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Mudville: June 17, 2024 3:47 am PDT

Jim Eisenreich

"The 1993 season was the most fun I could ever have and we didn’t even win the World Series.”

We often say at BallNine that every former Major Leaguer has their stories to tell. It’s pretty much what our entire site is based on.

While that may be true, some players have stories that make you think their tales would make a great movie.

Then there’s Jim Eisenreich, who has some stories that are so amazing that their potential scripts would be dismissed as “not believable.”

Eisenreich joins us to share some of these all-true stories for this week’s Spitballin’.

If you were a baseball fan in the 1980s and 90s, you’re very familiar with Eisenreich.

He jumped from A Ball to the Majors in one season and in his first career at bat he actually became the first Twins player to step into the batter’s box in the Metrodome.

Eisenreich’s time in Minnesota was marked by battles with Tourette Syndrome, which wasn’t diagnosed until after he left baseball. The struggle was so bad, it forced Eisenreich into an early retirement.

However, once properly diagnosed and treated, Eisenreich enjoyed an unlikely return to the sport and had an incredible late-career run that culminated in a World Series title as part of the 1997 Marlins.

Eisenreich was also a key member of the 1993 National League Champion Phillies, a team celebrating its 30th anniversary this season.

Before we jump into his stories, here’s one stat to chew on that shows just how talented a hitter Eisenreich was. In 1996, Eisenreich batted .361 over 373 plate appearances for the Phillies at the3 age of 37.

Since 1900, the complete list of 37-year-olds who hit at least .360 with 350 or more plate appearances is Barry Bonds, Tony Gwynn, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie and Eisenreich. Talk about being among the Gods.

That’s just one of Eisenreich’s incredible stories. Let’s read some others as we go Spitballin’ with Jim Eisenreich.

Thanks for joining us, Mr. Eisenreich. It’s an honor to talk with such an inspirational player. We have a lot to cover, but let’s start by going back to your childhood. Take us back to what baseball was like for you as a kid growing up in Minnesota.

I grew up in central Minnesota and was a Twins fan. I grew up watching Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be drafted by the Twins and my first hitting coach would be Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew would be in the broadcast booth and I’d be playing against Rod Carew, who played first base for the Angels.

What I’m told about my love for baseball was that when I was a year old, my dad rolled me the ball and I rolled it back. That was my start in baseball. Growing up in Minnesota, the joke was that we would get to the Fourth of July and then winter started, so you really only had three months to play baseball. I played Little League and all the youth leagues growing up. I was fortunate to play on some good teams in High School and played college ball at St. Cloud State. I played hockey too and I joke that I had more college offers to play hockey than I did baseball—two to one!

If someone said to me, “If you can’t win the World Series, would you rather not even go?” No, of course you want to be there. That’s baseball. You can’t win them all.

How did you get recognized by Major League scouts while playing for St. Cloud?

As a junior at St. Cloud, we won our state tournament. I had a teammate named Bob Hegman who was a senior. There were scouts at our conference tournament and Bob was our shortstop and a very good player. One of the scouts came up to him and asked if he was interested in a professional career. He said he was. Then the scout asked, “What about your teammate, Eisenreich?” Bob was always quick-witted and he said, “You know what? He’s standing right over there. You can go ask him yourself. He can talk!”

So the scout came to me and said he knew I was a junior with one year of eligibility left. He said, “I’m with the Minnesota Twins and would you be interested in playing professional baseball?” That was probably the easiest question I was ever asked in my life. I said, “Yes sir, I would love to.”

(Original Caption from August 24, 1983) Rookie Outfielder Jim Eisenreich (4) would sit alone in the Minnesota Twins' dugout and hum to cover up his nervous Condition. (Denver Post via Getty Images)

I think it’s so cool when a player is drafted by their hometown team. How did you and your family react when you were drafted by the Twins?

It was a pretty special day. My dad was the ultimate sports fan. He was a World War II veteran and played adult softball and hockey. It was June 7, 1980. Of course we didn’t have cell phones, so we got a call on that phone on the wall and my mom answered. She said, “It’s somebody from the Twin Cities.” I got on the phone and he said he was a reporter from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Newspaper. I didn’t believe him at first; I thought it was a college buddy pulling a prank. I was picked by the Twins in the 16th round. My mom was happy and said I needed to tell my dad, who was out in the garden. He was older and not in the best of health. I said, “Dad, I just got drafted by the Minnesota Twins.” My dad’s eyes lit up and he was hugging me saying, “We made it!” For my dad, it was a dream come true.

What a moment to share with your dad and family. I love it. That was 1980. You spent 1981 in A Ball and by 1982, you were batting leadoff for the Twins on Opening Day. How did you make such a huge jump from a 16th round pick to an MLB starter in two years?

