Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dennis DeBarr

New expansion teams can often be a major opportunity for minor league players who are on the cusp of making it to the Big Leagues. Each new franchise means that for their first year there are an additional 25 open roster spots for the taking. Many players who are in the high minors, and bumping their head on the glass ceiling, but unable to break through, can seize such opportunities and move on to the next level.

Lefty pitcher Dennis DeBarr is one player who first made the Major Leagues with an expansion team. He was an inaugural Toronto Blue Jay in 1977, after having spent the previous six seasons in the Detroit Tigers farm system. Taken in the 2nd round of the 1972 MLB Draft, the Tigers moved DeBarr aggressively, even having him pitch in a Triple-A game during his first season as a 19 year old. 

The Tigers never had a consistent plan on how to use DeBarr, as he started and relieved, without rhyme or reason. Despite the waffling of the Tigers, he always did well wherever he pitched, producing a 3.47 ERA for his minor league career. Regardless, by the end of the 1976 season, he was still stuck in Double-A, and Detroit made him available in the 1977 expansion draft, where he was chosen by the Blue Jays as the 26th overall pick.

DeBarr made his Major League debut with Toronto on May 14, 1977, mopping up in a 13-3 loss to Minnesota. His first strikeout came in his next appearance, June 1st, against Freddie Patek and the Kansas City Royals. 

DeBarr made a total of 14 relief appearances with Toronto, posting an 0-1 record with a 5.91 ERA. He was sent down to the minor leagues in late July after a disagreement with manager Roy Hartswell. DeBarr never made it back to the Majors and was out of professional baseball following the 1979 season. More information on DeBarr’s career statistics are available at

In an interesting side note, although DeBarr never played again in the Major Leagues after being sent down by Toronto, he was part of two trades. In March, 1978 he was sent to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for aging slugger Rico Carty. Then in June of that year, DeBarr was traded to the Cubs for relief pitcher Paul Reuschel. In our interview, DeBarr explains how he once tried to get back into baseball a few years after retiring, with interesting results. It may not have worked out for him the way he had hoped, but he was able to play in the Major Leagues and will always be part of baseball history.

Dennis DeBarr Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I guess my older brother. He was just two years older than me. I remember when there was Little League. I couldn’t play and my Dad was in the military and I guess you really couldn’t start until you were nine at the time. And so I was seven and my brother was nine; and I was watching him pitch, and then he would play catch with me when I would come home. I guess that I probably got it from him. And then as time when on he got more into girls instead of baseball, but I always stuck with baseball after that, so that’s probably how I got started.

Did you have a favorite team or player when you were growing up?: Actually when I was growing up, it was the Dodgers. I loved Sandy Koufax. I’m a left-handed pitcher, so I always loved Koufax.

What was getting drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 2nd round like? Did you employ an agent?: At that time agents were just beginning to get in the game. I certainly didn’t have an agent. I didn’t think the Detroit Tigers… Being out in California I was hoping Oakland or Giants or something. It surprised me that Detroit drafted me. I was totally shocked that Detroit drafted me, of all the teams. At that time, I didn’t have an agent. I just wanted to sign and they knew that. 

I did have a scholarship at Stanford. I had people looking at me at Stanford and so forth, but always wanted to play baseball. For me I decided that four years of college would be four years longer making it to the Big Leagues. There’s four years chance of getting hurt, so that’s the reason why I signed out of high school. But I didn’t have an agent. I wish I did!

How was your experience in the minor leagues?: When I got in, of course you play rookie ball no matter how high of a draft pick you are. I wasn’t used to people hitting my fastball because I had averaged like two and half strikeouts an inning and had no problem. And so when I did go to rookie ball, I remember the first game I got in pitching, there were like three straight base hits, and so I overthrew the ball and kind of hurt my shoulder a little bit. It limited my rookie ball season. I actually went home early and they gave me cortisone and all that. 

But my very first year in A-ball, after that, I went from A-ball to Double-A to Triple-A. It was a good experience and I thought ‘well this is going to be quicker than I thought getting to the Big Leagues.’ I did well in Double-A and Triple-A, but it was just short, like maybe a couple of innings or something like that. 

The thing about my minor league experience, I played a lot of years in the minors, but probably won four or five championships. I won at Triple-A with Evansville, and then we won two championships in Double-A in Montgomery, Alabama. And then I won at Bristol, Tennessee, the very first year. I had a very successful experience in the minors, that’s for sure.

