December 17 – Happy Birthday Bob Ojeda
Probably like most pretty passionate baseball fans, when I see the name “Bob Ojeda,” two things come to mind quickly. The first is that 1986 Met season when today’s birthday celebrant was the very best pitcher in the outstanding starting rotation of that World Championship team. The second is the tragic Florida boating accident that took place during the Cleveland Indians’ 1993 spring training season, in which Ojeda was seriously injured and two of his Cleveland teammates, Steve Olin and Tim Crews, lost their lives.
What most of us forget, when we come across the name of this talented left-hander who pitched in the big leagues for all or parts of 15 seasons, is that he finished that career in pinstripes. Ojeda was able to recover from the injuries he suffered in that boating accident and actually pitch for Cleveland during the final two months of the 1993 season, but was then released. The Yankees had just finished a strong 1993 season in second place in the AL East under second-year manager Buck Showalter and felt they were one starting pitcher away from being a post season participant in 1994. When Yankee GM Gene Michael couldn’t make a trade for that starter, he decided to throw the role up for open competition during New York’s ’94 spring training camp. Participants in that competition included the team’s top prospects at the time, Sterling Hitchcock and Mark Hutton and the veteran Ojeda, who Michael had signed to a one-year minor league deal.
Ojeda ended up pitching better in that exhibition season than not only both youngsters, but also Scott Kamieniecki, who had been the fifth starter in New York’s ’93 rotation. It was decided that Kamieniecki would start the year in the bullpen and Ojeda would go to Triple A Columbus for a few practice starts to strengthen his arm before joining the Yankee starting rotation.
He made his first start for his new team on April 16th of that season in a game against the Tigers in Detroit and was hammered hard, not surviving the first inning. He got his second chance a week later, this time at the Stadium, versus Oakland and was hammered again, not making it out of the third inning. He did not get a third chance. Michael and Showalter decided they were better off starting Kamieniecki and they released Ojeda.
A few months ago, Ojeda wrote one of the best self-retrospective articles I’ve ever read written by a professional athlete. It appeared in a May 2012 edition of the New York Times and you can read it here. In it he reveals that his left arm has been chronically sore since he was a 12-year-old little league pitcher and only a constant mixture of drugs, ice, booze and denial throughout his career kept him pitching.