"I never worked a day in my life aside from like a month where I worked in a movie theatre.”
Since the last round of expansion in 1998, there are 2,430 total games played in a normal Major League Baseball regular season. Before that, the number was slightly smaller, but not by much.
The point being that over the course of modern baseball’s history, there have been tens of thousands of games contested. It’s amazing that baseball rarities still pop up and when you have an event so rare that you can still count on one hand the number of times it has happened – that’s pretty incredible.
Brent Mayne accomplished a feat of that nature and he joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.
So what did Mayne do that was so impressive? The catcher went to the mound in the 12th inning of a tie game against the Braves in 2000 and after pitching a scoreless frame, a walkoff single by Adam Melhuse made Mayne the winning pitcher of record.
At the time, he was just the second position player to accomplish that feat, joining Rocky Colavito. Since then, three other position players have joined the club, bringing the grand total of position players to have picked up a win to five. Truly remarkable when you consider the sheer number of games that have been played since the turn of the century.
It’s such an incredible feat that a new book was published about the game in 2022. It is called 16 Pitches: The Night the Winning Pitcher was a Catcher by Denny Dressman. It is a deep dive into the background of the game and Mayne’s’ improbable place in history.
Even more incredible, if (when) Andruw Jones makes the Hall of Fame, Mayne would have faced three Hall of Famers that inning. He retired Tom Glavine leading off, walked Andruw Jones and got Chipper Jones on a ground out to end the inning.
Mayne’s career might best be remembered for that, but it’s not all he did in the majors by a longshot.
The son of Mike Mayne, a legendary college baseball coach and member of multiple Halls of Fame, Mayne grew up in the game and worked his way into a 15-year MLB career. He spent nine of those seasons with the Royals and developed a reputation as a superior defensive catcher with a cerebral approach to the game that was matched by few.
We always get great insight when we’re able to strap on the tools of ignorance at BallNine, so join us as we go Spitballin’ with Brent Mayne.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Mayne! We usually start these interviews taking a trip back to your childhood. What was baseball like for you as a kid?
My dad was the Head Baseball Coach at Eisenhower High School in Riverside, California. Ronnie Lott actually played for him, along with a lot of other great players. As far back as I can remember, we were always at the field. We really didn’t have a choice. I was born in 1968 and my dad got a job as Head Baseball Coach at Orange Coast College in 1976 and we moved to Costa Mesa. He coached there for 24 years prior to John Altobelli taking over. I just didn’t have a choice. I was always around the field. My baseball heroes were the guys playing for my dad, but as far as Big Leaguers, I loved Ted Williams. He was my dad’s favorite player and I was a left-handed hitter. I also loved George Brett. I played second base through high school. I was a tiny kid who went to Costa Mesa High School. I didn’t start catching until I graduated from Costa Mesa and went across the street to Orange Coast College.
Bo Jackson was on that team. Everyone was significantly bigger than what I had seen before. Even Willie Wilson. I thought he was just one of those little fast guys, but he was gigantic.
Having worked in the California JUCO system myself, I have heard of your dad, who is a coaching legend. It’s probably tough to summarize, but can you talk about the influence your dad had on you as a player?
I would compare my dad to Bobby Knight. He looked a little like Bobby Knight and threw chairs like Bobby Knight too. He even spoke like him. They could have been twins. That’s what it was like playing for him. But he was brilliant. He was the best coach I ever played for by far. You could ask the Big League guys who played for him and they’d probably say the same. He cared about the player a lot. I don’t think I got it worse than anyone, because he banged on everyone the same. He was especially demanding on catchers. He was just a brilliant baseball mind. We worked on the speed of the game and the processing information quickly. This way, the speed of the game didn’t affect us. He was a stickler for being precise.
August 18 1996: Craig Shipley of the San Diego Padres is tagged out by New York Mets catcher Brent Mayne while trying to score from second on a single by Brian Johnson during the final game of their series at Monterrey Stadium in Monterrey, Mexico. (Getty)
You were drafted by the Royals 13th overall in 1989 and by 1990 you were in the Majors. What was it like to jump from AA to the Majors with just one season of minor league ball under your belt?
