The one-time pitching phenom on big games, bigger injuries, and life after baseball.
It’s been thirty years since the Texas Rangers drafted you first in the nation out of high school and had you pitching in the major leagues at age eighteen. What have you been doing since you retired?
I’ve been working in my family’s lumber business outside of Houston. It’s called McCauley Lumber Tomball. My wife’s father, Fred McCauley, is the principal owner. I went to work there part-time in 1981 while I was recuperating from my second shoulder operation. Pretty soon I decided that playing another year of baseball wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I started working there full-time. Today I’m the vice president of the company.
What were you thinking when you were plucked from obscurity and set loose on the mound?
There wasn’t much time to think about anything. We were going from one event to another. It was pretty much a whirlwind.
Do you remember how much you were paid that first year?
Just what pitchers are making today.
They might be making that per pitch.
What do you remember about pitching in the majors? Any games stand out?
Probably one of the fondest memories I have is my first start for Cleveland, against Oakland in 1978. It was one of the best games I ever pitched: a complete game, a five-hitter. I think the score was 3-1. It felt great to be back in the big leagues after my first shoulder surgery. Everything was going well for me.
So what happened?
I had back problems in 1979, and I went on the disabled list. I was traded back to Texas in 1980. I went to spring training, got hurt, and was released. I was operated on again that year, then attempted a comeback with the Astros late in the spring of ’81. But I realized that I was ready to do something else with my life. I was getting ready to get remarried—I had been through a couple of marriages already—and I wasn’t really getting to see my son grow up.
Any bitterness about how things turned out?
Why should I be bitter? I got an opportunity to live my dream. Millions of young men never get the chance.
What do you think of baseball today?
It’s a completely different game. I’m somewhat of a purist. I like a 3-1 game, a 2-0 game, a 5-2 game. A home-run derby is not what baseball is all about. If you want a high-scoring game, watch basketball. Think about it: During a 13-12 game, no one gets excited. But a no-hitter, like the one Kevin Millwood pitched in April? People in the stands are on their feet. Every pitch is electrifying.
You ever pick up a ball these days?
Oh, yes. I throw it back to the kids I work with.
So they know who you are.
I guess the word’s out. Their parents talk about it and show ’em my ball card.
Could you get back on the mound?
I might be able to throw one pitch but only one. I’ve been throwing batting practice to my boys for years, and I could probably use another operation.
Your boys play ball?
My oldest, who’s 24, went to school on a baseball scholarship. He started at Lamar University, in Beaumont, then transferred to Angelina College, in Lufkin, and ended up at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. He played first base and caught. My second boy, who’s 19, has a baseball scholarship to a junior college up in Iowa. He’s also a first baseman.
What would you say if they told you they were being drafted by a big-league club?
Go for it.
No hesitation whatsoever.