the 16th. We loaded the bases against Randy Choate with 3-4-5 up. He ends up striking out the side. I went out for my fourth inning, the 17th, and got the first two outs. I went 0-2 on Knoblauch and started getting cramps in my calf. I started losing it. I walked him on four straight after having him 0-2. He stole second and then Derek Jeter – who is an impossible out – gets a hit. Then Paul O’Neill came up and I started my second time through the order, which I had never done. I knew he wasn’t gonna forget that backdoor breaking ball that I struck him out on because he was so mad. Of course, he took my little back door and pops it through the hole to win it. But, man, what an experience that was. I remember Buck Martinez brought me in the office afterwards and told me I’d have a good career there. That was really cool. To this day I look at that lineup and wonder how they ever lost a game.
That era in the AL East and even just Major League Baseball was pretty insane from an offensive standpoint. Do you look back and reflect on pitching against some of the all-time greats like Cal Ripken, Barry Bonds, Jeter and those guys?
It’s funny, Ryan Spaeder sends a Hall of Fame ballot out to former players every year and I fill it out for fun. But I look at it and am like, “Man I pitched against most of these guys! Manny Ramirez, ARod, Gary Sheffield. I mean, shit!” I faced Cal Ripken in Baltimore in his last season. We finished the season in Baltimore, and these were his last three games. I was pitching to him, and all the flash bulbs were going off every pitch. I could barely see. I thought it was the craziest thing ever. My second pitch, I dusted him! I almost hit him in the head. Obviously, it wasn’t on purpose, but he went down to the ground on his back. I thought, “Oh my God, I almost killed Cal Ripken!” Just looking back on some of those guys, it’s unbelievable. I try to explain to people just how good the Big League players are compared to AAA players. There should be another five levels between AAA and the Majors.
Bob File #46 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws warm up pitches during their game against Florida Atlantic University on March 2, 2005 at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. The St. Louis Cardinals defeated Florida Atlantic University 8-2. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
No kidding. It’s been awesome talking baseball with you and thank you for sharing your stories. My final question is an open-ended question. What are your reflections on your own accomplishments and overall place in baseball history?
When I found out how few players had ever played Major League Baseball, it put things in perspective. I learned a lot of these stats after I was done playing though. I use it in analogies that I have been in in job interviews post-baseball. Not to be arrogant or egotistical, because I am not at all, but to put it in perspective, the chances of making it to the Big Leagues is like .02% of all players drafted make it to the Big Leagues. You have a better chance hitting the lottery. I’m glad I didn’t know that when I was playing because I don’t know if I would have made it. I might have quit on the spot.
It’s just so hard to make it. I pitched with a guy at Jefferson University, Shaun Babula. He got drafted the year after me and he was a way better pitcher than me. Not even close. He pitched 13 years in the minors and got to AAA but never made it. So many things have to go right. To have a chance to say that I made it and pitched for a decent amount of time is kinda cool now. I feel like after making it to the Majors, there’s nothing I can’t do. Especially in the corporate world because it’s all mental. I think it was hard work and luck combined. I had some injuries at the end unfortunately and that’s how my career ended. That was my fault. I tried to grind through and run through a wall. That mentality got me to the Big Leagues, but it probably got me out of the Big Leagues too.