"From the time I can remember whenever someone asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always said I wanted to be a baseball player.”
In a recent episode of his podcast, In the Bullpen, Mark Dewey highlighted comments made by Fred McGriff and Scott Rolen in the press during their Hall of Fame induction weekend.
McGriff spoke of how Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield and George Bell taught him how to be a professional, how to respect the game and how to play the game the right way. Rolen spoke about how team success was most important in the game and the reason he has achieved his individual lofty status in the game’s history is because of the team’s success.
In an era where humility and respect are severely lacking in the game and in society, it was not only refreshing to hear two universally beloved stars speak in these terms, but it’s also fantastic that former ballplayers like Dewey are highlighting this and helping to amplify that message. In fact, if you tune into any episode of In the Bullpen, which I highly encourage you do, you will hear these types of messages frequently.
Dewey pitched in 119 games over six Big League seasons and spent nearly two decades as a professional coach including most recently as the Minor League Pitching Coordinator for the Milwaukee Brewers. While Dewey is a talented, knowledgeable and successful coach, he also recognizes the bigger picture developing young players into fine men with an eye on their post-baseball life.
The game, and really the world today, needs more people like him, so let’s go Spitballin’ with Mark Dewey.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Dewey! I really enjoy what you have to say on your podcast, so I am really looking forward to talking baseball with you. Let’s go back to your childhood first. What was baseball like for you as a kid?
I started playing tee ball when I was eight and went through Little League all the way through high school. But I would say that 80% of all the baseball I played was not organized. We would play in the field behind our neighbor’s house, the Little League field or the high school field and were playing baseball all the time. It wasn’t just when an organized event was taking place. I love baseball as far back as I can remember and would play it anywhere at any time. I played football and basketball and ran track too, but baseball was always the sport that I loved.
Did you have any favorite teams or players growing up?
I grew up in west Michigan, so the Tigers were my team. My earliest recollection of the first players I rooted for were Bill Freehan, Willie Horton and Al Kaline. But when I got old enough to really follow the game, it was around the time when the guys who would become instrumental in the 1984 World Series were coming into baseball. Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker, Jack Morris, Alan Trammel, Kirk Gibson and those kind of guys.
You were drafted in the 23rd round of the 1987 draft out of Grand Valley State. What was your draft experience like?
The Giants drafted me and Herm Hannah, the scout that drafted me, only saw me pitch once and I didn’t pitch that well. The Dodgers scout had significant interest, so that’s who I thought was going to draft me. I am friends with John Vander Wal and prior to that season, he was predicted to be one of the top five or ten picks in the country. I knew that I wasn’t going to be a day one pick and that he would be. I went to John’s house and played Strat-o-Matic Baseball and did some other things while he was waiting for the phone call. We had a party at his house that night. The next day I was thinking that I might be drafted. I had a summer league game at like 6:00pm. Some of my college teammates were playing the next game and I thought about staying to watch them play. But then I figured I’d better get home in case I got the call. I was home watching the Tigers game and it was getting late. I was thinking that I should have stayed and watched my buddies because I didn’t think I was going to get the phone call. I had a phone attached to the wall like we all did back then, and I looked over and saw the phone on the floor knocked off the hook! I picked it up and hung it up and within two minutes, I got a call from Herm Hannah telling me that I was drafted.
(Original Caption) San Francisco Giants pitcher Mark Dewey (F-C) leads teammates in sprints along the track of Scottsdale Stadium as pitchers and catchers continued spring training. Members of the full squad must report February 20. (Photo credit: PAUL F. GERO/AFP via Getty Images)
That’s great! You were in A Ball through the 1989 season, but in 1990 you ended up playing AA, AAA and into the Major Leagues. After spending your first three seasons in A Ball, were you surprised to elevate through three levels and make the Majors in 1990?
Like a lot of people, I was just drafted to fill a roster. There are only so many guys who they think are Major League prospects, but they need a whole lot more than that to play. My first full season, I had a great season statistically, but I think the next season, 1989 in the Cal League, was when the Giants thought I was a Big Leaguer. I started 1990 in AA for the first half then I got moved up to AAA. We were in Calgary playing a series and I was watching the Giants play the Expos. The broadcast was in French, so I didn’t understand what they were saying. Trevor Wilson was pitching and Roger Craig went out to the mound and you could tell something was up. I didn’t think much of it, but a little while later I got a knock on the door. It was Larry Hardy, our pitching coach. He said, “You better get some sleep, you’re going to the Big Leagues tomorrow.”
I’m guessing you didn’t get a lot of sleep. What was your first experience like in the Majors?
