Drafted in the 6th round of the 1990 baseball draft by the Oakland Athletics, Creighton Gubanich’s 6-3 200 pound build represented his identity as a power hitting catcher. Also playing a little third and first, Gubanich posted solid numbers everywhere he went in the minors, but was blocked at the Major League level by All Star Terry Steinbach.
In June, 1997, in the midst of his seventh year in the Oakland organization, Gubanich was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for minor league pitcher Tony Phillips. Less than 2 months later in August, he was traded again, this time to the Colorado Rockies as the player to be named later to complete an earlier deal that had netted the Brewers Jeff Huson. Splitting his time between three AAA teams that season, Gubanich hit everywhere he went, finishing with a .310 average and 15 home runs and 57 RBI in 81 games.
1998 was another solid season for Gubanich, this time playing for the San Diego Padres’ AAA team. He hit .290 with 19 home runs and 70 RBI in just 86 games, but was not brought up to the Padres, the National League champions, who were loaded with veteran catchers.
The Boston Red Sox proved to be where Gubanich got his shot in the Major Leagues, in 1999. He had signed with them during the off-season after having been released by the Padres. He was called up by Boston on April 16th after starting catcher Scott Hatteberg hit the disabled list. Jason Varitek stepped into the starting catcher role, giving Gubanich little playing time during his first few weeks; resulting in just three at-bats on April 22nd against Detroit, producing a strikeout, double play, and a putout.
However, he announced his arrival with authority in his next opportunity, which came on May 3rd against Jimmy Haynes and the Oakland A’s. Gubanich crushed a grand slam for his first Major League hit, and also produced a single and was hit by a pitch. Despite these heroics, the Red Sox blew an early 7-0 lead and ended up losing 12-11.
With Varitek having his first great year, Gubanich was only able to get into 18 games in his stints with the Red Sox. But he did well during that time, hitting .277 with a home run and 11 RBI in 47 at bats. No team could expect better production out of their backup catcher.
Granted free agency following the 1999 season, Gubanich continued playing professionally for several more years in the minors and independent leagues, retiring following the 2003 season. He finished with career numbers of .259 with 155 home runs and 619 RBI in 1122 minor/independent league games, superior numbers for a catcher.
Creighton Gubanic still works in baseball today, sharing his love of the game with youngsters who have the same dreams he did. I was fortunate enough to find out a little bit about him and his career this week. Enjoy!
How did you first become interested in baseball?: Growing up my dad always played catch with me. He was a good high school athlete playing football, basketball and baseball. He was a huge part in my early development as an athlete. Once I got into little league, my coach Butch Nattle taught me my first curveball. Then I moved onto HS baseball and had a great HS coach, John “Doc” Kennedy, now a scout with the Red Sox and Jim Voichek (former professional baseball player in his 80’s) all help me out. Those were the people that really got me interested in baseball.
What was it like getting drafted by the Athletics in 1990?: It was one of the best days of my life. I never thought the day would happen. I took the day off of school and played golf with my dad.
Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Dick Scott was my favorite manager in terms of learning how to play baseball. I learned a lot from him coming up in the A’s system.
What do you remember most about your grand slam off Jimmy Haynes for your first Major League hit?: I remember that the umpire could have rung me up on 2 prior pitches and thinking “I love MLB strike zones!!!!” I went out to dinner with some of the younger guys with the A’s the night before the game and expressed how important it was for them to let a sinking line drive drop or alligator arm a ball in the hole to get my first hit since I had no idea how long I was going to be up. My old roomy was Jason McDonald, who was playing CF that day said he would let one drop if needed. As I hit the ball, I can remember touching 1B and him looking up at the ball, then the wall, then trying to scale it to make the catch…. I was so pissed at him as all those thoughts of the previous night were coming back. Thankfully, the ball carried just out of reach and over the fence.
Who was the biggest character you ever played with or against?: There were many characters that I played with and against but the craziest was Phillip Wellman when I was winding down my career as a player in Chattanooga. If you look up some of his tirades, you will understand what I am talking about. * Editors Note*- Please check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ggy6WGUFaYs for further proof of this.
What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: Watching my mother walk down the aisle of Fenway Park to give me a hug and kiss. She was so proud.
What was your favorite stadium or city?: Every stadium in the big leagues was equal. Each has its own aura about them. Of course Fenway will always have a spot in my heart.
Who was the toughest pitcher that you faced?: There’s a saying amongst baseball players that get to the big leagues. It’s not hard to hit in the big leagues, it’s hard to GET hits. I faced Clemens, Mussina, Alvarez, Rocker, Justin Thompson, John Burkett and others. Maybe it was the lighting, the field, the batter’s eye, but I don’t think the stuff is any better than in AAA at times, just those guys know how to pitch and get you out. I remember facing Clemens and he threw me a 2-1 split that I didn’t swing out saying wow did that drop a lot and how did I not swing at it, but I didn’t.
Are you frustrated that with such good minor league numbers, and having a very good stint in the Majors, that you did not get more of an opportunity in the Bigs?: I know I was an average minor league with my talent. I could hit a little bit. I worked hard at being a good catch and throw guy behind the plate although I was more known for my bat. I cherished every moment in the Bigs that I had. After that year, I had a few injuries that hurt my chances of playing at the big league again, but that’s part of the game. I don’t regret how things turned out. Although I keep telling myself I can still do it better than some of the guys there, but I know I can’t!
How tough was the transition when you decided to stop playing?: The transition wasn’t tough for me. As a pro baseball player, I missed out on a lot of things. The BBQ’s, vacations at the beach, trips with friends…. I missed out on all those. My younger brother just had a baby, my older brother’s wife was pregnant and I was still single. I thought I would be the first to make my parents grandparents. The game didn’t allow that or I didn’t allow the game to allow that. I was focused on playing and didn’t want any distractions. I felt that I needed to start the next chapter of my life and I wanted to see my nieces grow up if I didn’t have kids myself. I have never looked back on that decision.
What have you done since you stopped playing?: I work for a company called All Star Baseball Academy. We train the next generation of big leaguers. It’s my way of giving back to the community to help share my experiences and give kids the change to achieve their goals and potentially experience some of the same things I have done.
How many autograph requests do you typically get?: Not as much anymore. I come from a small town of about 20,000 people. My name has fallen off the radar in the last 5 years or so and has been replaced by my younger brother’s name. He is a teacher in the same middle school we attended growing up. Many people know him more than they know me. I get requests a few times a year for autographs. I have always signed them and sent them back out. If they took the time to find me and write, the least I can do is sign them and send them back.