Former Mets Reliever Roger McDowell Still Feeling World Series High
Roger McDowell knows what it feels like to be a World Series champion.
Nearly forty years ago, McDowell was credited with the win of Game 7 of the 1986 World Series. The New York Mets, thanks in part to McDowell's hurling a scoreless seventh inning at Shea Stadium held the Boston Red Sox at bay, as his teammates broke the tie during their next at bat.
That euphoria of being at the top of your profession, being the king of Major League Baseball when the infield dust settled on the 1986 season, to a large extent remains with McDowell.
" It (World Series) still brings back fond memories. It stays with you," McDowell, who turns 62 next month, said during a phone conversation earlier this week.
Getting to see his former Mets teammates occasionally when getting back to New York from his home in Auburn (AL), these are happy events for the MLB alum. Having played in parts of 12 MLB seasons for five different clubs, it's the first five spent pitching in Flushing (NY), that McDowell is most remembered for. The Mets is where McDowell grew up as pro.
Three years in New York's minor league system, followed by five seasons on the big league level (1985-'89), McDowell earned his way to that memorable Series against Boston. During the 1986 season, McDowell collected 22 Saves, had a record of 14-9 in 75 games. Along with lefty closer Jesse Orosco, McDowell gave the Mets a shutdown duo from the bullpen whose tank never ran out of gas all season long.
"That was my second year in the big leagues," recalls McDowell of the Mets' championship club of 1986. " I was a young pup on a veteran team. I was just trying to keep my mouth shut and my ears open, and keeping my job."
Even today, as McDowell traces back to his lone trip to the World Series as a player, memories from his youth growing up in Cincinnati and celebrating the success of the "Big Red Machine" clubs of the 1970's come rushing back. The back-to-back championships won by the great Reds' clubs of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and George Foster in 1975 & '76 cemented McDowell's love of the game.
As a player, when the 1987 season rolled in, McDowell tells of wanting to feel as his favorite Reds teams had decades earlier.
" As a player, your objective is to be part of it again - right from when you arrive at spring training," confesses McDowell of having a need for the Mets to repeat in 1987.
The 75 games McDowell appeared in for manager Davey Johnson in 1986 is a highlight New York baseball fans still talk of. The camaraderie with his former Mets' teammates is at the top of McDowell's baseball accomplishments.
Attending last August's Mets Old-Timer's Day at Citi Field remains a special invitation to McDowell.
One of the 65 former players and managers invited to participate in the grandest alumni event in many years of the Mets, McDowell remembers his visit as a "special time and moment". The big turnout of club alumni only reinforced his still wanting to be in the game.
After his final season pitching in 1996 with the Baltimore Orioles, McDowell transfered his experience on the mound to teaching those wanting to get to the MLB level. There would be 11 seasons serving as the Atlanta Braves pitching coach, then followed in the same role with the Orioles.
Now, McDowell, who when in his prime threw a sinker ball as good as anyone's money pitch in the game, is on the outside looking in - and not by choice.
The passion is there. "Involuntary retirement." This is how McDowell labels his absence from baseball.
There is no mincing of words when McDowell, drafted in the third-round by New York in 1982 out of Bowling Green State University, explains his current absence from baseball. It's not a stretch for McDowell to feel forced out of baseball. Approaching an age where eligibility for Social Security and Medicare will be an option, it is bitter sweet for McDowell that he isn't in uniform.
In an era where MLB clubs are run by some close to half his age, McDowell believes some may think he's too old. Regarldess of his decades of experience, to relate to today's players and how the game is charted, McDowell's phone remains silent. The game is changing, but successful participants as McDowell shouldn't be thrown under an umbrella, in part due to age, of irrelevancy.
If not given an opportunity to change with the advancements in baseball, smart participants as McDowell get "kicked out." Beyond discussion of spin rate, and all the new lingo studied and deep dives executed on, this doesn't mean a pitching savant with McDowell's credentials doesn't know what a healthy pitching delivery looks like.
Examples of what to do in what situations offered by McDowell are reminding of what baseball smarts is.
" It's a team game. Everyone has their part to play, to win," explains McDowell, who owns a 70-70 win-loss MLB record. " Say Miguel Cabrera is at bat, and runners are on second and third, and there are two outs. How does (the pitcher) keep him from hitting a single? Speed isn't part of the game anymore. To see Vince Coleman on base (752 career stolen bases), or Mookie Wilson hit in a game, and turn on his afterburners to take an extra base, and see managers get thrown out of games like with Boibby Cox (158 regular MLB season ejections), this was exciting."
The enthusiam displayed of a manager sticking up for his players, such as Cox, is a motivator McDowell cherishes. Seeing veteran bench bosses return to the dugout in recent seasons; Buck Showalter, Bruce Bochy, Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa, and Dusty Baker, reinfoirces to McDowell that the most successful shouldn't necessarily be judged by their age.
The happy thoughts of rushing onto the infield to celebrate a world championship many years ago combined with wanting to still contribute to baseball, even after years away from passing along his teachings and not being given an opportunity today, is an incompolete grade for McDowell's career. Not on performance but on contrribution. There's too much experience and expertise not to be tapped into.