Interview Date: May 28, 2009
How far would you go to keep doing the thing that you love more than anything else in the world? Most of us never have to deal with the implications of that question, but former middle reliever Rob Mallicoat had to make a very important decision that had lasting consequences on his career.
His Major League career began in 1987 after spending three years in the minor leagues. “The idea of bringing a 19 year or 20-year-old to the bigs, even in the 80s, was still a rare thing. You spent your time in the minors and then got your chance. I felt I was on a somewhat accelerated program by playing my first full season in 1985 and being in the big leagues two years later.” Unfortunately, despite being a highly-touted prospect, his first year did not go well and he would languish in the minors for another four years.
When he returned in 1991, the Astros had firmly decided he was going to be a middle reliever. “I loved pitching wherever I was put. I felt that without a solid off-speed pitch, I did not have enough variety to go through a lineup two or three times.” He would show a lot of promise early in his first season back. “In 1991, I had 26 holds in 30 appearances. Holds were not really kept track of, but I came in and got out of some major jams. I really started to feel like I was supposed to be in The Show.”
He would struggle in this position but did well enough that the Astros offered him a one-year contract extension for 1993. He would never see action in another Major League game, but he was not ready to stop playing. In 1994, he would see an opportunity to play the game he loved but it would come with a great cost. He made a decision that would leave him blacklisted by most professional players for the rest of his career: he decided to become a replacement player during the biggest strike in baseball history.
Interestingly, he kept a very detailed online diary about these experiences which can be read at http://hypervguy.azurewebsites.net/. “I still have people e-mail me about that website and those posts to this day. I did not have a single negative e-mail or bad response from the fans/public. A few players were ticked off that I crossed, but to be honest, I never really did anything outside of going to spring training and trying one last time in testing out my arm. The strike broke on the evening before Opening Day in 1995. My thoughts were that the Union should have found a way to keep playing the 1994 season and World Series and keep the fans from being the ones who lost during this whole debacle.”
In the last post on his online diary, Mallicoat makes the tough decision to give up baseball. It is an emotional entry that is full of deep reflection upon his career. “Deciding when to hang up the cleats is usually more of a physical thing than a mental one. I still, to this day, can hit a baseball pretty well and can throw a nasty slider or two-seam fastball. The problem is that it is to my son and is using a whiffle ball. And my shoulder is probably going to be tender the next day.”
Today Mallicoat is still staying active, but with a new sport. “I took up tennis a few years ago and there are some parallels in a tennis serve to pitching. Changing speeds, location, and the motion itself. I really have taken tennis up to satisfy my competitiveness. I miss the camaraderie that came with playing ball for eight months a year with 25 teammates. Nothing can quite mimic that in the world of business.”