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Mudville: May 17, 2024 7:48 am PDT

David McCarty

"I said to myself, “You know, I’d just rather go out on top as a member of the Red Sox.”

At the close of business for the 2023 baseball season, the number of people who have ever played Major League Baseball stands at 23,115.

Of that number, less than 100 have thrown lefty while batting righty.

That list of course is headed by Rickey Henderson and also includes a number of pitchers whose names you might recognize. Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Tommy John, Jerry Koosman, Carl Hubbell and Rube Waddell fall into that category too.

Red Sox World Series champion Dave McCarty is in that group as well and he joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.

Batting righty while throwing lefty is really just a curiosity of the sport, and by no means defines what McCarty has done in his baseball life.

A standout athlete growing up in Texas, McCarty chose baseball as his path and that turned out to be a fantastic decision. McCarty played collegiately at Stanford and was named Baseball America’s College Player of the Year after an incredible 1991 season.

McCarty was the third overall player selected in the 1991 draft, behind Brien Taylor and 1990 Golden Spikes Award winner Mike Kelly and above players like Manny Ramirez, Shawn Green and Cliff Floyd.

He played 11 seasons in the majors and proved to be a valuable player who played first base as well as outfield and was a key component on the Red Sox 2004 World Series team. McCarty also tried his hand at pitching and likely would have had more of a chance to prove himself at the major league level had he played in a post-Ohtani world.

Fow now, he’s here with us at BallNine, so join us as we go Spitballin’ with Dave McCarty.

Thanks for joining us, Mr. McCarty! Looking forward to reminiscing about the 2004 Red Sox and the rest of your career. First let’s go back to your childhood. What was baseball like for you as a kid?

I played a lot of sports growing up and I feel that doing that helps to develop kids into better and stronger athletes. You see all these repetitive stress injuries with all the specialization in kids. You see pitchers in their teens blowing out their arms and needing Tommy John Surgery. That never happened when we were kids. We played whatever sport was in season and I started with tee ball when I was about six. I grew a love of a lot of different sports. When I got to high school, I narrowed it down to basketball and baseball and had opportunities to play both in college. The basketball opportunities I had were with some second tier schools, but the baseball programs that were recruiting me were some of the top programs in the country.

You had an incredible career at Stanford and are in their Hall of Fame. You were even the Baseball America College Baseball Player of the Year in 1991 when you batted .420 with a ridiculous .828 slugging percentage. It’s probably tough to summarize, but can you tell us about your time at Stanford?

To me, in the baseball world, Stanford is really the top place to go to get that combination of education and extremely high level athletics. I loved it. I was surrounded by so many talented people both in baseball and in general. It really made for a unique and memorable experience. [Being inducted into their Hall of Fame] was incredible. It was great to get the call and go to the ceremony on the football field during the game. It was a real honor, but at the same time I realize I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I wasn’t surrounded by some really good players. Someone like Jeffrey Hammonds, who went on to have a really good big league career. His freshman year, he was arguably the top leadoff hitter in the country. Then his sophomore year he batted cleanup behind me to give me protection. If he hadn’t been willing to make that jump and do what’s best for the team, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to put up the numbers I did.

Just to face him was surreal. To face him in his last home start, hit a double, knock in a couple runs and knock him out of the game is one of my highlight memories of my career.

You were drafted by the Twins in 1991 and in the majors by 1993. The Twins were in transition at that time, but Kent Hrbek, Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett were still around. What was it like coming up with the Twins at that time?

Being a first round pick, normally you’d get a September call up. However, they had the expansion draft, so anyone who was drafted in 1991 didn’t get a September call up to protect them. If I would have gotten a September call up, I could have been part of the ’91 team and maybe gotten a ring. I have mixed feelings about my time in Minnesota. Looking back, I probably wasn’t ready to be there when I got called up initially. I needed some more seasoning at the minor league level to prepare for the big league level. It was a rough transition for young guys coming up in that era. You had Tom Kelly come up to the big league team with guys who he had managed in the minors.

Then from 1993 through 1995, you started having guys who were younger like me, Scott Stahoviak, Marty Cordova and LaTroy Hawkins coming up and started to displace TK’s players and it was a rough transition. He was pretty tough on the young guys. That’s another reason I say I wasn’t ready to be there. I wasn’t really ready to be in that sort of atmosphere. It may not have been as supportive as I needed as a young player who had just one full season in the minor leagues under my belt. That’s certainly not to put it all on him; I wasn’t ready. Ultimately it deteriorated and I asked to be traded. To his credit, Terry Ryan did right by me rather than what might have been right for the Twins and I will always appreciate that. Unfortunately, once you’re traded away, you’re not anybody’s first round pick anymore and I had trouble getting at bats the rest of my career.