I was in a very unique situation. My teammate from college, Bob Hegman, was drafted in the 16th round like me, but he was picked by the Royals. The Twins were a different organization than the Royals. The Twins owner didn’t have a side business where he made all his money. The Twins were his main business. So in the late 1970s, he started to get rid of his high-priced players. When the 1982 season came, guys like Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Tim Laudner and some others had already been September callups in ’81. I was invited to Major League Spring Training in 1982 and as luck would have it, the guy who was supposed to start the season with the Twins slid into second and hurt his ankle pretty bad. I went in to run for him and played the rest of Spring Training in his place and did well.

The Twins figured, let’s just bring him up too. There were like 15 rookies on the Twins that year. We weren’t very good. It was a dream that I couldn’t have even imagined. Especially doing it for a team where I grew up an hour north of the stadium. I was the first Twins batter in the history of the Metrodome, but it was something I realized more after the fact. I was just out there playing and caught up in the game, so I didn’t ever really think about it. I just wanted to get on base. I was just trying to make it, so being the first batter wasn’t a thought at that time.

Jim Eisenreich #22 of the Kansas City Royals bats during an Major League baseball spring training game circa 1988 at Baseball City Stadium in Davenport, Florida. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

A big part of your story with the Twins–  and really overall in your baseball career – was your battle with Tourette Syndrome. I know it has to be impossible to summarize it, but could you talk about your struggles with that during your time with the Twins?

It is hard to summarize, but the nuts and bolts of it was that I had it since I was a kid, but I never knew what it was. Coming up and playing with the Twins, the first thought was that I was afraid of crowds. I didn’t know how to explain what I was going through because I didn’t know what it was. It had nothing to do with where I was at or what I was doing because I had the same issues no matter where I was. The tics didn’t bother me on the field, what bothered me was me wondering whether people were here watching me play or whether they were watching me and my tics. It became mentally difficult for me.

The bottom line for me as a kid was that I just wanted to be normal. I wanted whatever was wrong with me to be fixed. Now, I was going to get the best medical help I could get because I was part of a Major League Baseball team. I came out of some games because of what I was dealing with and eventually went into semi-retirement and got the help I needed. They put a name to it and I had a hard time accepting it right away. But then I realized I wasn’t the only one who had this and there was help, I came back in 1983 and ’84 with the Twins, but I really wasn’t ready to play yet, so I retired again after 1984. I wasn’t ever going to be normal, whatever that means, but I was going to get help and live normally.

Jim Eisenreich at bat while with the Philadelphia Phillies. (Photo by Tom G. Lynn//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Incredibly, you came back to the Majors with the Royals in 1987. How did you take those steps to come back after spending a few years out of baseball?

My college buddy Bob had spent seven years in the minors with them. He had one four-day callup to the Majors, played one game on defense, but never batted. He got a job in the Royals front office though. He called me one of the summers I was out and asked how I was doing. Long story short, I got a chance to come back and play with the Royals. Honestly, I just wanted to get one chance to try to do it. If I didn’t make it, that was fine. I just wanted the chance because if I didn’t take the chance, I would have never known. The joke is, I got the chance I wanted, but I didn’t bargain for another 12 years on top of it! Things were meant to be for a reason.

You spent six years on the Royals and played with guys like George Brett and Frank White towards the end of their careers. Can you talk about your experience playing in Kansas City?

It was the best place in the world for me to be. I still live here. I went into the clubhouse for the first time in Spring Training in 1987 and I didn’t know what to expect. Out of the blue, Frank White came up to me and shook my hand. He said, “Hi Jim, welcome to the Royals!” I didn’t know him other than being an opponent of his, but he made me feel welcome. That eased my mind. He was always there to welcome the new guys. To this day, he’s one of my very best friends. George Brett was one of the best teammates I ever had. I got to play with Bo Jackson and he is still a great friend of mine to this day too. It was just a great place to be.

Jim Eisenreich of the Florida Marlins (R) is safe at home as New York Mets catcher Alberto Castillo (L) makes a late tag in second inning at Shea Stadium in New York. Eisenreich scored from first base after teammate Gary Sheffield hit a triple. (Photo by STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images)

After the Royals you ended up on the Phillies going into the 1993 season. We’re at the 30 year anniversary of that National League Champion team. There’s a lot to say about that team, Let’s start with your perception of the clubhouse dynamic when you first arrived.

As much as I enjoyed the Royals, the Phillies were that much better. It was crazy. I think to summarize that, the Phillies were a bunch of crazy guys, so I fit in good! The funny thing was that sometime during the season, John Kruk came up to me and said, “Eisey, playing with us crazy people, you must think you’re the most normal person in the world.” I looked at him and said, “Johnny, you just gave me my childhood dream. All I ever wanted to be was normal.” They’re still some of my best friends today.

