Jeff Innis pitched eight seasons for the New York Mets (1987-1993). He threw every pitch of his MLB career as a member of the blue and orange, compiling a 10-20 record and 3.05 ERA.
Innis, known for his sidearm pitching style, was inspired by former Kansas City Royals closer Dan Quisenberry initially, but then began honing his skills under the tutleage of former Mets minor league pitching coach, Jim Bibby.
Innis told MetsRewind, “I remember in high school I watched Dan Quisenberry, because he was the guy back then that that was making a name for sidearm pitchers or submarine pitchers. I started to kind of imitate him a little bit. Not a lot, just having some fun with it.”
Innis took his sidearm style to college and offered to pitch sidearm. His coach said, “let’s do it.”
“From then on, I was a sidearm pitcher,” said Innis.
Former Mets minor league pitching coach Jim Bibby helped Innis develop the sidearm style. Innis said Bibby recognized that he was “missing high and low and in and out,” he said. “If you’re coming from the side, maybe you’ll be more consistent and only miss in and out, not high low, because when you’re throwing from underneath. You got to worry about that release point and it’s easy to miss in four dimensions as opposed to into two.”
Innis mastered the delivery when AA pitching coach Glenn Abbott helped him develop a sinker. The pitch changed everything for Innis.
“That was like just a huge thing for me,” he told MetsRewind. “Other than the arm angle, I was just kind of flipping it up there. But when I started it, he taught me about finger pressure and finishing the pitch. That made a huge difference for me that year and going forward.”
Two years later he was in New York. And the rest is history.
Innis spent the first four years up and down from New York to Tidewater. He finally cemented a bullpen role in 1991, just as the Mets were beginning to spiral out of control. The 1992 Mets season was eventually chronicled in the the book, The Worst Team Money Could Buy. When asked what made such a talented group of individual players such a poor team, Innis said: “The Mets were still living off of the 1986 persona (of) a bunch of fighters and bad boys, right? I think that was more of an anomaly.
“I think for many years after that they were trying to reclaim that kind of tough, ‘I don’t care what the world thinks’ attitude and it usually doesn’t work. It wasn’t the front office j… they brought really good players in, but we just couldn’t gel together. Maybe it was a lack of leadership from the older players at the time, I don’t know. We certainly had the caliber of player. Yeah, it should have worked.”
CONDENSED TRANSCRIPT: JEFF INNIS
MetsRewind: You were drafted by the Mets in 1983 and you made your major league debut in 1987 and threw every pitch of your major league career with the Mets. Did you have a dream growing up, pitching for a certain team?
Jeff Innis: I didn’t have a goal that I would play in the major leagues with this team or that team, but I grew up in Central Illinois, so I watched the Cubs on WGN, but we never went to a Cubs game when I was little. We’d always go down to the Cardinals game because my mom was from that area. So, I went to a lot of Cardinals games, but I was right in the middle of the Cubs and the Cardinals and that whole rivalry. It’s kind of funny because, you know, after watching the Cubs for 15 to 20 years on WGN and Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray and all those guys, the first time I ever stepped foot in Wrigley field was as a player. So it was kind of surreal. You conjure up this image in your head through watching all these Cubs games on TV growing up. And then when you’re finally in Wrigley Field, you there as a player. It was really a special moment.
MetsRewind: Wrigley is one of those older ballparks, they didn’t refurbish it as much then as they have in the past few years. Did it meet your expectations?
JI: It exceeded my expectations. When you’re in the big leagues, everything exceeds your expectations. I loved it. Just seeing the ivy on the wall and the history, you have an appreciation, especially growing up watching Ron Santo and Ferguson Jenkins and Bruce Sutter and Glenn Beckert and Ernie Banks, all those guys playing there. And then here I am. At the stadium and then the organ playing and really neat memories for me. And then stepping into the stadium as a player. It was just almost overwhelming feeling. It was really cool.
MetsRewind: You pitched eight seasons for the Mets. How many trips down 95 South did you make back and forth from Tidewater to New York. Did you ever keep a count of that? I was going through your research and your career. It’s like, he’s up, he’s down, he’s up, he’s down, he’s up, he’s down. How can you get focused in a rhythm when you were kind of moving back and forth all the time?