It wasn’t very difficult for me. I hate to say it, but I could really catch. I really understood what was going on and how to call a game. That was my shtick. Offensively, I kind of held my own from the start. But defensively, there was never a problem. After playing for my dad, I was really able to process information quickly and think quickly on the field. The speed of a Major League game and how fast you have to process what was happening never affected me. That was all my dad. Mechanically, the way I was catching back then is what you are seeing today. My catching style was a combination of the style you’d see from Johnny Bench and what you’re seeing today.
I was never any good as a kid though. I never hit .300, never hit a home run, never made an All-Star team. I had no reason to believe that I could make it based on my results, but I always felt like I belonged in the Majors. I was always around my dad and watching his players. I saw those guys get yelled at the way he yelled at me. I just always thought, “God almighty! If they could do it, so could I!” When it happened, I just felt like that was where I was supposed to be. It was almost easier once I got to the Majors.
I think that’s the first time I have heard a player put it that way. How were you able to find it easier?
The velocity and movement on the pitches was a little bit different, but the pitchers I dealt with in the Majors were so much more precise than the ones I had before. When you’re in the Big Leagues, if a pitcher misses, it’s not by much and you usually know where they’re gonna miss. It gives you an ability to see what’s gonna happen before it does based on a pitcher’s tendencies. I didn’t have a whole field to worry about, I just had the few feet around home plate. If Zack Greinke was gonna spike a curve ball, I knew where it was gonna go.
That’s a great way to lay it out. What was that first experience on the Royals like for you when you got called up?
Initially, it was really odd because everyone was smoking in the dugout. It was bizarre! I loved George Brett, so I had watched KC a lot. Bo Jackson was on that team. Everyone was significantly bigger than what I had seen before. Even Willie Wilson. I thought he was just one of those little fast guys, but he was gigantic. Pretty much everyone but George Brett and Frank White were these huge guys. It was awesome. Such a great group of guys. Some of the best I’ve met in my life. Kansas City itself was a great city too. I didn’t realize it until after I left and compared it to some other places. Between travel, the media and fans, it was such a great place.
You played nine years in Kansas City and then had short stays with six other teams the rest of your career. Did any of those other experiences outside of Kansas City stand out to you?
My favorite field to play at was Wrigley Field, but my favorite city was New York. It was wonderful playing in New York and getting involved with the fans and culture there. From New York, I went to Oakland and loved it there too. It was a super easy place to play. From day one, I was always trying to get back to the West Coast and I was able to do that with Oakland. I had a really good year there and signed my first two-year deal after that with the Giants. I would have loved to stay with Oakland, but I kind of priced myself out of there. I went to Colorado for two years after that and got traded back to Kansas City. Then my last two stops were with the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. I loved all the stops I made. Couldn’t complain about any place I played; they were all fantastic.
I’m a big Mets fan and that ’96 team you were on had a lot of really solid players. I guess the pitching just didn’t hold up that year.
I never played that year! Todd Hundley was the catcher and he played every single day and had a great year. He played over 150 games and hit 41 home runs. I lived at 58th and 3rd in Manhattan. I had just met my now-wife. I would basically be at the game, maybe pinch hit, then go out afterwards and do it again the next day. I basically just lived in New York and went out at night. I didn’t play a whole lot of baseball. I loved it though; it was a great experience.
Catcher Brent Mayne #9 of the San Francisco Giants in action during a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Giants defeated the Dodgers 5-3. (Credit: Elsa Hasch /Allsport)
You mentioned the Dodgers too and that was your final season. It was also the first time you got to play postseason baseball. How satisfying was it to get that chance late in your career?
I always wanted to play in the postseason obviously, but you never know how it’s going to work out. As one person, you can’t really control whether your team makes it or not, but I felt lucky to be able to at least play in a little bit of the postseason. It was wonderful. I couldn’t imagine what winning a World Series would be like. We got steamrolled by St. Louis, but just the experience was a lot of fun. I know its cliché, but that’s why you play the games. I have friends who have five World Series rings and I have Hall of Fame friends who don’t have any rings. It’s odd how that happens; but I was lucky enough to at least get a taste.
Your last career at bat came in Game 4 of the NLDS that year. Did you know that was going to be your final career at bat?
