"You have to have some luck having the stuff I did to be able to pitch an immaculate inning.”
Life, just like baseball, can cross you up sometimes.
You might have the best plan in the world, but if you’re looking fastball and someone snaps off a nasty curve, well let’s just say plans change.
Buddy Carlyle wasn’t himself at the start of the 2009 season. He had lost some speed on his fastball, wasn’t very effective and went on the disabled list in May with a neck and back injury. When the righty lost a significant amount of weight in a very short period of time, he went for bloodwork and found the answer to his health issues.
Carlyle was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Known colloquially as juvenile diabetes, it’s a surprising diagnosis for a professional athlete in his early-30s to receive.
For someone who had already spent the previous 12 seasons pitching in the major leagues, minor leagues and on multiple contents, nobody would have faulted Carlyle if he chose to walk away from the sport to concentrate on his health and family.
Instead, like he always does, Carlyle bounced back.
After last having pitched on May 25 prior to his diagnosis, Carlyle returned to the Braves on August 27 to close out a win over the Padres. He pitched in one more game in 2009 and then went on to stints with the Mets, Yankees and Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. He also played for four other minor league teams between 2009 and 2015, when hip surgery ended his career.
Carlyle’s retirement didn’t last long as he went into coaching and is now the Minor League Pitching Coordinator for the Los Angeles Angels.
It has been 14 years since his type 1 diabetes diagnosis and Carlyle still uses his platform to encourage others. He asked broadcasters to talk about his disease on air with the hopes that he could be a role model for young kids who may be fighting the same battle.
The truth is, Carlyle is an incredible role model for anyone.
His first professional season came in 1996 for the Princeton Reds in the Appalachian League as an 18-year-old from Nebraska and his career concluded in 2015 with the New York Mets. Although Carlyle had hip surgery and wasn’t around for the Mets amazing run to the World Series that season, he recorded a save on Opening Day when Bartolo Colon outdueled Max Scherzer.
It was the only save of Carlyle’s career.
There are a lot of platitudes to throw around about Carlyle as a person and as a player and as with anyone who played for 25 teams over 16 professional seasons, he has plenty of the baseball stories we love at BallNine.
Please join us as we go Spitballin’ with Buddy Carlyle.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Carlyle. You’ve had one incredible baseball journey. Let’s start at the beginning though. What was baseball like for you as a kid?
I spent a little time in Wisconsin as a kid but spent most of my childhood in Bellevue, Nebraska right outside of Omaha. I grew up a huge Cubs fan. That started for me because of Harry Caray and the Cubs on WGN. I would sprint home from school and try to catch the seventh inning stretch on Cubs day games. I usually got home right in time for that. I also spent a lot of nights up late without my parents knowing watching them on the West Coast when they played the Dodgers. Harry Caray and Steve Stone were a big part of my childhood. I loved the ’84 Cubs. Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout, Leon Durham, Jody Davis and all those guys. But Ryne Sandberg was my hero growing up.
There are far bigger obstacles that people deal with on a daily basis. I was sick and when I found out what I had was type 1 diabetes, I honestly felt fortunate because a lot of people get much worse than that.
That’s awesome, I love hearing about who players rooted for as kids. Being such a Cubs fan, what was it like pitching against them and pitching in Wrigley for the first time?
Seeing the Cubs as a professional for the first time was shocking to me. I was 21 years old and pitching for the Padres. We were in San Diego and I don’t think I pitched that series, but I remember looking out and seeing the famous blue batting practice top. The blue jersey with the Cubs logo on the left chest. I was looking at guys I had been watching play on TV. Pitching in Wrigley for the first time, I had been in the league for a while already, but it was still pretty cool.
You were picked by the Reds in the second round of the 1996 draft. Can you take us through your draft experience?
Being from Nebraska, there weren’t a lot of people I could talk to about the draft. You just had to sit around and wait for a phone call; they weren’t broadcasting it live or anything. I was going to go to Arizona State, but I was praying I got drafted. I don’t think I got the call until a little later. They were in the fifth or sixth round and I got a call saying the Reds had picked me in the second round.
Atlanta Braves Buddy Carlyle (38) in action, pitching vs Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh, PA 4/18/2009 (Photo by Fred Vuich /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)
You mentioned earlier that you made your debut at just 21 years old with the Padres. As someone who clearly loved baseball as a kid, what was it like being in the Majors at a young age and being teammates with guys like Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman?