I came across this while doing research and thought it was a pretty interesting little place in history. You hit a double against Nolan Ryan on September 12, 1993 to knock him out of the game. It was the last home game he ever pitched and the last double he ever gave up. As someone who grew up a baseball fan in Texas, what was it like getting to face Nolan at the end of his career?

Oh my God, of course. Growing up in Texas, Nolan Ryan was the man! He was one of the guys playing a pickup game in your backyard where if you were a pitcher you’d say, “OK, I’m Nolan Ryan.” Every kid wanted to be him. Just to face him was surreal. To face him in his last home start, hit a double, knock in a couple runs and knock him out of the game is one of my highlight memories of my career.

In 2003 you were traded to the Red Sox after spending some time in other organizations. First, take us through your experience of coming over to Boston in August of 2003.

I was with the A’s and they had traded for Jose Guillen and needed a roster spot. Billy Beane called me in the office and said they were going to send me down to get regular at bats and they’d call me back up to make push for the playoffs. However, I didn’t clear waivers. I got over to Boston and they told me they had been trying to get me all year. That was such a bummer because that was a better situation for me. There was an opportunity for playing time and it was a good fit. Once I got there and saw the level of excitement and atmosphere at Fenway was great. Being a role guy and doing a lot of pinch hitting, it made it a lot easier. I thrived in the pressure and excitement of that atmosphere. Some other places you’d go up to pinch hit and there was no excitement and the crowd wasn’t into the game. It made it a lot harder. I loved the energy in Boston and going on to win the World Series in 2004 made the whole journeyman experience worth it for me. My wife mentions that all the time to me. To this day, I have a special place in my heart for Boston and the Red Sox organization.

In 2003 you were there for the Aaron Boone game. As a player coming off that great A’s series, what was it like to have Game 7 in the ALCS go down that way?

My story from that was that it was Game 7 and we had the lead late. I didn’t know if I would have to pinch hit, pinch run or go play defense. It was getting late and every half inning, I would run up stairs or swing the bat to stay loose. It was late in the game and Pedro was dealing. I went back to get loose and noticed the clubhouse guys putting the plastic over the lockers for the celebration. I went back to the dugout and then Pedro gave the lead up. I went back to get loose the next half inning and noticed all the plastic had been taken down. I was like, “Ah man, shit!” Then we go extra innings and Aaron Boone, to his credit, came up huge and the rest is history.

David McCarty of the Boston Red Sox bats during the MLB game against the San Francisco Giants at SBC Park on June 19, 2004 in San Francisco, California. The Giants defeated the Red Sox 6-4. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/MLB via Getty Images)

Coming into 2004, what was your mindset that spring after the tough exit from the postseason the year before?

Initially, my thought was just to have a good spring training and make the team. It was good to be in a position where I knew I was valuable to the team. I had a good spring and made the team. We were loaded that year, which was a different experience than I had for most of my career. We went into that season with high expectations. Unfortunately, we stumbled along for most of the year. We were getting towards the trading deadline and having internal discussions among the players saying we needed to get some momentum going or they will start dumping guys. We knew there was a lot at stake. Fortunately we started to play better and got on a role. The front office made some trades and we got hot at the right time.

That brings us to the 2004 ALCS. What was your perspective when you went down 3-0 to the Yankees?

We knew our backs were against the wall. We had swept a series earlier in the year [April 23-25] against the Yankees. We figured that if we could just win Game 4, our pitching lined up really well. We just had to find a way to win Game 4 and we knew we’d have a good shot. We were down one in the ninth when Dave Roberts came up with that steal when everybody in the stadium and millions of viewers on TV knew he was going to try. Then Billy Mueller came up with the hit to tie it.

It was really incredible to see how many guys came up with absolutely huge hits in the highest pressure spots. If any team was going to come back from 3-0, I feel like you guys were the perfect team for that.

It was Papi, Manny and really everyone else with the heroics that season. When guys had a chance to step up, they did in a big way. It was a unique group of guys. I say it was the best group of guys I played with in my career. Everyone was pulling the oars in the same direction. What I mean by that is if I was starting and Kevin Millar was on the bench, he was cheering for me and vice versa. Everyone kept in mind that it was a team goal for us to win. It wasn’t about the individual numbers. Believe it or not, that was pretty rare. There were always great team guys I played with no matter where I was, but there were always a couple more concerned about their own stats and getting their paycheck and there was none of that with the 2004 Red Sox. Going through what we went through, we formed this unique bond. In 2014, they had a reunion and there were guys that I hadn’t seen in ten years but the moment we got together, it was like we didn’t miss a day.

