Baseball Way Back: In life and baseball, father-son bond strong between the Stottlemyres

  • Todd Stottlemyre, at the time pitching for the Texas Rangers, talks with his dad, Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

    Todd Stottlemyre, at the time pitching for the Texas Rangers, talks with his dad, Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. Courtesy of Todd Stottlemyre

 
Updated 1/2/2021 10:16 PM

Former major league pitcher Todd Stottlemyre's relationship with his dad went far beyond fathers and sons playing catch.

Mel Stottlemyre, a pennant-winning pitcher with the New York Yankees and a five-time World Series winner as a pitching coach, was both a mentor and a competitor.

 

Mel won 164 games for the Yankees from 1964 to 1974. Todd won 138 games from 1988 to 2002, earning World Series rings with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993. Although sidelined by injuries, he was also a member of the 2001 world champion Arizona Diamondbacks.

On May 13, 2000, with Todd throwing against San Diego in a 6-2 Arizona victory, Mel and Todd became the first father-son combo to win 300 games.

Todd's brother, Mel Jr., also briefly pitched in the bigs.

"My father was awesome. He was more than a father. He was our best friend. And our hero at the same time," Todd said as we talked by phone recently about his career and his new book, "The Observer."

Mel, who died in 2019, continues to exert a big influence on his son, which shows in his new book, a work he said combines "fiction with nonfiction real-life principles."

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The main character is Kat, a successful businesswoman and mother of a son who dreams of being a big league pitcher. Kat's world comes crashing down, as her father, a former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher, dies of cancer, and her bad business decisions wipe out her business.

She is also carrying guilt and anger from her youth, when she donated her bone marrow for a transplant to a younger brother suffering from leukemia, only to see the brother lapse into a coma and die.

It is a plotline taken directly from Todd's life. When he was 15, he donated his bone marrow -- he was told he was a perfect match -- to his 11-year-old brother Jason, who was on his third bout of leukemia, but Jason died shortly after.

Guilt and hate hounded Todd in his early career.

"We had just won our second world championship," Here I am in my 20s, making millions, two-time world champion, grew up in Yankee Stadium, lived out my childhood dream. If you looked at me from the outside, you're like, 'Wow, this guy's got it all.'

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The problem is when I looked at the mirror, I didn't like the person staring back at me." It was affecting his performance.

He called Harvey Dorfman, a top psychologist and mindset coach in major league baseball, who told him, "I've been waiting on your call."

The two met for a 12-hour session, during which Dorfman said, "Why are you blaming yourself? It's time to forgive yourself. It's time to let it go. You've already done everything you could have done. You didn't kill your little brother. You did everything you could to save his life."

Todd said, "It was just this elephant off the back of my shoulders in that moment."

Dorfman challenged him to spend a week observing and documenting his thoughts and emotions with the goal of choosing his responses, rather than reacting out of hate, guilt and baggage.

It was the inspiration for "The Observer."

In the book, it's Kat's father who teaches her to "stand back and watch yourself with clear eyes."

As with Kat, Todd's dad was a major influence in his life.

Todd remembers what it was like to grow up in Yankee Stadium.

"Yankee Stadium was our playground. Monument Park, that was our monkey bars."

Growing up with a Yankee great meant "hanging out with Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson and standing in the outfield grass next to Mickey Mantle. It was like going to the school of champions."

When Todd was with the Blue Jays and having a hard time getting through the fifth inning, he received valuable advice from his dad, who was then the Mets pitching coach.

"He said, 'Listen to me, Todd. I'm going to give you three things to think about and work on in between starts. And if you will do these three things you'll dominate.' "

They were, "Stay back in your delivery. Finish your delivery strong. And think down in the strike zone."

He was also told to write KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) in big, bold letters on the bill of his cap.

The result? He didn't give up a hit until the eighth inning in his next start against the Sox at the new Comiskey Park.

In 1998, Todd pitched a complete game for Texas in a loss against the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS. The Yankees' pitching coach was Mel Stottlemyre.

"It was a magical time. It was a long way from my dad being on the mound in Yankee Stadium to me roaming the grounds, to that moment of me being on the mound and him being the pitching coach of another team. It was a really cool deal," Todd said.

Their teams would face each other once more, when Todd and the Diamondbacks met the Yankees and Mel in the World Series.

Todd, sidelined for the season after offseason surgery, said, "It was odd, because me and Bob Melvin, who was the bench coach, we're focused on my father, watching him give signs to the catcher, and we're trying to steal his signs. Here I am in the other dugout, competing against my dad in a different way."

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