I remember when I was back down in Double-A again. I was traded to Cleveland and they had six lefthanders on their Major League club. And so when they traded me for Rico Carty, I thought well this was a good deal’ initially and then when it turned out, they were probably trying to get rid of a million dollar ball player, a world famous designated hitter for me. So I didn’t accept it very well. They sent me back to Double-A. 

I got traded again to the Cubs, and they sent me to Triple-A. I never had such a high earned run average. They started me in Triple-A with Wichita. I think my earned run average was probably either a four or a six. I can’t remember exactly, but it was so high I went to the manager and said, ‘you might as well leave me,’ cause I thought I was going to go bad. And he turned around and said at that time the average in the league was a ‘four point something.’ But I was never used to it, so it was a big adjustment.

What type of pitches did you throw?: Well obviously when I first signed, a fastball I threw most of the time. So I had about mid 90’s. Then when it came down to it, I had a curve that was so roundhouse, it broke a whole lot. When I was in Double-A I guess, my coach there told me to shelf that pitch. The hitters would lay off it. He showed me a forkball. And when he showed me that forkball, or a split fingered fastball, that’s when my career started changing. Then I became a relief pitcher and what really turned everything around for me was the forkball. 

What happened was, when I got to the Major Leagues, I forgot how to throw that forkball, because you’re in Toronto and when you warm up, it’s on the left field foul line and if you’re throwing a breaking ball when you’re warming up you get it off the plate. And so I wouldn’t throw many breaking pitches on the sideline. And somewhere along the road I lost the feel of it. I should have went to my manager and talked to him.

What is the favorite moment from your playing career?: Well once again Reggie Jackson, He was standing out in the outfield when we were playing the Yankees, during batting practice. I was doing my usual warm-ups. He said, ‘hey rookie, come here.’ He told me ‘there’s no difference between you and me. We put our pants on the same way. I might be making a couple of million, you might be making minimum salary, but there is no difference.’
And so in that game, he had already struck out three times. They put me in to pitch against him and I struck him out on a slider. He looked at me, and I looked back at him. He stared at me and gave me a nod, and to me that was like welcoming me to the Big Leagues. And I think that’s probably the biggest one because I keep telling that story over and over.

What was it like playing for the inaugural Toronto Blue Jays?: When you’re playing baseball, your whole goal is to get to the Major Leagues. You don’t care who you play with. But I think as I look back on it, it was a bad thing for me because Detroit was a great organization at the time. It was very hard to move up in that organization because they had winning teams at every level and it was hard to get brought up. 

Toronto, they only won 50 something games as a club that year. As a short man, you’re not going to get too many chances. The manager, Roy Hartwell, said to me at one point, ‘young man, you’ve proven to me that you can pitch up here and you’re going to have a long career.’ Cause I had maybe seven innings or so that I had given up no runs or anything. Finally I did get in a game, and I was begging to get in the game because I hadn’t pitched for a while. I guess I gave up four runs in about an inning and two thirds. He came out to take me out and I said, ‘Why waste a pitcher? You might as well let me pitch some innings and get some work.’ And he says, ‘Young man, I’ve made up my mind.’ 

I got frustrated and I then I threw my glove in the dugout and actually left the game before it was over with. I get a phone call from him that night or the next day saying, ‘we’re going to send you to Triple-A, but we’re going to bring you back up in September because we just aren’t facing a lot of lefthanders.’ Obviously that wasn’t true. 

Did the Blue Jays ever bring you back up?: No they never did. But during spring training they showboated me quite a bit. I think at that time they were wanting to trade me, and that’s what they ended up doing. 

There is more about that. You know, after I got out of the game… I was probably out of the game for two or three years, I called them. Each player that they got in expansion was worth $175,000 to that club. And so I said to Triple-A, ‘Why don’t you come out and take look at me to see if you might have a spot for me in Triple-A and possibly give me another opportunity to pitch for you?’ 

They did come out. Pat Gillick and their Major League scout came out, but he said they were there to look at this kid named Barry Bonds. They asked if I would throw batting practice to him. He was still in high school I guess. I thought after batting practice I would show what I could do, and it turned out they said, ‘Well what do you do for a living?’ And I said ‘Construction,’ and ‘you might as well stick it,’ is what they said. So, that was the end of my baseball pursuits.

Was it difficult to transition from a professional athlete to the private sector?: Yeah it I because I really thought I would be connected with baseball in one way or another forever actually; either coaching or scouting afterwards.

I got out of the game not because I couldn’t pitch. I got out of the game because my mouth kind of got in the way. You don’t really cherish things until after you are out. I do miss it.


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