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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Classic catches up with Mike Scott
By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic

Mike Scott was one of the dominant pitchers of the mid-to-late eighties. After a non-descript start with the New York Mets, Scott was traded to the Houston Astros. As a member of the Astros, he learned the split-finger fastball and it changed his career. From 1985-89, Scott was as good as any pitcher in the majors. His best season came in 1986 when he won the NL Cy Young and had a league-best 2.22 ERA. He was also voted the 1986 NLCS MVP despite being from the losing team. Scott also pitched a 2-0 no-hitter against the Giants at the Astrodome, clinching the NL West title for the Astros. It was the first time a pennant has ever been decided by a no-hitter. Arm problems eventually curtailed Scott's career and he retired in 1992. Phillip Lee recently spoke with Scott to see how he was enjoying retirement.

Phillip Lee: What are you doing these days?
Mike Scott
Houston Astros' Mike Scott delivers the final pitch of his no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 25, 1986, in the Houston Astrodome. The Astros won 2-0 to clinch the division crown.
Mike Scott: Not a whole lot. I play a lot of golf now. I have a daughter that's going to school at Baylor. She's a volleyball player there. Also my brother's son plays baseball there. We go back for the volleyball and baseball season. I kind of mess around with the stock market where I tell people I'm a broker with one client -- myself.

PL: So, you're simply retired and just enjoying life?
MS: Exactly. I'm doing what retired guys do. I'm trying to figure it out.

PL: With the Mets, you were just an average pitcher and then you go to Houston and become one of the dominant pitchers of the eighties.
MS: With the Mets, I wasn't an average pitcher. I wish I was. I was just trying to hang on. I think you go through different phases when you get to the big leagues. The first phase is just to hang on. You try to stay on the team and see if you belong there or not. The next phase is to produce and do something, be one of the guys who contribute. After that, you want to you win a World Series.

PL: Talk about your start with the Astros.
MS: My first year (1983) in Houston, I had a pretty good year. My second year was not very good. I was at the point of my career where I pretty much needed to figure it out or they were going to have somebody take my spot because I'm not getting any younger. That's when I decided to try the split-fingered fastball. When I was struggling, I could throw a fastball, but I didn't have anything consistent to go with it. My curve wasn't all that good; my slider wasn't all that good. They were okay, but they weren't very consistent. I was at the point I was willing to try anything. Luckily for me, the Astros gave me that leeway where I came to spring training and they said. "Throw your fastball and split-fingered fastball and don't even worry what happens. Let's see if it works or not."

PL: It was Roger Craig who taught you that pitch, right?
MS: Right.

PL: Was he the pitching coach for the Astros?
MS: No. I think he was between jobs. He was living down in San Diego and Al Rosen (the Houston GM at the time) knew him. Al Rosen gave me a call and asked me if I wanted to go down there and see if I could throw the pitch. When you're coming off a 5-11 season, you kinda do what the general manager says. I went down there and they put me up for a week. (Roger Craig) showed me how to do it. I threw it every day. Then I went to spring training. The first real live game I threw it, I was surprised. It was really easy to throw and it worked.

PL: You had some arm problems that ended your career.
MS: The second half of 1989, I was done. I had a real good start in 1989. I won a lot of games before the All-Star game and barely hung on. 1990 was up and down. I had a tear in there and I threw with it. It progressively got worse. And in 1991, I threw two games. They said you can either have an operation or retire. The operation was a year and half rehab. I was ready to retire.

PL: So you never had the operation?
MS: Actually I had it last year. It got to the point where it was really bugging me. I got it done because it was affecting my golf game.

PL: Do you think using the split-finger shortened your career?
MS: I think it extended my career. I think it kept me going longer than I should have. I never had any problems. I never missed any starts. Eventually I had a rotator cuff tear that just happens to pitchers. I had some problems even before I started throwing that pitch. I know it's one of the theories out there, but I guarantee you that it didn't shorten my career. People were having arm problems with it, which I really have a hard time believing because it's basically a fastball with the fingers split on the baseball. It's no different from throwing a fastball. I don't buy into that it's a pitch that will hurt your arm.

PL: Talk about pitching in the Astrodome. People called it a pitcher's park. How much of a real advantage was the Astrodome for you?
MS: I think it was a great advantage. I just think hitters didn't want to go in there to hit. They thought it was hard to hit home runs in there. A lot of guys thought it was hard to see there. I didn't think it was, but if they're thinking that, then it's an advantage to the pitchers. I haven't seen Enron yet. I think I'm going out there Opening Day. I think the Astrodome was unique because it was a huge park or at least people thought it was hard to hit home runs in. I think it was a real advantage. I guess (Enron) is a beautiful ballpark, but it's like all the rest of them where they're hitting five home runs a game and no lead is safe. I thought (the Astrodome) was unique the way it was. Now it's like the rest of them.

PL: So a lot of the Astrodome's mystique was simply mental?
MS: I think so. I don't think the lights were any better or worse than any other ballpark. I think astroturf helps hitters so they should have liked that part. But guys just wanted to get in there and get out of there and not have too much damage done to their batting average. They just didn't like hitting in our ballpark and I thought that was great for our pitchers. And our hitters didn't care about it because it was our home park.

PL: What are your fondest memories pitching with the Astros?
MS: I think we were last of an era where you had a group of guys that played together for a while. We had spring trainings where you didn't have anybody make the club because we had the same core players from year to year. I enjoyed that. I played with a lot of good guys and a lot of them were there for four, five, six years. That doesn't happen anymore. I think you miss the game a little bit, but you miss the camaraderie with the teammates the most.

