Mel Stottlemyre spent over four decades in Major League Baseball, first as an All-Star pitcher then as one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game. If his five All-Star appearances in nine full Major League seasons didn’t carry enough weight, his five World Series rings as a pitching coach certainly did.
Stottlemyre’s understated approach as a coach was cerebral and allowed him to connect with players on a personal level. When he passed away after a lengthy and courageous battle with cancer in January of 2019, Dwight Gooden remembered him as a second father; someone who saw him through his skyrocketing introduction to the Majors, his tragic downfall and dramatic return to prominence in the Bronx. He wasn’t the only player who saw Stottlemyre that way, not by a longshot.
When it came to his own family, the lasting advice his son Todd remembers from his father holds the same understated and encouraging tone. The elder Stottlemyre frequently said, “Whatever you decide to do, give it everything you have and be the best that you can possibly be.”
Todd Stottlemyre has been out of the game for 18 years, but he still carries that mantra with him in his endeavors, and he has many. It’s a message he uses for guidance and the basis of another question he frequently has asked himself throughout his life: “Is that the best I can do?”
Stottlemyre joins BallNine to talk about his family, baseball career, his work as an innovative entrepreneur and much more in this week’s edition of Spitballin’.
Todd Stottlemyre got his introduction to baseball as a toddler with the Yankee Stadium grass under his feet and Mickey Mantle at his side. His father was teammates with Mantle during the icon’s final five seasons in the Bronx and Todd was there for the final three.
By the time he reached the Majors as a 22-year-old in 1988, Todd had spent a lifetime in baseball. He tagged along with his dad to Yankee Stadium through the transition years in the 1970s, sharing space with Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, Joe Pepitone, Graig Nettles and everyone in between. He was a dominant high school pitcher and then had the same success on the college level, where he was teammates with his brother Mel, Jr.
In his first World Series game, Stottlemyre relieved Hall of Famer Jack Morris while another Hall of Famer, Tom Glavine was on the mound for the opposing Braves. He promptly struck out the first two batters he faced. When he made his first World Series start the following year, the seven fielders behind him combined to make 44 All-Star Games throughout their careers and three of them ended up in the Hall of Fame. When Joe Carter launched his Game 6 walk-off home run to win the 1993 World Series, Stottlemyre was the one warming up in the bullpen. He experienced all of that before he reached the age of 29.
Stottlemyre’s career spanned 14 seasons and he picked up 138 wins along the way. He pitched in ten different postseason series for four different teams and earned three World Series rings. His best postseason start may have come in 1998 in the same Yankee Stadium where he stood knee-high to Mantle 30 years prior. He went to-to-toe with old Blue Jays teammate David Wells and the 1998 Yankees, the most powerful version of the Evil Empire years. Stottlemyre pitched eight full innings in a 2-0 loss, giving up runs on a ground ball and on the back end of a rundown.
Just as his youth and baseball career were rich with success and incredible experiences, his life after baseball has been as well. A proud father of five, Stottlemyre has been an incredibly successful entrepreneur, published author, corporate keynote speaker and other endeavors, the details of which can be found on toddofficial.com. A self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur,” Stottlemyre is now giving back to the world that gave him so much. It’s the same way his father gave back to the game of baseball for decades: through encouragement, guidance and coaching others on to success.
There’s a lot to cover, so come along as we go Spitballin’ with Todd Stottlemyre.
Thanks for joining us today, it’s an honor to talk to you. Let’s start by catching up. You’ve been retired for 18 years now. Where has life taken you post-MLB?
I’m in Phoenix, Arizona. I retired here with the Diamondbacks and as a family, we decided to stay here and build our roots. I have five kids and a beautiful wife, so I can’t complain! I am involved in a number of business. We have a small restaurant chain called Koibito Poke with five restaurants and we’re getting ready to franchise that concept out across the nation, so we’re excited about that. I also have a consulting business and a small media company but where my passion really lies is building out a genetics company. It’s something where people can take a test and find a genetic condition that would allow them to get out in front of a certain disease and potentially help people save or extend their lives. I’m kind of a serial entrepreneur.
