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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

An Interview with Greg Hibbard

There are untold numbers of baseball players who had promising careers derailed by injuries; a sad reality in a sport so connected with the fulfillment of dreams. Pitcher Greg Hibbard, who once won 50 games in a four year period was one of those players, and saw his playing career come to an end by the time he was 30.

Hibbard, a southpaw starter, was drafted in the 16th round of the MLB Draft out of the University of Alabama in 1986 by the Kansas City Royals. He was immediately dominant in the minors, and became so highly regarded that prior to the 1988 season he was acquired by the Chicago White Sox in a trade that included major leaguers Floyd Bannister and Melido Perez.

Two months into the 1989 season Hibbard was brought up to Chicago and never looked back. He settled into a role as a consistent middle of the rotation starter, with his best season coming in 1990, when he went 14-9 with a 3.16 ERA. He was left unprotected during the 1992 Expansion Draft and was snatched up by the Florida Marlins, but by the end of that day he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, for whom he went on to win 15 games in 1993.

During the 1993 off-season Hibbard reached a multi-year free agent deal with the Seattle Mariners. He struggled out of the gate before being shut down with a torn rotator cuff, finishing 1994 with a disappointing 1-5 record and 6.69 ERA. It was the last time he ever played professional baseball. He finished with a career record of 57-50 and 4.05 ERA over six seasons.

Since retiring as a player Hibbard has re-entered the game through the coaching ranks. This past season he was the pitching coach for the Rookie Level Mahoning Valley Scrappers, an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, and has been with that organization for the past 11 years. Before one of his games I had a chance to catch up with him and find out a little more about his time in baseball.

Greg Hibbard Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I had an older brother who was four years older than I was. When I was coming up, around six or seven years old, he played; and just living around the ball park with my Mom, playing softball. It was kind of an interest for me because I grew up overseas in Guam and Hawaii, so a hotter climate where we could pretty much play softball or baseball year-round.

Did you have a favorite team or player when you were growing up?: No. I did live in New York City, and I went to a Mets’ game one time, but it wasn’t really a Major League team that I followed. Probably the Atlanta Braves when I was 13 or 14, growing up on the coast of Mississippi.

How did you first find out that you were going to be drafted?: Basically like how everyone else found out. I got a phone call right after the draft. The coverage of the draft is a little more interesting now; it’s more publicized. Back then I just got a phone call. We were in contact with the scout, and the organization called me shortly thereafter.

What is your favorite moment from your playing career?: Probably just the relationships with all the teams and players that you play with. Maybe a game was striking out Bo (Jackson) four times in a game was pretty fun; and also throwing a complete game in that game.  I had a complete game shutout, along with striking him out four times.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Mike Alvarez, when I was coming up with the Royals. He was pretty big early on. Guy Hansen as well. They were probably my two earliest coaches I had coming up. I learned a lot from them about my preparation and routines, and just learning the game.

Who was the biggest character you played with or against?: Probably Steve Lyons. He had a lot of energy. You just never knew what he was going to do or what he was going to say. Dropping his pants in Detroit that night was pretty interesting. Jay Buhner was pretty much a character as well. I think every team has that type of class clown guy who keeps the clubhouse loose.

Is there anything about your playing career that you would do differently?: Just would have played longer. I had some injuries shortly after my career started and just wasn’t able to come back. If I was able to do it all over again I would have probably have taken care of my arm a little better early on as a kid growing up. After the fact you learn some things about what to do versus what not to do. I think I would have taken care of my arm a little better.


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