Editor's note: Following my interview with Steve Trout, I felt the best approach to this article--this being part one of two--was in the spirit of Steve telling you his story. It would be lazy to make this a typical Q&A. Everything you will read in the following, minus a few stats here and there, are Trout. I hope you will enjoy getting to know Steve, just as I did during our interview. Between this article and part two, which I know you will like more than the first installment, you will get the sense of not just a major league ball player but a great person.
When I was a kid, I couldn’t get enough of baseball. If I couldn't find someone to have a catch, I could be found throwing a ball against a wall. Playing catch with a wall. How sad, right?
Not if you ask Steve Trout.
As a kid, he too couldn’t get enough of the game. Growing up the son of Dizzy Trout, the game--and the love of the ball--came naturally to him. Like breathing to us, it was natural to him. It was intuitive. It was in his blood.
He looked for a chance to play or throw any chance he could, like me as a kid, usually throwing the ball against a wall somewhere over and over again. One time, after repeatedly nailing the side of a local pharmacy, the pharmacy owner finally came out and told Steve to knock it off because the thumps were giving him a headache.
In a recent conversation with Trout, he told me about the first time when he really knew he had it: "the gift." It was at a family picnic as a child. He and a cousin began playing catch. After a little while, Steve convinced his cousin to take the catcher position, so he could zip some in.
The popping sound that came from that leather with each throw eventually caught the attention of several at the picnic, most importantly his father. “Dad called out, 'Somebody go get Pearl [Steve’s mother] and tell her we can stop having babies. We’ve finally found a guy who can throw the ball.' Dad knew I had a gift,” said Trout.
At the age of 12, his dad took him to meet Billy Pierce so Billy could show him how to pitch. Dizzy could still throw the ball pretty well himself at the age of 50 at the time -- “Guys used to tell me it was harder to hit him throwing batting practice than it was the team they were facing,” Trout said -- but he wanted Pierce to teach him because they were both lefties.
His father supported him in playing the game, but he never wanted to add the pressure of performing as the son of Dizzy Trout. Steve even recounted a story of Dizzy, then a sizable man, hiding behind a tree in a South Holland park to watch his son pitch. Dizzy outsized the tree’s circumference, so it wasn’t exactly a stealth spying job, but Steve didn’t mind one bit. “He didn’t want to make me nervous. I wish more parents were like that.”
Dizzy passed when Steve was just 14, so he never got to see him play in the majors.
That shot came several years later when Trout, playing at AA in the White Sox farm system under Tony LaRussa, was at a movie theater in Birmingham. LaRussa tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he could pitch the next day. Trout replied that he could but wasn’t scheduled to pitch. LaRussa said, "No for the White Sox."
So he and several of his teammates who were at the theater went to celebrate Trout's call-up at a local Pizza Hut. In the wee hours of the following morning, LaRussa drove him to the airport in the team bus. Yes, Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa channeled Ralph Kramden.
When Trout arrive at Comiskey for his first major league assignment on July 1, 1978, they wouldn’t let him into the park. His long hair and flip-flops didn’t exactly match the ensemble of your typical big leaguer. The traveling secretary was summoned, who vouched for the early call-up, and Trout was hours away from his first taste of The Show against the Minnesota Twins.
The first batter he faced was Butch Wynegar, who he struck out, and then he got Hall of Famer Rod Carew to fly out. After the game, Sox third baseman Eric Soderholm asked what it was it like to pitch against Rod Carew, to which Trout replied, “Hey, for $117 a day, I’d pitch against Jesus Christ!”
Trout’s first taste of the majors wasn’t to last long, as he was sent back down to AA Knoxville, where he wound up sporting an 8-3 record with a very thin 1.65 ERA. When he was recalled to the White Sox in September, he showed he was ready to stay by winning his first three games, the first of which was a shutout.
Prior to being traded to the Cubs, he had only been to Wrigley Field one other time--a game with his dad--but softening the blow of a first trade were being able to stay in Chicago, something he credits then Sox GM Roland Hemond for making happen, and the immediate welcoming he felt from new teammates such as Jody Davis and Fergie Jenkins.
The ‘83 team was not the best, but he could see the nucleus for what was to be in players like Davis, Fergie and Ryne Sandberg.
And then came the magical season of 1984.
Trout proved to be a steady rock in a rotation that included Rick Sutcliffe, Dennis Eckersley and Scott Sanderson, putting together a solid 13-7 record with a 3.41 ERA. On May 30 of that year, he even took a no-no into the 8th against the Braves, which was broken up by Albert Hall.
The first came during the final home game of the season, when the entire team came out to walk the field, shaking hands with and high-fiving fans. "We were getting a sense about what the next step was, which was going to the playoffs," said Trout.
And then the playoffs came. Following an absolute shellacking of the Padres in game one, led by Rick Sutcliffe's arm and bat, Trout took the mound for game two, which Trout--and the Cub--won.
Winning a postseason game is one thing that most of us would walk away from feeling pretty damn fine about, but for Trout, it was a little sweeter.
"After the media briefing, I came out and there were only two people left in the entire ballpark. My two brothers. That was a cool moment.”
We can go back and recount what happened after that. Steve Garvey over and over and over and--well you get it--again. The ball through Leon's legs. Failed pitching. Frey's curious pitching decisions?
When asked about just that, Trout indicated that there are many reasons that circle out there about why he wasn't given another chance to start, but he, to this day, remains diplomatic about Frey's decision, especially publicly.
As he said, "It’s hard to believe I didn’t get two chances to pitch in that series, with all those off days. Kind of unbelievable in a sense. It puzzles me to this day. I think that you had to go with the three guys who were your best starters, and I had to include myself in that category at that time of the year."
Alas, that was not the case, and Cubs Nation spent a cold winter numbing the pain of being that close to going to the World Series for the first time in almost 40 years. But 1985? That was to be our year. Or was it?
In the final installment of my interview with Steve Trout, we talk that 1985 season (start munching your valiums), a complete shock to his life, a despised player, the Steroid Era, Greg Maddux, his advice for young players and a lovely draw of Guinness.
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Filed under: Interviews