Climbing Tal’s Hill writer Kenny Van Doren sat down with former Astros pitcher Mike Magnante and talked about a multitude of topics.
The game of baseball has seen millions of young kids come in and out, but it starts to pick off the ones it sees right of continue playing the child’s game. For many athletes, it is their dream to make play their sport professionally. I sat down with former Astros pitcher Mike Magnante on Sunday, and we discussed what baseball life was like for the relief pitcher.
Magnante is a 12-year veteran as his career consisted of stints with the Kansas City Royals, the Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Athletics. The left-handed reliever spent the 1997 and ’98 seasons on a dominant National League Central Astros team that consisted of Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell and possible Hall of Famer Billy Wagner.
"“Within the first week of Spring Training, I heard more about what I did well rather than what I heard with the Royals,” Magnante explained regarding his time with the Astros. “With the Royals, it was always about what I couldn’t do.”"
Magnante explained the relationships inside the clubhouse were strong since most players were around the same age and in similar stages of their lives, being married and having young children.
"“When we were all about the same age,” Magnante said. “It was so much easier to get along.”"
He saw how the team worked together and saw them as a family. For his wife’s baby shower, the owner, general manager and even coaches’ wives came, which surprised Magnante. In Kansas City, coaches and players were separate entities. Magnante went on about the connections with reporters, and how they competed in their fantasy football leagues under the team name — “The Misquotes.”
"“I loved playing for Houston,” Magnante said. “It was probably my favorite team overall just because we got along so well, and we did so many things together.”"
Magnante went on about Larry Dierker, and how he made the players wear Hawaiian shirts on the plane, as Dierker would say, “have you ever seen someone wearing a Hawaiian shirt not having a good time?”
Dierker once set up a team meeting during a losing streak to get Darryl Kile to set up a golf tournament on a day off to lift the team’s spirits.
Magnante then went on to describe his friendship with the late Kile. The two were almost teammates at UCLA, but they did end up playing together for the Astros. While Kile was younger, he helped Magnante with pitching techniques which further strengthened their relationship off the field.
"“When you’re that young, you’re not supposed to die in a hotel room,” Magnante said about Kile."
On the field, Magnante became the 29th pitcher to hurl an immaculate inning, but as of now, there have been 94 players to accomplish the feat. For Magnante, he had no clue along with the announcers at the game. He found out once reporters came into the locker room and wanted to talk to him rather than Wagner who was a locker over.
"“I love to make fun of Billy Wagner because he never got one,” Magnante joked."
Then came the discussion about Moneyball, as Magnante was one of the final cuts for the 2002 Athletics. The reliever finished his career by being released to free up space for acquisition of Ricardo Rincón; the meeting between him and Billy Beane was a scene in the movie Moneyball.
While the film is highly acclaimed for its story and accuracy, Magnante pointed out the talent that was already on that team and that they were underperforming.
There is a sense of over exaggeration, making the movie seem more intriguing to a viewer with the aspects of Beane discovering submarine pitcher Chad Bradford when he was a well-known pitcher for the Chicago White Sox before his back surgery and also trading away Carlos Peña so that Scott Hatteberg could play more when he had more than 500 at-bats.
It has been seen across all films that are based on a true story, but even the producers and directors spoke with him while they were filming and still made mistakes. In the film, Beane tells Magnante he has been released, but manager Art Howe did it because it was a part of the job.
Magnante did praise the mind of the A’s front office by the way Beane was drafting and trading players.
"“They found value in people that others didn’t,” Magnante said."
Magnante then discussed his friendship with Wagner, who is currently on the Hall of Fame ballot. He shared a story on how Wagner broke his right arm twice in middle school, which made him switch to his left arm. The concept of switching your dominant hand around 13 years into your life seems impossible to many, but Wagner did it.
I then asked what his views on the league changes over the past years, and the first thing he says is that he doesn’t like the runner on second as a former pitcher. Magnante was talking in relation to the new extra innings rule.
He doesn’t like how it is messing with statistics, because that’s how you get paid. Magnante did say he understood why Major League Baseball did what it did, but he thinks there is another way to speed up the game — cut commercial time. He brought up a story about how his team had an ESPN game and had to wait up to a minute to head to the mound until they could warm up since there were more commercials in between innings.
The one change he did like was that pitchers are required to face three batters or finish the inning, which a lot of teams now do not like. Magnante said he thinks it will help speed up the game, which has been MLB’s plan for the past few seasons.
Magnante did not like the shift the most, because he saw it as pitching to the hitter’s strength. He sees it as hurting the game as more hitters are swinging for the fences each at bat. Magnante explained how pitchers do not have to adapt anymore to a hitter like Tony Gwinn — “who would spray it across the field or to lefty pitcher with a screwball.”
Lastly, Magnante discussed how he misses the clubhouse environment the most. He sees the major leagues as the only level “where you have all 25 guys fighting for one common goal.” He misses the competition of the game, and how they would almost bet on anything.
It was about winning in Magnante’s eyes, and like many former major league athletes, it is what drove them to be better at what they did.
Magnante, now 55, has been out of the game since 2002 and now resides in Thousand Oaks, California, where he is a math teacher at Agoura High School. The former southpaw finished his career with an ERA of 4.08 and 347 strikeouts.