By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
PEORIA, Ariz. — Mel Stottlemyre has pitched in the World Series and he’s helped teams reach the Series six times in his 22 years as a major league pitching coach.
And yet, few professional moments in his career match the excitement he feels today.
Stottlemyre will introduce himself this morning to the Seattle Mariners as their new pitching coach, beginning a six-week period of spring training in which he’ll get to know them and they’ll get to know him.
“I can’t remember being this excited in a lot of years,” he said Wednesday, the day pitchers and catchers reported for physical exams.
Their first workout is today, and for Stottlemyre it’s not only a return to coaching after being away for two years, it’s a homecoming.
He lives in Sammamish and — despite making his name with the Yankees as a star pitcher in the 1960s and ’70s, then as their pitching coach for 10 years through 2005 — the Mariners essentially have been his hometown team.
“This is refreshing for me,” said Stottlemyre, 66. “It’s something I’ve thought about for a while, the opportunity at some point in my career to work at home, and it’s finally happened. I’m a Pacific Northwest guy, but I’ve always worked on the other coast. It’s a great opportunity for me, even at this somewhat late age.”
Stottlemyre resigned his job with the Yankees after the Angels beat them in the 2005 AL Division Series, many reports citing his disagreement with owner George Steinbrenner as the reason.
He didn’t leave baseball completely, helping new Yankees pitching coach Ron Guidry at spring training in 2006, then working much of last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose minor league pitching coordinator is Stottlemyre’s son, Mel Jr.
“Even though I’ve been out for two years, I don’t feel I’ve really lost touch with what’s going on with the clubs,” he said.
That includes the Mariners.
“I’d been sort of a fan of the Mariners for a long time, other than when we played them,” Stottlemyre said. “I watched the ballclub very closely last year toward the second half of the season. I didn’t know I was going to be the pitching coach, but I watched them a little closer than I had before. I wanted to keep in touch with the game in case something did come up down the line that I was interested in. This came up.”
The Mariners are thrilled to have someone with such experience, both as a player and coach, on their staff.
“Just watching Mel walk through the clubhouse earlier this winter, I could see guys like Brandon Morrow and J.J. Putz look at him with respect,” manager John McLaren said.
It goes both ways. Stottlemyre has the background to command respect, but he’s also as enthused about this pitching staff, especially the starting rotation, as any he’s ever had.
“We certainly have the capability to throw out a real quality starting pitcher on a daily basis, where every day we take the field we have an opportunity to win,” he said. “I can recall several of the years with the Yankees we felt like we had a strong staff, but we weren’t always sure who No. 5 was going to be.”
Today, before the 28 pitchers in camp head to the bullpen, Stottlemyre will deliver one main message: Don’t over-throw and risk injury just to impress the new pitching coach.
“That’s going to be the majority of my talk,” Stottlemyre said. “It’s always a fear regardless of who is here in my position. They’re going to want to over-impress early, and surprisingly it’s not always the young guys.”
Every pitcher is scheduled to throw for 10 minutes today — nothing but fastballs and changeups. Stottlemyre will watch them all closely, not just the five starters and key relievers.
“Every pitcher who’s here, whether they’re on the roster or guys who’ve been invited, it’s very important for me to get to know them,” he said. “When there are injuries during the course of the season, people are going to need to come up and replace them.”
“It’s kind of a learning process for me, but at the same time they need to be learning who I am, what I am and what we expect here. At the end of spring training, I’ll know them all very well and they’ll know me very well.”