Job security can be difficult to attain in professional baseball given the ever-changing landscape. However, relief pitchers that prove they can consistently produce out of the bullpen are all but guaranteed to steer clear of the unemployment line. A perfect example of that is right-handed pitcher Jim Mecir, who enjoyed an 11-year major league career as one of the steadiest performers in his line of work.
Mecir was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the third round of the 1991 draft out of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. He began his career as a starter and found moderate results in his first three minor league seasons but didn’t emerge as a top prospect. However, prior to the 1994 season, he was converted to the bullpen and never started another game again (not counting rehab games).
After successful seasons in Double-A and Triple-A, he was brought up to the Mariners at the end of the 1995 season. His debut came against the New York Yankees in a mop-up effort, and he acquitted himself well, throwing 3.2 innings without giving up an earned run. To top it off, he also struck out veteran hitters Tony Fernandez and Paul O’Neill.
Despite his promising start, Mecir was included in a trade with first baseman Tino Martinez that sent them to the Yankees. Over the next two years, he posted an ERA over 5.00 but found his footing upon joining the Tampa Bay Rays in 1998. He went on to also pitch for the Oakland A’s (where he had his greatest success) and the Florida Marlins before retiring after the 2005 season. In 474 career games, he was 29-35 with a 3.77 ERA and 12 saves. Known for his screwball, he struck out 450 batters in 527 innings, while allowing just 482 hits.
Now a professional speaker, Mecir has found just as much success away from the game as he did on a baseball diamond. Keep reading to hear what he had to say about his career as one of the most dependable relief pitchers over the better part of a decade.
Jim Mecir Interview
Who was your favorite team and player growing up, and why?: I grew up on Long Island, New York in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I liked both New York teams but my favorite was the Yankees. My favorite player was Don Mattingly. He was not only a great player but seemed like a great person too. He was a team leader who set the example for the rest of the team. He didn’t showboat or show up other players.
Please share a little bit about your draft experience in 1991.: It was a tough year for me. I kept hearing whispers that I could be drafted around the fifth round. It was a surprise to me since I played Division Two baseball. I didn’t think they would draft me that high. I hurt my forearm in the middle of the year and I stopped hearing my name mentioned. I made a comeback and pitched my last three starts. The last game was phenomenal and I convinced the scouts I was no longer injured. I received a call from the Seattle Mariners that I was selected in the third round of the draft. I was unbelievably excited and nervous at the same time. It was the first time that I really believed I had a chance to play major league baseball.
You were drafted as a starter but made into a reliever—which got you to the majors. Were you initially disappointed in being made to change roles?: I wanted to become a reliever. I injured my arm in 1991 and didn’t recover until spring training, 1994. I realized that my unorthodox mechanics, because of my club foot, were detrimental to the health of my shoulder. I found that pitching more games, but with less innings, allowed me to stay healthy.
What pitches did you throw, and which was your best?: I threw a fastball, screwball and cutter. The fastball is every pitchers best pitch. I wasn’t overpowering but had good movement. I tried to keep the ball on the ground. The screwball was my go-to pitch. It was the only pitch I had that I could get the hitter to miss. It is a rare pitch, so hitters didn’t get a chance to practice against it, which made it more effective than other pitches. I threw my cutter sparingly; it was more for show.
The first major league hitter you ever faced was Paul O’Neill in 1995. What do you remember about that encounter?: I remember walking on the field and thinking it was a dream. My mom was going to wake me up any second and tell me I had to go to school. As soon as I believed it was real, Bob Sheppard (Yankees PA) announced my name and I wasn’t sure again if it was a dream. I couldn’t believe that I stood on the mound In Yankee Stadium. I dreamt of that moment my whole life. I retired Paul O’Neill and pitched the longest outing of my big league career without giving up an earned run. I also held Don Mattingly hitless in two at bats.
What is your favorite moment from your career?: My major league debut against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium.
Who was your favorite coach or manager, and why?: I have great respect for all my managers and coaches but my favorite coach was my college pitching coach, Rich Folkers. He molded me into the pitcher I needed to be to succeed in the big leagues. He taught me the screwball. He was a coach you respected but also wanted to hang around.
You played for the Oakland Athletics during the height of Moneyball. At the time, did playing on those teams feel much different?: No it didn’t. I tried not to get too caught up in media business. We were a great team that had three stud starting pitchers for a couple of years. Any team that has that always has a chance to win.
If there is something about your career you could go back and change what would that be?: I wish that I could have had better emotional control earlier in my career. I developed it during the second half of my career but physically I wasn’t the same pitcher because of knee injuries. Controlling the negative voice in my head would have led to more success early on. It took a long time to realize that my biggest enemy was me.
Now that you are done playing, what are you up to?: I am a professional speaker that talks about overcoming adversity. I also work with Ellen Schnur. She is a trained improvisationalist for ImprovTalk. We utilize the tools from improv and reinforce those lessons with stories from the mound to teach communication and teamwork skills to corporations. It is a fun and interactive way to educate.
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