Talking Baseball: Cy Young Winner Discusses Topic at Fundriaser
Whether it was making his Major League baseball debut at age 17, or winning a Cy Young award as the league's most valuable pitcher, or twice being a part of league history, Mike McCormick has made a career of being in the right place at the right time.
McCormick, 70, will be the guest speaker for the Women of Weymouth's "Take Me Out to The Ballgame," event at 7 p.m. Friday, April 24, at Weymouth Center, Southern Pines.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children under age 12. Refreshments will be served after the talk.
Tickets are limited and available from Women of Weymouth members.
McCormick, who lives in CCNC with his wife, Deirdre, says his talks typically center around his life experiences in baseball.
And from the time he was a teen-aged phenom pitching for the New York Giants, to winning the Cy Young Award for the league's best pitcher, to playing with and against some of the greats of the game, including Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal, McCormick has had a memorable and interesting life in baseball.
McCormick, who has lived at CCNC for the past six years, now spends much of his time playing golf, but remains an avid baseball fan. On opening day of this year, McCormick was in San Francisco for pre-game ceremonies.
McCormick is most remembered for being the 1967 Cy Young winner for the San Francisco Giants.
That season McCormick won a career-high 22 games -- including 11 straight -- and had a 2.85 ERA.
"I don't think it was the best year of my career," McCormick says.
In fact, it started out very pedestrian. McCormick, had been traded back to the Giants before the 1967 season. He hurt his arm in the 1961 off-season and battled shoulder trouble all of 1962.
He was traded to Baltimore in 1963 and then to the Washington Senators in 1965. Struggling to learn to pitch again, McCormick concentrated on control and learning a new pitch -- a screwball.
During that two-year stint with the "Nasty Nats," he carved out a niche and reclaimed his career.
"I was a left-handed, whatever-you-need-me-to-do guy," he says.
His success prompted the Giants to reacquire him via trade.
In early June 1967, Giants manager Herman Franks tapped McCormick for a fill-in start for Bob Bolin. McCormick, who boasted an unimpressive 3-4 record, pitched a complete game. He didn't win, but his effort earned him another start.
He went on to win 11 straight decisions on his way to the Cy Young Award.
"It happened so fast, I didn't even make the All-Star team that year," he says.
Over his career, McCormick was 134-128 with a 3.73 career ERA. Arguably his best year came in 1960, when at age 22, he posted a 15-12 record with a career-low 2.70 ERA while walking 65 and striking out 154.
He was the only Giant to win the Cy Young award until last year when Tim Lincecum won it.
After winning the award, McCormick would pitch four more seasons in the majors, but never attain the success he had in 1967.
When asked about any regrets, McCormick says he has only one.
"I would have loved to have been healthy my entire career," he says. "I survived, but I struggled."
McCormick's career record is solid but not flashy. And while non-baseball fans may not remember his name, they likely will remember names of some he played with and against: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Don Sutton and others.
"Five guys I played with are in the Hall of Fame," he says matter of factly.
He called Mays and Marichal -- with whom he remains close today -- as the best player and pitcher he played with. He calls Aaron the best power hitter and Billy Williams as the best hitter he played against.
"Those two gave me the most trouble," he says of Aaron and Williams.
"(Williams) seemed to know what was coming every time I threw it. I often wonder if the catcher was tipping him off," he says with a smile.
McCormick also is known for two other milestone feats. He is credited as being the man who hit the 500th home run by a Major League pitcher.
He also allowed Aaron's 500th homer. Aaron would go on to set the major league home run mark with 755 -- a mark recently broken by Barry Bonds.
McCormick, who hit seven homers in his career, is credited with hitting the 500th home run by a pitcher in the history of the major leagues.
"I don't even know who I hit it off of," he says, adding, "Hitting a home run was the worst thing I ever did. I was a pretty good hitter, but once I hit a home run, I tried to hit one every time and my average went way down."
He hit his homers off some pretty good pitchers, including Luis Tiant, Al Simmons, Don Sutton and Wilbur Wood.
Aaron's milestone is much fresher in his mind today. It was a Sunday afternoon in Atlanta. Sold-out crowd. The Giants players had been told that the game would be stopped if Aaron reached the milestone homer.
When Aaron came to bat against McCormick, the lefty tried to throw a high fastball to set up his next pitch, a curve low and away. He never got the chance to throw that breaking ball.
"He hit the ball, they stopped the game, and I had to stand on the mound for a good 15 minutes -- fuming," he says. "There was a lot of significance to that home run, but it wasn't so big from where I was standing."
That homer was immortalized on the wall behind the outfield fence of Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium the next day with a white square marking where the ball hit.
The marker can still be seen in the footage of Aaron's then-record-breaking 715th home run.
"You can see it over his shoulder when he rounds second base and those kids run out on the field," McCormick says.
To commemorate both achievements, McCormick, at the urging of his friends, got a personalized license plate that reads "Mr. 500."
Pitching in the major leagues was a big adjustment for the phenom with the live arm and the major-league ready curveball.
"I was like a fish out of water," McCormick says of his first season with the New York Giants.
He pitched three innings that day, despite being detained by stadium security because they refused to believe he was old enough to play in the major leagues.
As the youngest player on the team, McCormick was subject to plenty of hazing and practical jokes played by his teammates.
Like the time they nailed his baseball cleats to the wooden floor of the Polo Grounds locker room.
"It was my only pair of shoes," he says.
"So I only had one pair of shoes that season, and they had holes in them. But what was I going to say, or who was I going to say it to? I just had to laugh along with them while they laughed at me."
He adds, "There were really no problems unless it rained, but when it did, the inside of your shoes and your socks were wet all the time."
During his career, McCormick became the youngest pitcher to win 50 games -- a record that would stand for two decades until New York Mets phenom Dwight "Doc" Gooden broke the record.
McCormick still has plenty of opinions on today's game and its players.
He opposes today's era of pitching specialization where a starting pitcher throws four, five or six innings, and then relievers pitch the rest of the game.
"I have a real issue with that," he says. "If it worked so well, you would think there would be less injuries, and the statistics would be some much better."
He also opposes the designated hitter and long-term contracts for pitchers.
"They just aren't worth it," he says. "Too many guys break down over the course of their careers and then where are you? I think a long-term contract for a pitcher should be two years."
McCormick also says today's pitchers don't throw enough to strengthen their arms and don't work on game situations enough to perfect their craft.
"The only way you can work on something in a game situation is to pitch batting practice," he says, "Pitchers today don't do that -- pitching coaches won't let them."
Control, not velocity, he says is the key to any successful picture.
Early in his career McCormick had dominating stuff, posting a 49-4 career record in American Legion baseball, including a 26-strikeout performance, but he wasn't just a baseball player.
He earned scholarship offers to play basketball and baseball at Stanford and UCLA.
"I always had tremendous hand-eye coordination and was a good shooter, but I don't know if I would have been quick enough," McCormick says of the possibility of playing basketball instead of baseball. "We just never know what I would have done as a basketball player, but looking back on it, I think I made the right choice."
Now, 30-plus years after retiring, McCormick spends much of his time perfecting his golf game.
"I don't play well, but I play a lot of golf," he says. "I shoot in the mid-80s, but my problem is every shot I hit, I want to hit the next one a little bit farther, and at this stage I can't do that."
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2477 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
More like this story