I also do some coaching. I work with companies and do some speaking and work with other entrepreneurs to help them develop winning habits, rituals, and routines. That’s been an awesome thing where I got to play the game, grow up around the game because of my father and his teammates and that environment. That poured into my dreams to follow in his footsteps and I met some incredible people along the way. I had some incredible coaches and mentors and a lot of that feedback was always to help me get better. I got to a point in my life where I wanted to give back. I had a front row seat to some great teammates and played for some great managers. To reflect on all of that information and then give it to someone that’s in need or wants to get better or wants to improve a business or start a business, whatever it is, it’s an opportunity for me to give back.
You’ve been keeping busy for sure. You mentioned your kids. How old are they and have they followed their family into athletics?
I have a 24-year-old daughter, a 19-year-old daughter, a 17-year-old daughter, a 14-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. I have them ranged from five to 24. We love kids and love being around them. We wanted a big family and we’ve been blessed to have that. We’ve got great kids. I am a blessed man. Controlled chaos is what I call it! I gotta tell you though, because of the virus we all came together. I had one at university, one that’s getting ready to go to medical school and then my high school, middle school and pre-schooler and because of the virus, everyone’s home. With all the bad news that’s going on, I always try to find the light in the darkness and the light has been our family. We’ve had more family meals and it’s just been great to spend so much time together.
The kids are into all kinds of sports. The girls played softball, soccer, basketball. One was a club soccer player, one was a club softball player, the oldest one played volleyball, basketball and softball in high school and my son loves baseball. He’s an avid baseball player. What’s cool about him is not only does he enjoy playing the game, but he’s a big fan of the players and to see him follow guys and teams is really cool. It forces me to stay engaged, so we’re all looking for the baseball season to get started again, that’s for sure.
That leads into my next question perfectly. As a former player, what’s going through your mind as you follow all of the things related to the shutdown and then the labor negotiations to get back on the field?
I was a part of those labor negotiations as a player a few times in my career. They’re never easy and they’re never timely either. What I find out most of the time is that you only get to hear so much of what is going on beneath it. Because baseball has become such a business, there are times when both sides have some disagreements and they see things their own way. Unfortunately, the fans and the public don’t get the whole story. Generally, any labor negotiation isn’t just for a week or a month or just one contract, a labor negotiation represents years of the game moving forward. Sometimes people’s opinions of moving forward are going to be different than the other side and that’s what brings these collisions.
It’s something that happens in all business. Unfortunately, the game has great fans, great television coverage, it creates awesome childhood memories, so people get passionate about it. I certainly understand that fan’s view one hundred percent. I am a fan now and sometimes I say, “Come on guys, let’s get this done.” I know that sometimes it’s difficult, but I am so grateful that they were able to see through it and that they were able to come up with an agreement.
Even if it’s a shortened season, it’s great to have something. If you think about it, 60 games puts everyone in the pennant race. It’s basically like playing August and September. August is the dog days and generally it’s always about who’s going to make it through the dog days and position themselves for a run in September. All games are important, but they become so important the last 60 days. If you get on a bad streak in August or September, it could knock you out of the playoffs. So, it’s odd, you’re going to have teams that might not normally be a playoff contender, but now they are. It puts everyone in the race. It’ll be like an extended playoff to get to the playoffs. Every game is going to be so important. What happens when you have one team in a division get hot and win ten straight right off the bat? You go 5-5 and you’re five back already and we’re in August.
I see managers managing games with much more importance right from the start. Again, always looking for the good in things, everyone is in a pennant race day one. Half of the teams are going to be in first place after day one and the other half are going to be one back, so here we go. It’ll be fun to watch.
Todd and his brother Mel, Jr. at UNLV
What do you think about the new rules they’re implementing?
