If you've not already done so, you can read Part 1 of the interview here.
Heading into the 1985 season, following a bitter, dumbfounding, heartbreaking loss to San Diego in the ’84 playoffs, the Cubs were picked by many, not just in Chicago, as the team to beat. Eckerlsey, Sutcliffe, Sanderson and Trout provided a rotation that was simply hard to beat, and the Cubs opened the season with a healthy 35-19 record by mid-June.
Then. It. Happened.
“It was like some sort of disease,” said Steve Trout.
The disease had a virtual domino effect on that rotation, as one by one, the pitchers went down to injury. And with the injuries came a slide that can only be described as quintessential Cubs, as the Men in Blue went on a 13-game slide.
For many Cubs fans, the 1985 season may not have been as bitter a pill to swallow as the quick crash-and-burn of 1984, but for many, Trout included, it was slow-motion euthanasia, each game one more drop of death solution hitting that clear plastic bag connected to the needle in your arm.
“We were heartbroken, because we thought we were going to repeat it and that we had a better team than in 84. That hurt.”
Trout came back to finish the season with a respectable 9-7 record and 3.39 ERA, close to on par with his 1984 numbers of 13-7 and a 3.41 ERA. 1986 would prove to be a challenging year for the lefty, though, as he went just 5-7 with an inflated 4.75 ERA in 37 appearances.
He vowed to press on and improve in 1987.
In that year, Trout and his wife went into divorce proceedings, a matter which one might assume to be a detriment to maintaining focus as an athlete, but that was not the case for Trout. The divorce was being handled well, with he and his ex-wife remaining friends and ensuring their daughter “would be the staple of their lives.”
“I was riding the best time of my life privately and professionally, and I felt like not only was this going to be my best year, but many things were working out for me in many ways,” he said.
The numbers reflect that. In his first 11 starts, Trout built a 6-3 record and on July 6 and 11, pitched back-to-back complete-game shutouts against the Padres and Dodgers, respectively.
Then came the business-side-of-baseball sucker punch. On July 13, Trout was dealt to the Yankees in exchange for Bob Tewksbury, Rich Scheid and Dean Wilkins
“I was shocked. Being traded after back-to-back shutouts? I might be the last guy to do that,” he said, “But they were beginning to slowly dismantle that team.”
“All these things were coming together for me. I was pitching with that sort of feeling, where you don’t think about mechanics or when you did bad or when you went wrong, so I was able to bounce back quicker.”
Trout wound up going 0-4 for the Yankees with an unheard-of-for-him 6.60 ERA, and he was subsequently traded to the Mariners. In Seattle, he went 4-7 with a 6.60 ERA in 1988 and had started the 1989 season with a 4-3 record and 6.60 ERA, when on June 12 he was released. Just shy of his 32nd birthday, Trout was done as a major leaguer.
“I didn’t see baseball as a business. I saw it as a fun thing, and when the fun leaves, you cannot perform at the same level,” he said.
When Trout left the game, it lost one of its good guys.
Consider his disagreement with not getting the second start in 1984, about which he wouldn’t explain the “theories out there.” His comments on the topic are always diplomatic and top shelf, and that approach extended to other questions I asked.
Any guys you didn’t particularly like, Steve? The question for other competitors would have probably evoked a pretty quick response, even if just a chuckle. With Trout, he had to ponder it and start the answer with “probably.”
The probably? It was Rick Dempsey of the Orioles, who said in the papers after Trout had shut out the Orioles, that he wouldn’t last three innings the next time he faced them. “You know what, he was right. I didn’t, so his prophecy was correct,” Trout said with a laugh.
Disagreements with managers or coaches? Well, there was the one time Billy Connors promised to buy him a steak dinner if he got out of a jam in a particularly tough inning.
The other time? Well, it was a big argument about Jim Frey, because he misinterpreted something Trout had said as being against Frey, but it wasn’t.
“Zim was running around, huffing and puffing. I said, ‘Zim, I was the one that came from.’ He wrote it off because he either thought I was really cool or [what I said] just didn’t make any sense. Hell, I was giving Zimmer lecithin milkshakes, trying to get him healthy.”
Nowadays Trout remains active in the sport he loves by conducting instructional camps and clinics for kids.
The advice he gives young players?
“You have to be yourself. Don’t let anyone else interfere with your vision of making it to the big leagues,” he said.
“There were times when I was with the White Sox early on, and I would get to the park early and throw the ball against the wall. I’m sure people said, ‘There goes Trout throwing the ball against the wall,’ but what I was doing was throwing at a speck on the wall.”
“In some ways, I could have been embarrassed, but I said, ‘Forget it, this is what I have to do.’”
“You’ve got to stick to your guns. You’ve got to believe in yourself, and you’ve got to do extra work. Those things pay off. Don’t worry about what other people are saying when you know you’re doing the right thing and are working hard at it. I had to overwork in order to be good.”
Trout also remains a true Man in Blue. Whether chatting with fans at the Cubs Convention or dropping by Wrigley Field for a visit, Steve maintains a strong connection to the team that broke his heart nearly 20 years ago.
“I love the Cubs. I don’t wear a uniform when I go to the park, but I wear the team on my heart, and I do care a lot about what happens.”
“I love the people who work for the Cubs. They have the best, most polite staff you will ever see.”
As a case in point, Trout specifically complimented former teammate and Cubs manager Ricky Renteria who, on an off day, came out to Hamlin Park in Chicago to take part in one of Trout’s baseball clinics for kids. “It was something he didn’t have to do,” Trout says, “and I was so thankful he did it.”
As for the future of the Cubs?
Trout recognizes that the coming successes are because Theo Epstein and his group are on the same page, he takes the unpopular opinion that Tom Ricketts doesn’t get enough credit.
“I think it’s Ricketts who’s driving this. You have to look at Tom as the head master of [the rebuild]. Without his endorsement of Theo, he wouldn’t be there, so I have to give him credit.”
“I don’t like to see them go through two or three seasons like we have seen, but there is going to be a really good ball club on that field. Tom knows there has to be a good team on that field to be sure those butts sit in those seats,” he said.
“They are on the path to having a really good team for a long time.”
By all accounts and estimations, that long time should begin soon. The Cubs have demonstrated in recent days—especially with the call-up of Baez and waiver claim on Cole Hamels, that they are ready to show the rest of the league that they are ready.
Some feel the team can start casually contending as early as next year and show themselves to be for real in 2016. David Kaplan told Cubs Insider that Cubs fans may want to clear their calendars for seven years of epic seasons beginning in 2017.
2017 would be 30 years removed from Trout having his heart broken by the team he wears on his heart, but you can rest assured that whether he’s at a watering hole, the ballpark or at home in Hammond, when this Cubs team finally wins it all, there will be one southpaw beaming with pride.
A person with such a high baseball IQ may appear to be a little one-dimensional, especially considering most articles and interviews with Trout involve, you guessed it, baseball.
Steve is also a world traveler and wanted to give you a bucket list of places to see and experience in your lifetime: Grab your passport.
- Got to Paris for a meal.
- Visit the fish market in Japan and experience the culture there to see how respectful they are to one another. “It can have an affect on how you live your life.”
- See the islands in the Phillipines Boraca
- See the temples in south Thailand and visit the beaches of Phuket
- When you’re done with those, head on over to Dublin for a visit to the Guinness brewery (“When you’re 21, of course.”) “The people of Ireland are absolutely fantastic. I had heard so much about the Irish in Ireland, and when I got there, I found them to be every bit delightful and hospitable as anybody you would ever meet.
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