Simply Baseball Notebook: Cover Stories

Pat Hentgen: Home Again

June 2004

Pat Hentgen: Back Where it All Began


In recent years, the Toronto Blue Jays haven't made much noise. When you're stuck in a division with baseballs leading headline hogs, the Yankees and Red Sox, it's difficult to get noticed. This past winter however, the Jays brought back former ace and Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen, which helped rekindle memories of their glory days.

"We've got new managers, new coaches, new ownership -- it's kinda like coming to a new team," said Hentgen, who last played for Toronto in 1999. "The biggest difference is that the team is pretty young and hungry. I think its a bunch of good guys...we've got good camaraderie and we are going to start to play well."

Hentgen however, was brought back to Toronto to do more than just stir up nostalgia. The Blue Jays hope that he, along with reigning Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, lefty Ted Lilly, and Miguel Batistia, will give them enough quality starts to contend.

Hentgen himself, has set some lofty goals for the 2004 season. "I'd like to pitch 200 innings and get 15 wins," he said bluntly.

The Long Road Home

The road back to Toronto has been a bumpy one for the Detroit native. A five player trade in November 1999 sent Hentgen to St. Louis where he won 15 games and helped the Cardinals advance to the League Championship Series in 2000 before becoming a free agent.

After signing a three year contract with Baltimore in 2001, Hentgen went down with an elbow injury in May that ended his season. The injury required ligament replacement or "Tommy John" surgery, which kept the right-hander out of action until September 2002.

Hentgen returned to full time action in 2003, pitching 160 2/3 innings for the Orioles before becoming a free agent once again. Today, he says his surgically repaired elbow is a good as new, and possibly even better.

"I don't think there is any difference really," the 35-year-old said, comparing his arm, pre and post surgery. "I think if anything it's a little stronger. At my age, my arm gets out of shape faster than it used to, so I have to throw a little bit more in the off season."

Glory Days

You can't talk to an accomplished veteran like Hentgen without mentioning the past -- particularly the good times, like 1996. That season Hentgen won 20 games for Toronto and captured the AL Cy Young Award by a narrow margin over New York's Andy Pettitte.

"I was at home and got a call from the New York Writers Association," Hentgen said, remembering the day he got the good news. "They told me that if I won it, I'd get a phone call in the afternoon on November 11. So, I sat around and waited, and the phone rang.

"I wasn't sure how it would work out, I knew that it was going to be a close vote," he went on to say. "Andy (Pettitte) had a great year that year, but I thought I had a pretty good chance of winning."

Interestingly enough, that isn't the award the veteran cherishes the most, "I am actually more proud of the Player's Choice Award (for Outstanding Pitcher) from the same year," the three time All Star commented. "Taking nothing away from the Cy Young Award and taking nothing away from the people that vote on it, I respect the players and the game so much that when they vote you the most outstanding pitcher of the year -- I thought that was a heck of an accomplishment."

A trip down memory lane with Hentgen wouldn't be complete without discussing the 1993 World Series. Just 24 at the time, he started and won Game 3 at Philadelphia.

"Game 3 of the 1993 World Series to me is the highlight -- the thing that stands out most in my career," Hentgen said emphatically. "From the time I signed in '86 until now, it is still the greatest moment in my career."

Here & Now

This year's Blue Jays got off to a slow start in a very competitive AL Eastern division. Hentgen however, believes the Jays have the horses to turn things around, "We just came out of the gate and weren't pitching that well, we werent hitting that well -- you just can't do that," he explained. "I think this team has got some proven guys here; you can look at the back of their cards and it will tell you that."

Like most veterans entering the twilight of their careers, Hentgen remains non-committal about his plans. When asked how much longer he plans on pitching he responded, "I don't know, that's a good question. I think I am just going to see how the year goes, how my health is, and play it by ear."

-David Zingler

Hentgen's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com


Simply Baseball Notebook