I did. Going into the season, I was kinda done. It boiled down to a few things, especially my kids. They had been travelling around with me, but they were getting older and had to go to school. If someone would have paid me three or four million, I probably would have stuck around, but I wasn’t getting that kind of money at that point. I was making about $600,000, which is still a lot of money. But then you get a bunch taken away on taxes, then you have your agent fees and other costs. Then I was flying family and friends out to games and things like that. At the end of the day, I was probably pocketing $150,000 and to me, that wasn’t worth it to be away from my kids. It wasn’t gonna make a difference at the end of my life to have that $150,000; I just wanted to see my kids. I would have loved to keep playing though. I feel like I could still probably play, but it would have to be for the Angels and home games only!
Oakland Athletics pinch runner Eric Byrnes (C) is tagged out by Kansas City Royals catcher Brent Mayne (R) in the ninth inning 26 August, 2002 in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by DAVE KAUP / AFP via Getty Images)
That’s totally understandable! You were really highly regarded defensively as a catcher, both mentally and physically. Over the course of your 15-year career, which opposing catchers grabbed your attention with the way they played defense?
I was always into the history of the game. The people who initially fascinated me were guys like Manny Sanguillen. I saw him as different than anyone else. Bob Boone was a big influence on me. I saw him as a segue from the Johnny Bench style to the modern style in terms of your spine in relation to the ground. Johnny Bench had that style where the spine was more parallel to the ground, then Boone came and was more perpendicular. Out of the guys I played against, I thought Mike Matheny was great. He was a fantastic blocker and was really engaged. I appreciated the way he played. Really all players appreciate what catchers do because it’s such a tough position. That’s why all catchers are kind of part of a family. It’s a grind and if you can stay on the field, it’s admirable and I think players see that. Pudge Rodriguez was great, especially his arm. Take someone like Jeff Mathis. I thought what he did blocking was special and I really dug his back-picking thing. I was always trying to pick stuff up from other guys.
Those are great answers. I wanted to ask you about a couple of games too. First let’s start with Bret Saberhagen’s no-hitter in 1991. You were behind the plate for that. Can you talk about that experience?
It was my first full year of catching and we had warmed up in the bullpen. I was walking back to the dugout with our pitching coach Guy Hansen and he asked me what I thought. I said, “I think he’s gonna throw a no-hitter.” I never had said that before and probably never said it since. It was just that he was so precise in what he was doing that it just felt like it could happen. Then he went out and did it. I put the signs down that game and I don’t think he shook me once. We were on the same page. He hit his spots and had great stuff and just killed them. I don’t recall any time in the game where it was stressful. I had never caught a no-hitter before, so it got a little weird to me. But he was so good that day it was pretty easy.
You are one of just five position players to also pick up a win as a pitcher. At the time you did it in 2000, you were just the second one, following Rocky Colavito in 1968. The floor is yours to talk about that one.
It’s funny, I caught 15 years in the Majors and the thing that I’ll end up being known for is pitching. That’s totally baseball right there. Hilarious. That was fascinating though. A book about that game just came out. It’s a great book called 16 Pitches: The Night the Winning Pitcher was a Catcher by Denny Dressman. It really peels back everything about the game. Just a wonderful book.
I hurt my catching hand falling in the dugout going for a pop fly in New York and couldn’t catch. We went back to Colorado and were playing the Braves. We got in a big fight when Andres Galarraga charged the mound. A bunch of guys got thrown out and we ran out of pitching, so I had to go in and pitch in the game. It was the 12th inning and I went in and kind of wiggled it together. I threw some strikes and got the win. My spot in the order came up and I couldn’t hit, so Adam Melhuse pinch hit for me. He ended up getting his first big league hit and drove in the winning run.
Pretty amazing to think of how many years this game has been played and how few times that has happened. Really cool to have that claim to fame for sure. This has been awesome, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your stories. One last question for you. What are your reflections looking back at the things you have been able to do with your life in baseball?
I was lucky and in the right place at the right time. Having a dad who is one of the greatest coaches to have ever coached helped. I am not being flippant about that either; that’s for real. Being born in that situation was different. In some ways, I didn’t have a choice but to play baseball. I don’t have any other job skills. I went to school, but just wanted to play ball. I just always thought I was going to play in the big leagues.
Looking back on that now at my age, I’m like, “What the hell was I thinking?” I was delusional; there was nothing that I did on the field growing up that should have made me believe that was going to happen. But I was convinced. I never worked a day in my life aside from like a month where I worked in a movie theatre. I made good money playing ball and my family has been blessed to go all over the world with baseball. I’m not the most athletic guy, but I have been blessed. There’s nothing much more to say beyond that!