Well, this was like 2:00am and we couldn’t get a hold of the clubhouse guy. I was supposed to leave at 5:00am. I didn’t pitch that first game, but I had to use Jose Alvarez’s spikes and Matt Williams’ glove. I had been to Candlestick Park before, but the first game I was there as a Giant it was a day game against the Expos. Just walking on the field to warm up as a Big Leaguer was amazing. A lot of times with a guy like me, they’re going to get me into my first game when things weren’t that tight. We were playing a game against the Phillies and beating them pretty good. I had an idea that Roger Craig might get me in. I came in and the first pitch I threw was to Darren Daulton and he hit it to centerfield for an out. I had known Matt Williams a while because we had worked out in New Orleans a couple winters before. He got the ball back, tossed it to me and said, “It’s easy up here!” I gave up singles to Von Hayes and John Kruk, but no runs. Also, growing up the only team that was on nationally in the 1980s was the Braves and their biggest star was Dale Murphy. Dale Murphy was on the Phillies in 1990 and he ended up being my first Big League strikeout, which was pretty special.
I wanted to show them that I wanted to do everything I could to help them become the best pitchers they could be and get to the Big Leagues. But I was far more concerned with them as a human being.
You pitched for four Major League teams and they all had pretty prominent managers. Could you talk about your experience playing for the managers you did?
I consider all of them great managers. I had a more significant personal relationship with Jeff Torborg at that time and Dusty Baker when I played for him and ever since. I played for Jim Leyland and Roger Craig too. I thoroughly enjoyed playing for those men as managers, especially Dusty. Dusty just gave me the ball and let me pitch. In 1996 I pitched in 78 games for him. When I did well, I didn’t need someone to pat me on the back and when I gave it up, I didn’t need a shoulder to cry on. I just needed the ball again and Dusty would give it to me.
What were your thoughts when Dusty Baker finally won that first World Series?
I think even prior to that, he is still a Hall of Fame manager. I don’t think there even should be a debate about that. I was very happy for him to win one as a manager and if there was anybody on the fence about whether he is a Hall of Famer or not, winning that World Series should put him over the top with those people. But I was extremely happy. I am not a big Houston Astros fan. I am not one of those people who are going to boo them because most of the people who were cheating aren’t there anymore. I was definitely rooting for them in the playoffs and will be rooting for them to win again if they make it and that’s because of Dusty. There are other people I know with the Astros that I’d be happy for, but I’d be rooting for them to see Dusty win his second.
I can tell you are a real fan of baseball history. Are there guys you played with or against that you look back at now and say, “Wow, I got to pitch against him, or I got to be teammates with that guy?”
Absolutely; both ends of it. Tony Gwynn I only faced once, but I got to face other Hall of Famers like Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Piazza and some other Hall of Famers and that was a joy. My first year I played with the Giants, Gary Carter was there as a catcher. When I was with the Mets Eddie Murray was on the team and other great players who aren’t Hall of Famers like Dwight Gooden, David Cone and Bret Saberhagen. At the end of 1992 the Mets traded Coney to the Blue Jays and we got back Jeff Kent. In my opinion, he’s a Hall of Famer. With the Pirates I was teammates with some great players like Andy Van Slyke and Jay Bell. Then when I came back to San Francisco, I played my final two years with Barry Bonds. I interviewed Dusty Baker on my podcast and asked him who the best players he had seen in his lifetime and he said Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Barry Bonds. If you’re having a conversation of the top five baseball players of all-time, Barry Bonds has to be in that conversation.
July 7, 1996: Mark Dewey of the San Francisco Giants during a game against the San Diego Padres at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo Credit: Jamie Squire /Allsport)
It pains me to ask this question as a huge Mets fan, but that 1992 Mets team you were on was during my senior year of high school and I took a lot of crap from my friends who were Yankees fans that year. What was your experience like being on that 1992 Mets team?
Bob Klapisch wrote that book, The Worst Team Money Could Buy about us. We had Bobby Bonilla, Bret Saberhagen, Sid Fernandez, Doc Gooden, David Cone, Howard Johnson, Vince Coleman, Eddie Murray. Those are some great players and there was a lot of pressure to win. We just had everything go wrong. Bret Saberhagen had a problem with his finger, HoJo was hurt and we had a lot of issues. What I had learned as a visiting player, and what I loved about fans in New York, is that they expect a lot. It’s one of the reasons why they’re great. I still remember Jeff Innis telling me, “This is a great place to be mediocre.” They weren’t going to boo middle relievers like us, but for the stars like Bobby Bonilla or HoJo, if you didn’t perform, it was a tough place to play. Even when I coached with the Mets. I was a pitching instructor in Kingsport and if the Big League team wasn’t playing well, you felt that weight all the way down in Rookie Ball in Port St. Lucie.
