One of the most talented athletes to ever take the mound has called it quits. Mike Hampton officially announced his retirement Saturday at the age of 38. Originally drafted by Seattle in the sixth round of the 1990 draft, Hampton pitched in only 13 games with the Mariners before being traded to Houston. After spending 1994 in the bullpen, Hampton was a mainstay in the Astros rotation for the next five seasons. During that time the lefty compiled a 67-39 record in 151 starts. In 1997 Hampton helped the Astros return to the playoffs after a ten year absence. Hampton had seven complete games that season, including a division-clincher against the Cubs that featured a three-pitch ninth inning. In 1999 Hampton went 22-4 with a 2.90 E.R.A. and finished second in the N.L. Cy Young voting.
With free agency looming Hampton was traded to the Mets prior to the 2000 season. In his only season in New York Hampton led the Mets to the World Series, earning NLCS MVP honors by hurling 16 scoreless innings in two starts. Hampton then signed the most lucrative contract in baseball history, an eight-year $121 million deal with the Colorado Rockies. After a 5-0 start with the Rockies Hampton began to slump, combining for a 16-28 record for the remainder of 2001 through 2002. Hampton was then dealt to Atlanta, where he would have moderate success before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2005. Unable to recapture the magic, Hampton struggled through three more injury-plagued seasons including a second stint with the Astros in 2009.
Rarely is the term “five tool player” used to describe a pitcher. But Hampton could do it all. A career .246 hitter with 16 longballs, Hampton won five Silver Slugger Awards. (a record for pitchers) In 2003 Hampton was awarded a Gold Glove, ending Greg Maddux’s 13 year stranglehold on the award. At 5’ 10” and 195 pounds the former college quarterback was fearless. In an unforgettable incident with Randy Johnson, Hampton once threw at “The Big Unit” and charged the plate after the pitch.
Hampton finishes his career with a 148-115 record and a 4.06 E.R.A. Five years from now I would expect to see his name on the Hall of Fame Ballot. Although he will not be enshrined in Cooperstown, our buddy Jim Deshaies would say Hampton belongs in the Hall of Very Good.