Everyone’s gonna have an opinion, but I am not a big fan of throwing a guy out on second base in extra innings and I don’t like putting the DH in the National League. I played in both leagues and as a pitcher, I loved hitting. I loved that not only could I help my team by doing great on the mound, but I could also help by getting down a bunt or executing a hit and run or if I get a base hit, even better. I am on the purist side of the fence when it comes to those things. But my opinion doesn’t count; I’m just a fan now.
You mention helping your team with the bat. I looked it up and you had one career home run. That had to be huge for you. Where does that stand among your career highlights?
It’s the one game that’s going to stick out for me aside from a team accomplishment like winning the World Series. It was a neat night, not just because of the homer, but also what led up to it. We were playing in Philadelphia and my father was with the Yankees at the time. He’s battling cancer and the Yankees have a day off. My mom called me and said that her and dad were coming down to watch me pitch. It ended up being the only game in my entire career that I put my father on the guest list. He was a coach and 99.9% of the time, when I was in the American League, he was in the National League and when I went to the NL, he was with the Yankees. It’s not like he has time to come watch me pitch because he’s coaching himself.
I put him on the pass list, and I remember the traveling secretary came to me before the game and asked if this was real. I told them it was. He said, “OK, because if this is real, we want to put your mother and father right next to the dugout.” So, when I go to the plate, the first pitch I see, I swing out of my shoes and hit the ball over the fence for my only home run. I didn’t really pitch well, but I pitched good enough to win that game. When I came out of the game, they escorted my parents underneath the stadium to the clubhouse doors. It was an emotional time. I was battling some arm injuries and fighting for my career and while that was happening, my father was battling cancer and fighting for his life.
The baseball Gods were so good to me that night that it’s not even funny.
That’s an absolutely incredible moment for you and your family. It is funny how many times the baseball Gods go to work like that. So, what was it like growing up with your dad being Mel Stottlemyre?
Obviously, we knew he played for the Yankees. We went to Yankee Stadium every home game. We put our Yankee uniforms on, and it was just like going to work with dad. I think back to those early years. I was three or four years old out on the field for batting practice and just stood in the grass next to guys like Mickey Mantle. Or hanging out with Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer and so many other big names. When you’re a kid, you don’t really understand how special it is. It isn’t until later on when you look back and say, “Wow, what a childhood.” What an environment for a young boy who wants to play baseball. Here I am. I’m literally going to Yankee Stadium every day, in a uniform, out on the field with the guys. For a young boy who one day wanted to play baseball, I can’t possibly think that there ever could have been a better environment for me to grow up.
I am so grateful and so thankful, and my dad made it so easy. It was a big shadow for my brothers and I and it came with a lot of worldly opinion. A lot of people would say, “You’re not like your father, what are you gonna do when you grow up?” We’d say that we were going to play baseball. Both of my parents did an incredible job of saying, “Just be you.” My dad would always say to just be the best that you can be, and he didn’t care what it was in. He didn’t say to be the best I can be at baseball, he wanted me to be the best that I could be at whatever I picked in life.
Todd and Mel Stottlemyre at Yankee Stadium
He had the mindset that even when you make it, you should continue to pursue growth. I think that I’ve taken that lesson throughout my baseball career, my business career and my family. That mindset led me to the one question that I ask myself every day, which is “Is this the best I can do?” When you answer that question, it gives you something to work on the next day and that’s how I went through my baseball career. I would say, “OK, I did good, but is that the best I can do? That’s a good pitch or a good sequence, but is that the best I can do?” It causes you to always have something to work towards. You have to appreciate the wins along the way, but always keep yourself humble. You’re never standing on top of the mountain pounding your chest when you ask yourself that question. Is that the best I can do? You always have another mountain to pursue.
You grew up with the Yankees and your dad is a Yankee legend. The Yankees ended up drafting you in the fifth round of the 1983 draft, but you didn’t sign. What happened there?