It was pretty crazy because I hadn’t even been to a Major League camp. I went straight from minor league camp to the Majors. For me, it was the first time walking into a Major League clubhouse and I saw Tony Gwynn, Andy Ashby, Sterling Hitchcock, Woody Williams. Those guys were really great to me. It’s funny, I got there when I was 21 but it took me until I was 38 to accrue five years of service time. My path was crazy, but getting there was awesome. The Padres had been in the World Series the year before. Trevor Hoffman had his walk out song. I’d watch him come out to Hell’s Bells and get chills.
The experience of getting called up for the first time was almost the same as when I got called up when I was in my mid-30s. Walking in and seeing how big the Major League stadiums are and the presence everyone has is always an amazing feeling.
We alluded to your career path a little bit, but let’s talk about that more in depth. You played for about 25 teams over 16 years across the majors, minors, Japan and Korea. Can you talk about the perseverance it took to have that type of career?
It is a love for baseball and a belief in yourself. If you have that belief that you could still do it, you stick with it. I became a minor league free agent in my early 20s and pretty much spent the next 16 years in that same situation. I got married and having my wife believe in me made a big difference for me. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. If you don’t have that support system in place from your wife and kids, it makes things tough.
I was lucky to have that support at home. My wife would keep telling me, “Keep going! You could still do it!” If you have that, it makes it hard to quit on your dreams. When I was 36 years old and a free agent again after spending the previous two seasons fully in the minors, she was the one to push me and encourage me to keep going. Then I ended up with the Mets for the last two years of my career after that.
Buddy Carlyle #38 of the Atlanta Braves is injured while tagging out Kevin Kouzmanoff #5 of the San Diego Padres at Turner Field May 8, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Braves defeated the Padres 5-4. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
There were four times in your career where you spent a full season, sometimes multiple seasons, away from Major League Baseball, whether you were in the minors or overseas. Was there one time you returned to the Bigs that was more special to you?
I would say my time with the Mets and coming back in 2014. I was with the Braves from 2007-2009 and then in 2009 I found out I was a type 1 diabetic. I was in my early 30s and that’s an odd age to find out you’re a type 1 diabetic. I spent the next couple of years in the minor leagues and pitching in Asia, so to get back to the majors with the Mets in 2014 was probably as gratifying as my first Major League call up. I couldn’t believe after all of that I was in a Major League stadium again.
Having type 1 diabetes is a big part of your story and it’s amazing you were able to succeed while managing your health with that. Do you have a message for others who are type 1 diabetic?
It’s hard because I couldn’t imagine finding out at like 11 years old, considering the life changes you have to make. We live just like anybody else does, but you have to take ownership of it. If you don’t take ownership of it, it will take ownership of you. Literally, you could still do whatever anybody else could do who doesn’t have it. You just have to accept that it’s part of your life. It’s not anything that’s going to hinder you from reaching your dreams. It’s a minor obstacle. There are far bigger obstacles that people deal with on a daily basis. I was sick and when I found out what I had was type 1 diabetes, I honestly felt fortunate because a lot of people get much worse than that.
That’s an amazing message and thanks for sharing it and being a role model. Being a Mets fan, I’m never ashamed to throw Mets questions into these interviews. That 2015 team was so much fun to watch. You were with them the season before and then actually had the save on Opening Day in 2015, a year they went to the World Series. When that ’15 season started, did you think you had a World Series team there?
In 2014 I was there at the end of the season for about 30 innings out of the pen. You could feel the momentum building. That year in AAA you had Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero. I remember seeing those guys get to the majors. I remember watching deGrom throw a bullpen in AAA that year and I looked in every direction saying, “What in the heck is that! Oh my God!” We had all those young arms with Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey too. Any team that has that much talent from a pitching perspective always has a chance. Unfortunately, and you talk about full circle, the last game I ever pitched was in Wrigley Field. I ended up having hip surgery and that ended my career. But to answer your question, I felt that success building 100% and the atmosphere and energy created around Mets fans that year was so much fun.
Relief pitcher Buddy Carlyle (44) of the New York Mets during a MLB game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, in Washington D.C.(Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
It certainly was! Going back a little, you played three seasons in Japan and also pitched in the KBO in Korea. What was that experience like?
