Some people are just destined to lead interesting lives.
Kevin Mitchell was a professional baseball player. That's already a mark of distinction, enough to earn him a writeup. Moreover, he was good, winning the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1989.
But that's not what makes him interesting.
How many people strain a ribcage muscle while vomiting? How many baseball players have gotten into a brawl and punched the opposing team's owner? How many people have caught a hard line drive hit 300 feet with his bare right hand? How many people contribute to the arrest of a friend by leaving him a comp ticket? How many people showed up late for spring training because of emergency dental work needed after eating a chocolate donut? Who allegedly beheaded a cat to solve a domestic dispute?
And how many professional baseball players have been unable to complete the Cleveland Indians' 850-yard training run for spring training?
For the last question, the answer is one: Kevin Darnell Mitchell.
As a narrative, Kevin Mitchell's story doesn't make any logical sense. Might as well start at the top.
He grew up in the San Diego ghetto. Dad was a druggie. Mom, as he put it, didn't get along with him well. Was mostly raised by a grandmother instead.
Mitchell has a scar under his right wrist. He said, "I got it when I was nine. My father was beating up my mother. He jumped on her back. I took a hot skillet of grease and threw it at him. I burned myself." His father denies it.
Legend has it that a New York Mets scout first saw Mitchell playing softball. He was signed, went to the minors and was called up to the majors for good in 1986, hitting .277 with 12 home runs in 328 at-bats.
That season, the Mets made the World Series. In Game 6, in the 10th inning, the Red Sox needed one more out to win the championship. Mitchell headed to the clubhouse to start removing his jersey. But Gary Carter singled, and Mitchell had to be called back. He singled as well, and the Mets rallied to win. "Damned if I was going to go down in history as the man who made the last out," he saids.
That hit was his last appearance in a Mets uniform. The next off-season, he was traded to the San Diego Padres for Kevin McReynolds. Some said that his street-tough background scared the Mets, who had two young naïve stars in Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. (The trade didn't help the Mets; both Gooden and Strawberry became druggies.)
But that's Mitchell's story. He could never stay in the same place long.
In 1991, while playing for the Giants, he left a ticket at Candlestick Park for a friend from his San Diego hood. As the man picked up his ticket, he was arrested in connection with the murder of a police officer. The man served time in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and is still friends with Mitchell.
Sports Illustrated, June 16, 1997
Mitchell only stayed in San Diego for half a season before being traded to the San Francisco Giants in a seven-player deal that helped propel the Giants to the playoffs in 1987 and 1989. (The Giants got Mitchell, key reliever Craig Lefferts and starting pitcher Dave Dravecky; the Padres got head case Chris Brown, 1989 Cy Young Award winner Mark Davis, and nothing pitchers Mark Grant and Keith Comstock.)
Mitchell would see his greatest success in San Francisco, winning the 1989 NL MVP award with a 47-homer, 125-RBI season.
However, 1989 was also Mitchell's last fully healthy season. He'd play in 140 games in 1990, 113 games in 1991, and then never play in more than 100 games.
Let's look at some of Mitchell's injuries!
- Strained his rib muscles while vomiting.
- Showed up late for spring training because he needed emergency dental work after munching on a microwaved chocolate doughnut.
- Cincinnati Reds 1994: Mitchell begs out of a game with "battle fatigue." The previous night at a bar, a woman threw a glass at him, giving him a cut above right eye. "I'm not going out anymore," he said. "Or until they start using plastic cups." Some eyewitnesses provided a different version: The woman hit him with the glass after arguing with Mitchell.
- Reds 1994: Asked the trainer for eyewash, but inexplicably, someone had put rubbing alcohol in the eyewash bottle, and Mitchell got burns on his eye. "I was right behind him in line," teammate Hal Morris said. "It's always Kevin."
- Reds 1994: Beaned in the helmet by Padres' Kerry Taylor. That didn't injure him, but while falling down he landed on his helmet and strained neck muscles.
- Reds recap: In 1993 and 1994, Mitchell missed games because of broken sesamoid bone in his left foot, a strained right hamstring, a sore neck, a tight lower back, a torn left shoulder muscle, a strained rib cage, a sprained left knee, a burned right eye, a sprained left wrist, a strained hip flexor, a chipped bone in his left ankle and bruised ribs.
- Japan, 1995: Mitchell twisted his right knee and walked out on the team for two months over a disagreement about the severity of his injury. He also complained about the country's small-scale accommodations ("You roll out of bed and hit your kneecaps on the dresser") and his team's tough practice regimen ("I really thought I was in prison I'm not doing that Jack LaLanne stuff").
- Boston Red Sox 1996: Injured his hamstring, hit a home run in his first game back, re-injured his hammy, got released.
- Cleveland Indians 1997: Showed up at camp in Winter Haven, Florida, weighing nearly 270 pounds; became the first player unable to complete an 850-yard training run since the Indians instituted it in 1992; and, when trying to do wheelies, bent the frame of a bicycle that he was supposed to ride for exercise.
- As legend has it, sometime (probably with the Reds), Kevin Mitchell missing a game due to a strained eyelid.
Through it all, he could still hit. Check out Mitchell's 1993 season with the Cincinnati Reds: 93 games, 323 at bats, .341 average, 19 home runs, OPS of .986.
In all, he played for eight major-league teams: The Mets, Padres, Giants, Reds, Seattle Mariners, Indians and Oakland Athletics.
Now, after all that, who of you would guess that Kevin Mitchell is now a manager?
Well, it's not in the major leagues. It's for the Sonoma Crushers, a Rohnert Park team in the independenent Western League. After being diagnosed with diabetes in 1998, which ended his major-league career, Mitchell made a comeback with the Crushers in 2000. In 2001, he hung up his glove and became the team's hitting coach; and in 2002 he was promoted to manager.
Not that Mitchell's changed. In 2000, he got into a fight with the Solano Steelheads owner and was, at one point, banned for life. Then, in his second game as manager in 2002, he got into a fight with the Steelheads' third-base coach and was suspended seven games. (Mitchell said they were stealing signs).
Somehow, I feel that his story is not yet finished.
Sports Illustrated article, June 16, 1997
Thanks to VT_Hawkeye for the cat story.
Video of one-handed catch: http://cbs.sportsline.com/u/baseball/mlbcom/twib/twib_092300.htm