Boston Red Sox Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon, Gabe Kapler, David McCarty, and Todd Jones with shaved heads before game vs New York Yankees, Bronx, NY 10/8/2003 (Photo by Chuck Solomon/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

That’s not surprising to hear at all. So after the craziness of the Yankees series, you guys still had a World Series to play. From a fan’s perspective, I thought there was no way you were losing to the Cardinals after that ALCS. How did you guys refocus and just totally dominate that World Series?

Going through what we went through with the Yankees and the way we had to be playing to get through them, we had so much momentum going into the St. Louis series. Like I said earlier, the playoffs are about who is playing best and we were just on fire at that point. I don’t think anybody could have beaten us.

That parade was something else too with the duck boats and everything. What was your experience like at the parade?

It was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like that. There were millions of people out there and the noise was deafening. My wife and kids were on the duck boat and for the couple of hours we were going along, my kids just sat there starry-eyed and quiet. The excitement and love that we all felt was incredible. Even prior to the parade, after winning the Series I remember going to grab some bagels and coffee in the morning and people were stopping me on the street saying, “You don’t know what this means to my family!” Getting to experience that not just through our our eyes, but through the eyes of the fans was really incredible.

It will be a team and season that will be remembered forever, especially in Boston. Changing gears here for a second, I saw that you came in and pitched in three games in 2004 and not just lobbing the ball up to the plate like we see in today’s game; it was actually something the team was experimenting with. Can you talk about your pitching experience for us?

I had some colleges recruiting me to become a pitcher rather than a hitter. When I went to Stanford and we had Mike Mussina and Stan Spencer and other guys who had gotten time as big league pitchers, it didn’t make sense for me to pitch there because I was one of the best hitters. It wasn’t out of the blue or completely foreign. I had pitched in the minors in a couple of times and was our emergency pitcher with the Royals, although I never had a chance there.

In 2003, we were finishing up the year in Baltimore and I said to the coaches that as a pinch hitter, I was hitting against a lot of left-handed relievers. I told them I guaranteed I could do as well as some of those guys. I asked to throw a bullpen for them to see what they thought. We went and threw a bullpen and they told me next spring to report with pitchers and catchers. I got to work on it in spring training and during the season I would throw bullpens once or twice a week. I got the opportunity to pitch in three games and it went well. I wish I had gotten the chance to do more of it.

I think you just happened to be ahead of your time and the game is moving in a way where it we’ll see more two-way players, especially after seeing what Shohei Ohtani has been able to do.

I think it adds a lot of value to have a position player who could legitimately go out there and get outs. Not someone who just lobs the ball up there. You see teams carry more and more pitchers and they’re babying them more and more. It’s really valuable to have a guy who could give you an inning every now and then and not do it in a manner that’s an embarrassment to the game. Brooks Kieschnick did it and that was what kicked me in the butt to raise my hand about it. Once teams start opening their minds to it, there are more opportunities to do it. What Ohtani has done is a whole different level. You’re talking Cy Young and MVP type of stuff. We won’t see guys doing it at that level, but in the future we could see more guys doing both. The flip side is that some of these pitchers could hit too. Maybe we’ll see some pitchers who could give you a good pinch hit at bat too.

That’s a great point. I appreciate you sharing your story with us. Last question for you. When you take a step back and reflect on what you have been able to do in your career, what are your thoughts?

I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Growing up as a kid idolizing Nolan Ryan and some of those Astros teams with Mike Scott and Joe Sambito, who would later become my agent, I would dream about this. I would tell Joe Sambito that when I was playing Wiffle Ball in my yard, I would be Joe Sambito sometimes because I threw left-handed. He thought that was funny. Then early in my career I played with and against some of them. That’s one of the steps people go through early in their careers. How quickly do you get past having stars in your eyes. You have to realize these guys are another guy in the locker room like me. Just because you know his name and used to watch him on TV, doesn’t mean he isn’t like me. Then it becomes easier to succeed on that level knowing you belong.

But the whole journey was incredible. I was fortunate enough to do it for 15 years professionally and walk away on my own terms. When the Red Sox designated me for assignment, they had a deal in place to trade me to another team, but that was the first year when I went to spring training where my kid said, “Dad, we don’t want you to go.” We had just won the World Series in 2004 and I said to myself, “You know, I’d just rather go out on top as a member of the Red Sox.” So that’s what I did.

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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