It was so hard to go to college and say no to the New York Yankees. My brother had gone to college the year before and I knew how good it was for him. I figured if I went to college and was good enough someone would draft me later on. It was so difficult though to say no to the Yankees, a place where I grew up. I always wanted to play for the Yankees too and I never got another chance after telling them no in the draft. That’s just the way it works out.
Do you have any regrets about that decision?
No, I’m not a person who says, “I wish I would have done that different.” I try not to live with regrets. Even when things were bad. If I made a bad decision or if things were bad, and people would ask, “Hey Todd, do you regret that?” I would always say no because you learn from mistakes. Now, if I would have never learned and developed from mistakes, then you have regrets. Whether I got thrown out of a game or bumped an umpire, whatever it was when I look back, I don’t have any regrets. I can see past it. Maybe at the time that was hard to do, but when you look back you say it was because of the turmoil that I am where I am today.
Look, I would have loved to have played for the Yankees, but I can’t regret it. I had a great year in college with my brother. There were some learning lessons along the way. The other thing is, that I believe things happen for a reason. I never thought about it then, but can you imagine the pressure that the system would have put on me because my father was a legend there? I remember later on in my career, I said to my dad, “Well, we’re never gonna get the chance to be on the same team.” Playing for the Yankees with my dad as the pitching coach would have been the coolest thing ever. There’s also a different side though. Nobody does well all the time, so what happens when I hit a bad stretch? What kind of pressure would that have put on my father? Maybe it all just happened the way it was all supposed to happen.
So, you were picked by the Blue Jays two years later and you were in the Majors by 1988. You came onto a Blue Jays team that had an incredible roster. What was it like to come up onto a team like that?
I came up to baseball’s greatest outfield. George Bell, Jesse Barfield and Lloyd Moseby. They had Tony Fernandez playing shortstop and Fred McGriff and Cecil Fielder splitting time at first. It was incredible. The in the rotation you had Mike Flanagan, Jim Clancy, Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb and then me! Then it developed from there. What’s crazy is that when you look at the 1993 World Series team, you had Rickey Henderson in left field, Paul Molitor was the DH, Roberto Alomar was playing second base and when you had Jack Morris pitching, you had four Hall of Famers in the lineup. That’s pretty crazy. That doesn’t count John Olerud, Joe Carter, Tony Fernandez, Dave Stewart or Devon White. Then the year before, we had Dave Winfield and you also had Juan Guzman who was a real good pitcher. If you look at that ’92 team, David Cone came over too and we had David Wells. Wells and I weren’t good enough to be in the rotation for the ’92 World Championship team in the playoffs, that’s how deep we were.
It’s just crazy to think of the guys I got to play with on those teams. It’s not only special to have put on the same uniform as them, but when you’re a student of the game, to have a front row seat to them and how they prepare, how they handle losses, how they handle wins, how they go about their business, it was all pretty awesome. When I look back, I’m so thankful and grateful that I got to play in Toronto.
Jack Morris, Dave Stewart, Stottlemyre and Juan Guzman
Speaking of the postseason, later on in your career two starts stood out to me. In the 1996 NLCS, you were the Game 2 starter and you had to face Greg Maddux with your team down 1-0 already. In the 1999 NLDS, you were in a similar spot against the Mets. You were the Game 2 starter again with your team down 1-0 and you faced off against Kenny Rogers. Both games you delivered great performances and your team evened the series. What kind of pressure is that? How do you mentally prepare for a big spot like that?
If you look at how I approached those games in the second half of my career and playoffs, you see a pitcher with a lot better results than the first half of the career in my starts in the playoffs. For me, those years in Toronto I might not have pitched well in playoff games being a young guy. I was 24 starting against the A’s in 1989, and I was a young 24-year-old.