PL: Is there a particular moment with the Astros that stands out for you?
MS: There was the no-hitter to clinch the pennant. The playoff games. The All-Star games.

PL: Talk about your no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants that clinched the pennant in 1986.
MS: We had a chance to clinch. It was a home game and we were going on the road right after the game. It's a lot more fun to clinch at home than on the road. We wanted to win it there. We were pumped. It was kind of a weird deal because it was a mid-week day game, which doesn't happen very often. We got a pretty good crowd. It got bigger as the day went on. I was pumped up and on the first pitch I hit the first batter right square in the middle of the back. I said to myself, "Just relax and try to pitch within yourself." I got through the first inning and had good stuff. I do remember (Houston catcher) Alan Ashby coming out late in the game and telling me, "We're going to win the pennant. It's going to happen, but you're going to get a no-hitter today. Don't give in. Go after these guys." I think he wanted it as bad if not more than I did.

PL: How important was it to be a 20-game winner in 1989?
MS: It was important. It's one of those milestones that you want to obtain. I had a real good chance to win a lot more than 20 that year, but I just barely got there. I remember the 20th game was against LA and my arm was just done. We had a huge lead. I had gotten through the fifth inning so I could get the win. If I remember correctly, Craig Biggio hit a grand slam. I was thinking they can take me out now because I don't know if I could hold this lead. But I think I pitched a couple of more innings, but that was it. That was my last win of the year.

PL: The Astros had a great season in 1986. Unfortunately, you guys lost a heart-breaking NLCS to the New York Mets in six games.
MS: It was a weird situation because it was such a good year for us. We had such a good run. When that last playoff game ended (a 7-6 Met victory in 16 innings), you don't even see that end coming. You're thinking that you're going to play tomorrow, but they get the last out and boom! The season is over. Right after that, we're devastated. I got MVP of that series and they're dragging me in there. I'm thinking, "This isn't fun. This isn't the way it's supposed to be. Big deal. They won. They're celebrating."

PL: If there was a seventh game against the Mets, you would have been the starter for that game. You had dominated them in your two starts in that series. If it goes seven, do you think the Astros would've been headed to the World Series instead of the Mets?
MS: I've been asked that 100 times and who knows? I could've been knocked out in the first inning. I had two good games. You never know what's going to happen. There's no guarantee. Afterwards I remember them talking to the Mets. "We didn't want to face them (in a seventh game)." But you know what, if we would've gotten to game seven, they would've been playing just as hard. I don't think they would've been intimidated by anything. Who knows what would have happened?

PL: Was there a single rivalry that you had? Was it the Mets because they traded you and the playoff games?
MS: I would have traded me, too.

PL: Do you remember who you got traded for?
MS: Danny Heep. It was one of those winter things that I don't even know if it even made the paper. I have no animosity to the Mets. They got me to the big leagues. They were a tough team. I had a hard time with St. Louis. They had a lot of little left-handed guys that pounded the ball into the ground and ran. I knew it took me a long time to win in Atlanta and they weren't all that good early. It just depends on the day.

PL: Who is the toughest batter you ever faced?
MS: The one guy you can almost bank on hitting the ball solid is Tony Gwynn. But I'll tell you another guy that was really (clutch). If we were up 5-0 or 6-0, I could probably get him out pretty easily, but if the game's close, Keith Hernandez was as tough as they came. He was a smart, good hitter.

PL: Talk about the Astro fans.
MS: I thought they were great. In the playoffs, they were unbelievable. It was just so loud.

PL: How was it pitching with Nolan Ryan?
MS: I think you learn a lot by watching successful guys pitch and how they go about their business and how they go about it on the mound. Joe Niekro, another successful pitcher, was there, too. Just watching those guys, you just can't help but learn some things. I think it's a lot tougher if you were there with a bunch of young guys and nobody knew what they were doing. You see them go through good times and bad times and good games and bad games. You see how they handle that and it helped me tremendously.

PL: Do you still keep in touch with your teammates?
MS: I keep in touch with quite a few of them. Billy Doran. Our families are real close. Nolan I haven't seen in a while. I know he's had some health problems lately. My wife and his wife and like five or six of them go out and do a ski trip or just get together. It's been two or three years where we've gotten all together for a golf outing. I stay in touch with quite a few guys.

PL: Since your retirement have you've been involved in baseball at all?
MS: When I was done, I was done. I think you really have to have a passion to go back and do it as a coach. You need to be there every day and really love it. It's not that I didn't like (baseball), but I didn't want to put the time into it. I still want to do things with my family that I couldn't do before. I do help out with the high school team here (Aliso Niguel High School in California), which has been a lot of fun. I'm not going to be there every day for practice. I go out and work with the pitchers. I get to as many games as I can. It's been a lot of fun. The one thing I was kinda apprehensive about was if the kids and the coaches were dedicated. I was really surprised. They work hard. They have a great coach.

PL: How did you get involved with the high school baseball team?
MS: My daughters went to school there and the coach called me out of the blue. I said, "Let's talk. Let's go out and have lunch." I told them what I could and what I couldn't do. I really wanted it to be understood that I couldn't be out there every day. So I go out there three times a week. I help them out on the side. Sometimes I'll talk to them during a game. It works out great.

PL: What's in the future for Mike Scott?
MS: My youngest daughter, a junior in high school, will be out of the house in two years, hopefully in college. My wife and I have talked about traveling. We haven't really gone to Europe. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing now. I'm enjoying it. If something else comes up, we'll see. Things are going pretty good right now.

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