The 1993 season was the most fun I could ever have and we didn’t even win the World Series. My kids play ball. They know the guys from the team because we’ve been to Philly many times for events. I always tell my kids, I wish they could have the closeness that we did on the Phillies. Maybe not all the crazy stuff, but the togetherness and the way we played as a team.

You look at that 1993 Blue Jays team and they were stacked with Hall of Famers. You guys were more the blue-collar, underdog team. What were your thoughts going into that series?

Our thoughts were that we had already beat the best team in baseball, the Braves, in the NLCS. We didn’t feel that anybody was above us. We knew who the Blue Jays were. We figured Paul Molitor was in his later years. Dave Stewart was a veteran. They had won the year before, but we didn’t feel like we were second-fiddle to anyone. If you look at the games, we had that crazy game in Philly where we had a six-run lead and ended up losing. We had the lead in Game 6 when Joe Carter hit the homer too. We felt we could have won. There were some things we didn’t do. But when you look back, you do see those Hall of Famers on the Blue Jays. I said Paul Molitor was the old guy, but he absolutely wore us out that series.

Jim Eisenreich throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game Two of the 2008 NLCS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

You were in right field when Joe Carter hit his home run. What was going through your mind when he hit that?

All I could think of was, “Oh crap, we just lost.” Current players seem to like to sit in the dugout and watch the other teams celebrate. I wasn’t like that. I just ran off the field and went to the clubhouse. We had a good run. We didn’t get there, but it was a good run. Sadly, Joe Carter lives here in Kansas City and he’s such a good guy I can’t even give him a hard time. I tried, but he’s such a nice guy. In baseball, you have to be able to turn the page fast. There were 28 other teams hoping to be where we were. If someone said to me, “If you can’t win the World Series, would you rather not even go?” No, of course you want to be there. That’s baseball. You can’t win them all.

You homered off Dave Stewart in that Game 2 win. What was it like going out and hitting a homer in the World Series?

It was unbelievable. It’s part of my presentation when I talk to kids groups. I wasn’t a home run hitter, but I hit two bonus home runs in the World Series. I hit one with the Marlins too. Incidentally, Dave Stewart was the only guy who I had three career homers against. I hit two against him when he was with Oakland, and then the World Series one. After my first at bat, I came back to the bench and said to Curt Schilling, “Man, I should have had that one. I felt like I was going to hit a home run.” He said, “Well, just go do it next time.” And I did.

Former Major League Baseball Players Jim Eisenreich (L) and Jim Abbott (C) and Paralympian Danelle Umstead participate in a panel discussion during the 2015 Sports Diversity & Inclusion Symposium at Citi Field on Wednesday, September 30, 2015. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images)

That’s an unbelievable memory to have. Playing in two World Series and homering in both despite not being a home run hitter.

There’s actually a pretty incredible back story. I hit that homer off Dave Stewart and it landed just over the wall. Our bullpen coach got the ball and gave it to me. In the press conference, they talked for five minutes about the homer and then about an hour about Tourette Syndrome. It was good to be able to put that on the map. Four years later I hit one in Cleveland into the stands. The people who caught it weren’t Marlins or Indians fans; they had drove down from Toronto for the game. They left in the eighth inning and were listening to the postgame on the radio driving home. It was the same thing as the last time, five minutes about the home run and an hour about Tourette Syndrome.

As these guys were listening to the postgame, one guy says to the other, “I wonder if that’s what my daughter has?” She did end up having Tourette and they realized it by hearing my story during the press conference. I was invited to a conference in Canada and they gave me the ball. Now I have both of them.

This has been amazing and it has been such an honor to talk with someone I admired so much as a player. Let’s use this last question to give you an open floor to talk about your advocacy for Tourette Syndrome awareness.

Because of my upbringing and not knowing what Tourette was, and my parents not knowing what it was, it was great to finally get some answers. Doing as well as I did after having to go into semi-retirement, I wanted to create something where we can still go talk to people and get answers that new parents are wanting for their questions. I want to be a resource for them. We aren’t medically-based, but we want to create awareness for families and let them know there is a lot of hope. We want to give them places to go and people they can talk to. We want to give them some sense of an answer because a lot of times, that’s what people don’t have. That has been our mission the past 30 years. Helping families with kids who have Tourette so they don’t have to go through the same things my family did. Unfortunately, there are still families going through things that are tough. Kids are just trying to be kids, but schools are tough and they don’t get it sometimes. It’s hard when you feel like you don’t fit in, so we’re trying to alleviate that.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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