I remember that game you mention in ’99. The Mets had just beaten up on Randy Johnson. It’s hard to think about that. How could Randy Johnson get beat up? That was the one team that year that, for some reason, they did well against Johnson. That was the only team. I remember going into the stadium for Game 2. I was doing my normal routine and I go into the pitchers meeting with our pitching coach Mark Connor and our catcher and I said, “Hey, are you guys ready?” They kinda looked at me and said, “yea.” I said, “Good, because we’re going hunting tonight! That’s what we’re doing, that’s the game plan.”
Then I turned around and walked out. That’s what my mindset was. That I’m not backing down. I’m gonna be aggressive and use my strengths. I’m coming at you. We already played the Mets that season and I knew the strengths and weaknesses. My focus was to be aggressive and go attack these hitters in the strike zone with my best pitches. My mentality was to be aggressive mentally and physically going at that strike zone. What happened was that it erased all doubt and allowed me to focus. I didn’t think about being down 1-0 and I just wanted to go one pitch at a time, one out at a time, one inning at a time. My mindset was that either you’re the hunter, or you’re the hunted, and I’m not gonna be the hunted today.
Is that something you learned throughout your career? To simplify pitching as best you could?
I learned the second half of my career how to break the game down to the pitch. I realized that I was just going to have the right mindset, a positive thought process and whatever pitch I picked I was going to be aggressive with it. Once it leaves my hand, I’m no longer in control of what happens. Early in my career I was worried about, “this hitter can do this, this guy can do that,” but that’s out of my control. You focus so much on what they can do, that you forget what you can do and you don’t become the best version of yourself on the mound. Once I was able to do that, I felt like that gave me an advantage. I didn’t care about the scoreboard; I didn’t care about what was going on with the fans or anything else. I was no different than any young player. I was worried about different things in the game, what was going on in the stands, what they’re gonna write about me in the paper. At the end of the day, who cares? Eventually, I was able to completely block everything out and focus on the task at hand and the task at hand was only the very next pitch.
My dad worked with me on that. One pitch at a time. Over and over and over. Once the ball leaves your hand, you’re no longer in control. You’re only in control when the ball is in your hands. Once you let go of the ball, you’re not in control anymore. It’s the hitter who’s in control. When he swings and hits it out to the shortstop, now the shortstop is in control. I’m not in control until the ball comes back to me and I’m ready to throw the next pitch. Then it’s the same thing all over. That’s it.
It sounds easy, but it’s not. Everything that sounds easy, is hard. How you go from hard back to easy is through practice. Early in my career I was emotional and explosive, and it would cost me ballgames. I had to get to a point where as soon as it was over, it was over, and I had to move on to the next pitch. That took me years to master. Years! I just had to practice over and over and over. Anything you want to get really good at, you’re going to have to put in a lot of practice.
Joe Torre, Todd and Mel Stottlemyre - Photo: bluebirdbanter.com
That’s the fascinating thing about the sport. It can be so simple, yet so complex at the same time and even the simplest concepts could be so hard to master. As we’re wrapping it up here, do you want to leave BallNine with any thoughts about your career or your dad?
The proper thing and the thing that’s really in my heart is that the day my father passed, Major League Baseball, the fans, owners of teams, the whole Major League Baseball community was so gracious and they delivered such loving messages with such grace. From a family standpoint, we were so grateful. Ron Guidry showed up to the funeral. Joe Torre showed up to the funeral. Both of those guys showed up and spoke. David Cone showed up to the funeral and spoke. To have Ron Guidry, David Cone and Joe Torre there, it was an example of the greatness of Major League Baseball. We were so appreciative as a family.
My lasting words today would be that as great as my father was projected in the media, as great as my father was on the field as a player, as great as my father was as a coach, as great as my father was as a public person, he was ten times that man in our home. He was ten times that man. I would tell you that he wasn’t just our father. He was our best friend. As hard as it is, because we all miss him so much, but as hard as it is to say, I speak those words with a grateful heart that he was my dad.
Todd Stottlemyre is a motivational speaker and business coach among other many other endeavors. You can learn more about Todd’s corporate keynote speaking experience and business background by visiting his website toddofficial.com.