My first time in Japan was strange. I signed there when I was 22 and played there when I was 23 and 24. It’s an atypical path for Major Leaguers who go over there to play because the guys who play there usually don’t do so until later in their careers. I really didn’t even know myself at that time. Culturally, it was a great place to live. We really enjoyed it. I was engaged my first year there and married my second year. I went back eight years later and played again. By that time I had kids and they got to experience that culture of a different country. The people were great and they treated me really well. I can say the same for Korea too. I was only there for a few months, but I enjoyed it very much.
How did the baseball compare in Asia to the Major Leagues?
I saw a big difference even in Japan from 2002 to 2010. In 2002, seeing how much they had their pitchers throw was different in 2010. Some of it was because they had an American manager in Trey Hillman and they kind of progressed to our style a little bit. Seeing the way they go about their business was something. It was baseball all day long for them. They could repeat their delivery and where their foot lands 100 times out of 100. It’s pretty incredible. There’s a lot to learn from the way they do things over there, just like they learn a lot from us. If you go there with an open mind, you can have a good time.
In 2007 you pitched an immaculate inning, something that is rarer than a no-hitter or hitting for the cycle. In the same game you also had a go-ahead RBI single that gave your team a lead it wouldn’t surrender. What were you more excited about at the time?
I’ll be honest, I had no idea about the immaculate inning until the next day. I didn’t even know that was an existing stat. I don’t really remember the hit either. I think I was facing Justin Germano. I saw the list afterwards of people who threw an immaculate inning and there are some crazy names on it. My name looks out of place on that list. You have to have some luck having the stuff I did to be able to pitch an immaculate inning. A lot of things have to go right, but it’s cool to have done it.
Pitcher Buddy Carlyle #58 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws against the San Francisco Giants during the opening day game at Dodger Stadium on April 12, 2005 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
We mentioned earlier that you played on about 25 different teams in your professional career. Was there one team or city you played on in any of those stops that you particularly enjoyed more than the others?
All of the experiences were so different and they were all great. I think the one that changed my family life the most was my time in Atlanta. I played three seasons there and stayed there for ten years afterwards. That shaped my family dynamic the most. It was also cool to meet Skip Caray and Chip Caray after being raised on Harry Caray. I basically grew up listening to Skip Caray too on TBS, so I enjoyed being around him in Atlanta.
After your playing career you got into coaching. How did you make that transition from playing to coaching?
When I got done, after spending 21 years on the road, I didn’t think it was something I’d want to pursue. But then an opportunity came up with the Angels. Prior to that, in 2016, the year I retired, something came up with the Braves and then I got this opportunity with the Angels the next year and have been here ever since. To be honest, doing the job I do now with player development with the Angels is more rewarding than anything I have done as a player. I enjoy watching kids evolve. Watching these kids reach their goals is so rewarding. Seeing these guys run out onto the Major League field for the first time, even if it’s a Spring Training game, it’s like watching your own children do it. It’s so rewarding and I enjoy it more than any day I played in the majors.
Do you have any players you’re particularly proud of the work you’ve done with them?
I’m definitely proud of all of them. Not everybody is going to make it to the big leagues. It’s fun to be a part of somebody’s life at a young age and hopefully you can help shape their life, whether that is with baseball or something away from baseball. It’s hard to pinpoint one name, but I’m equally proud of a lot of guys.
This has been awesome and you are an inspiration in a number of ways. Thank you for spending time with us and sharing your story. Last question for you. Looking back on your incredible baseball journey, what do you think about when you reflect on your place in baseball history?
I don’t know if I have a place in baseball history, but I definitely was fortunate to have baseball play such a big role in my life. We all have dreams growing up; how many kids say they want to be a professional baseball player when they grow up? I know I did.
You have a lot of people tell you it’s not possible, but it’s kind of cool that I can use my career as an example that it is possible. A big thing for me was finding out I had type 1 diabetes and being able to play for another seven years to have a little platform to talk about that. I think about the kids who find out they have type 1 diabetes and want to show them what I was able to do.
Anytime I went to a new city, I would tell the announcers to make sure to announce that I was a type 1 diabetic because it’s amazing to see what can come of that. That was the biggest thing for me, having that platform. I was going to get type 1 diabetes no matter what, so it was cool that I got it while I was active in the baseball world. I felt like there was a reason I got that, and that was to encourage others who also have it.