Volume 92, Issue 1

Friday, May 15, 1998

empty pockets


Don't send Stieb to the showers yet

In the late '80s, ex-Blue Jay pitching great Dave Stieb wrote an autobiography entitled Tomorrow, I'll be Perfect. Now after being away from the game for four years, it appears Stieb felt that "tomorrow" had waited long enough.

Stieb left baseball following the Blue Jays' second World Series championship in 1993 after battling arm and back trouble in his final few seasons. Stieb, who to many was the greatest pitcher to ever don a Blue Jay uniform, was widely known as a fiery competitor, whose viscous slider and overpowering heater made him one of the '80s most feared pitchers. Although he left the game just prior to the 1994 season, Stieb felt that he never truly retired.

When Stieb announced this past Valentine's day that he would be attempting a return to professional baseball, many of his numerous critics from his playing days resurfaced and scoffed at the news. They cited it as simply yet another middle-aged athlete unable to find tranquillity away from the ballpark. So far all indications of a mid-life crisis are unfounded.

At forty, many nay-sayers have compared Stieb's return to that of Jim Palmer's unsuccessful return to the Baltimore Orioles only a few years ago. However, one must remember that Palmer tried to return to baseball after nearly ten years away from the game. Compared to Palmer's come-back, Stieb is a spring chicken. He has only been away from baseball for four full seasons and although there might be a bit less bite in his slider and a few more grey hairs under his ball cap, the fire still burns in this right-hander's heart and arm.

After mowing down the farm hands with Single-A Dunedin during the spring, Stieb is now facing tough competition at the Triple A level – only a step away from the big show. After two solid wins and a lot of optimism, Stieb hit a snag last weekend, getting shelled by the Buffalo Bisons for five runs on eight hits over his six shaky innings. Forgetting all that he had accomplished over the past few months, the word was out that Stieb doesn't have it.

As always, the media jumped on the Dave Stieb "over-the-hill" bandwagon, which over the last week has filled up quickly. Rather than giving an ex-all-star a fair chance to show himself, the media has covered every pitch with unfair scrutiny. Sadly, even the smallest indication that Stieb may not be "perfect" has been enough to give writers the green light to pick away at a man's dream.

The fact remains that Stieb has only been human in one of his three Triple-A outings, posting a nifty 1.69 E.R.A. in the other two with one complete game victory and a solid eight-inning start. Little has been discussed about these two wins, yet his one tough outing seems to demonstrate to many that the man cannot compete.

In an interesting twist to this comeback saga, Stieb's current contract states he is a free agent available to any Major League team if the Jays do not move him up to the big leagues within 48 hours of a formal offer. If Blue Jay general manager Gord Ash is wise, he will leap at the chance to have Stieb on his Toronto roster which is currently riddled with holes in the middle relief corps.

Dave Stieb did not come back to the game for money or attention. Instead, he returned as an ex-employee who truly believes he left too soon and can still contribute to the game.

Who knows, maybe tomorrow he'll be perfect.

To Contact The Sports Department: gazette.sports@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998