Interview Date: August 20, 2010
Imagine, if you can, a successful fur trader. It is 1828 and this man is seeking his fortune. He has already had a long history of being very good at this job. But he needed more. Desire is a powerful force. His friends warned him that he was heading down the wrong path and ultimately abandoned him. Ignoring the advice of those around him was a mistake.
One mistake and it was all over for Hiram Scott.
One hundred and thirty-six years later, Kip Gross was born in the town named after Hiram. Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Named after a man that made a mistake.
Kip Gross debuted with a team that did not make very many mistakes, the 1990 Cincinnati Reds. He found himself playing with the infamous Nasty Boys, but his performance was not impressive enough to hold a place with the team into the Playoffs. By the end of 1991, the Reds had decided that they had made a mistake and traded him to the Dodgers. By 1993, the Dodgers also realized they had made their mistake and Gross found himself heading to Japan.
Gross would find success in Japan that he could not find in America. He would make All-Star teams. Lead the league in wins for two consecutive years. And then make a decision. He needed surgery and was ready to leave Japan behind him.
Everyone around him told him to stay in Japan, where he had found a place for himself. He chose the temptation of MLB. It was a mistake.
He played briefly for the Red Sox and it looked like his career was over. The Houston Astros were starting a rebuilding process that would soon find them among the juggernauts of baseball. The year 2000 was not quite their year. Several pitchers went down with injuries and they were desperate to find some bullpen relief. Kip Gross was their man. "I enjoyed the Astros management. They made me feel more like a veteran." He lasted for two games and gave the Astros an ERA of 10.38. But it was all about to be over.
The Astros were prepared to invest in improving Gross’ mechanical issues. They were not prepared to deal with a pitcher that was both struggling as a pitcher and a defensive liability. “They were going to use me in the bullpen until it happened.” Kip Gross was remembering his final game in the Majors. A man on first. The soft thump of a ground ball lulling softly toward the pitcher’s mound. Gross scooped it up. Ball in glove, hand in glove, and a simple toss to second. That is how it should have played out.
But Hiram Scott had placed a single mistake into one of his own. Gross scooped it up. The ball went smoothly into his glove. His hand reached into his glove and got a firm grip on the ball. Gross made a decision that every coach from Little League to MLB would scream against. Throw the ball softly. Don’t rush. It is an easy out. Gross played it differently. He pulled back and launched a rocket in the vague vicinity of second base. It sailed over the second baseman. It sailed over the centerfielder. It thudded against the wall and rested on the dirt in the centerfield.
Kip Gross did not have a lot to say about his career. He did leave with one parting thought.
"Well, I guess I wouldn't throw that ball into center field.”
A man does not need to count his mistakes when he knows the final one was fatal.