I always like to talk with pitchers about their hitting. You weren’t able to get many at bats as a reliever, but you did get one hit and scored one run in your 14 Big League at bats, so you are in the books. Do you remember that hit and run?
I remember it very vividly, not just because it was my only Major League hit. I was leading off the inning and Al Martin was on deck. He told me to get on base. I said, “I’ll make you a deal, I’ll get on base if you go deep. This way I don’t have to run around the bases very fast.” I ended up getting a hit, my only Major League hit, off Jose Bautista who was my teammate a couple years later with the Giants. Sure enough, Al Martin comes up and goes deep. He upheld his end of the bargain!
Your Christian Faith is a big part of who you are and what your message is. How did the baseball world connect with your Christianity?
Anytime I came out of the bullpen into a game, I would pray to the Lord. I’d say, “Lord help me honor and glorify you in attitude and in action. May I compete and do the best I can do,” and so on. That was the personal end of it. I wanted to make sure I honored Him with how I competed and I wanted to perform and do the best I could. As far as interacting with teammates, I am sure there may have been some that said some bad things behind my back, but I had very good relationships with teammates who were also Christians like me and those who are not. I played with teams who had a lot of Christians like the Mets, Giants and Pirates and I played with teams who didn’t have many, like when I went back to the Giants late in my career. I never came across a player who expected me to be perfect. What they were looking for was that I was going to be consistent. They’d say, “He says he believes this. I don’t expect that I’ll never see him contradict that, but is the way he approaches the game and life consistent with what he believes?” Even if teammates didn’t believe what I believe or even if they completely rejected it, I hope they respected that I lived according to what I believed.
Pitcher Mark Dewey #50 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1993 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
I have really enjoyed listening to your podcast, In the Bullpen. Could you tell our readers how it came about?
I was with the Brewers as a coach for eight years and was let go at the end of 2019. At the time there was a network called the Fight, Laugh, Feast Network that had just a few shows and my family listened to one of them. They were talking about expanding and mentioned a sports podcast. A number of people in my family said, “Hey dad! You should do a baseball podcast!” I didn’t know the people there at all, but I emailed them and let them know my background and asked if they’d be interested in a baseball podcast. One thing led to another and they said, “Let’s go!” The podcast was supposed to start in March of 2020, but Covid happened so there was no baseball. My first broadcast was an interview with Dusty Baker, which happened after he was hired by the Astros, but before baseball started back up.
You cover a lot of topics on the broadcast and speak a lot about what you see in today’s game. What are some of the positive things you see in the game today and what are some things you maybe don’t enjoy so much?
On the positive side, there are many extremely gifted players to watch; exciting players to watch. Guys that have all of the tools. No doubt about that. Among the negatives, one of my former bosses who was a pitching coordinator for the Mets before he came to the Brewers, Rick Tomlin, would say often that we’re losing the humanity of the game. I really think that we are. I loved all of the information I could get with analytics. When I was there it was Trackman and now it’s Hawkeye in the Bigs. Like any other information though, you need to figure out what that player or team needs and how do you get them to buy in. That’s missing now.
It’s also very easy when a person is good with finances or computer software to look at a player like he’s on a PlayStation game. Just move the joystick to the right and the slider is going to be perfect every time. It’s hard for people who haven’t been on the field to understand that it doesn’t work like that. You don’t have to have been a Major Leaguer to be a very good coach. I think [Reds Director of Pitching] Derek Johnson is an excellent coach and he never played professionally. But you have to understand what it means to toe the rubber or get into the batter’s box and that can be lost.
This has been great and I really appreciate the time you took to share your baseball stories with us. My last question for you is putting it all together. What are your reflections when you look back at growing up a Tigers fan as a kid and consider everything you have been able to do with the sport of baseball?
I give thanks to the Lord Jesus because without him, I don’t do any of it. From the time I can remember whenever someone asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always said I wanted to be a baseball player. At that time, I didn’t have any concept of money. All I knew was that I loved playing baseball. Baseball was the best game on the planet and the best players on the planet are in the Major Leagues. To have the opportunity to play with and against them was incredible. I talked about growing up a Tigers fan. In 1990, my first year in the Big Leagues, I pitched against Kirk Gibson. In 1994, I pitched to Lance Parrish. That’s pretty special.
When I went down to interview with the Mets for a coaching position and had been out of the game for a few years, I met with Steve Phillips and Jim Duquette. I said to Jim, “If you give me this job, I will do everything I can to help these players become the best pitchers they can be, but that’s not why I want this job. I want to help them become good men.” I understood the statistics. Most of them were not going to make a living playing baseball, but almost every one of them was going to be a husband and father. I wanted to show them that I wanted to do everything I could to help them become the best pitchers they could be and get to the Big Leagues. But I was far more concerned with them as a human being. It was a tremendous blessing.