JI: That’s a really good question to the first three or four years I was up and down all the time. It’s a difficult thing. I mean, you’re always happy to go up. But, you know, for me, I wasn’t a high round draft choice. I was just kind of a blue collar player. So it was odd in that every time I got sent down, I was doing well at the big league level. I also knew very well that no matter how I was doing, when I was up in the big leagues, if I was struggling in the minor leagues, they wouldn’t call me up.
It was a kind of a difficult. I was aware of my situation. I knew as disappointed as I was, every time I got sent down, I knew if I didn’t do the job, if I wasn’t kicking butt in AAA, I wasn’t going back. I had to keep that in my mind always. I kind of took pride in that self-awareness. I better get things right in my head, set some goals down here and really work hard and have a level head if I’m not doing well.
MetsRewind: I think of guys like Greg Maddux, who wasn’t physically overpowering, he wasn’t a type of guy who was physically imposing, but he could pick his spots and he knew the game at a deep mental level. So, I wonder how much you watch the game today that you don’t see that guys maybe getting called up at age 21, 22, 23. They are physically ready. They can blow the ball by you. But are they emotionally ready to pitch consistently at the major league level?
JI: It does because they get so much positive reinforcement out of throwing 98 miles an hour. I mean, you know, most of the time. It seems like everybody throws over 95 these days, right. When you’re throwing 95-100 miles an hour, you’re going to strike a lot of guys out. So the guys that can figure out that, I throw 95 and I’m going to be successful 75% of the time. How can I be successful a100% percent of the time?
MetsRewind: You were sidearm, I guess maybe 3:30, four o’clock somewhere in that area. When did you begin throwing sidearm?
JI: I remember being in high school. You know, I watched Dan Quisenberry because he was the guy back then that that was making a name for sidearm pitchers or submarine pitchers. I started to kind of imitate him a little bit. Not a lot, just having some fun with it. Then when I got into college, University of Illinois, I pitched overhand and I got a scholarship there.
I sat down, I remember my freshman year, I sat down around Christmas time and I ranked myself on a staff of 12. I ranked myself 10th. I knew I could throw sidearm and I talked to my coach about it then. He said, let’s do it. He made me the closer and from then on, I was a sidearm pitcher, actually in those days I was submarine. Not until I got a couple of years into the minor leagues that I started throwing sidearm.
MetsRewind: Was there someone at the minor league level that inspired you and said, why don’t you try it more sidearm than almost under hand or submarine?
It was Jim Bibby. Oddly enough, a six foot eight flame thrower. He was my pitching coach in Lynchburg, Virginia in April 1985. He said, you’re good throwing underneath, but you’re missing high and low and in and out. If you’re coming from the side, maybe you’ll be more consistent and only miss in and out, not high low, because when you’re throwing from underneath, you got to worry about that release point and it’s easy to miss in four dimensions as opposed to into two. I did that and it was a great help.
Minor league teams, you’re exposed to so many different types of coaches. If youkind of glean one or two coaching tips from each guy … think it’s important to understand who you are and then try to incorporate. The pitching tips and instruction from different coaches to make you a better pitcher over the long haul.
MetsRewind: How did that work as you were working up through Class A, AA, AAA, then to the majors, ultimately with Mel Stottlemyre, as you moved up to AA, AAA in end of the majors, did the pitching coaches you work with, try and change that for you?
JI: When I got to AA, Glenn Abbott taught me a sinker ball grip, and that was like just a huge thing for me. Other than the arm angle, I was just kind of flipping it up there. But when I started it, he taught me about finger pressure and finishing the pitch. That made a huge difference for me that year and going forward. When I got to AAA, it was more about managing yourself, the day-to-day and making sure you’re ready to go.
In the big leagues, Mel Stottlemyre was my pitching coach, and he knew what my strengths and weaknesses. He was there to reinforce them and to understand the magnitude of what we’re doing and to making sure that each guy was getting the most out of his home own individual talents. And a lot of that is just the more psychological, kind of being your father figure type thing. Because there’s so much more in the big leagues that enters into it than just the physical pitch, but the emotional and the mental part of it and handling the crowds and the pressure.
MetsRewind: What influence did Mel Stottlemyre have on you?
JI: He was very influential. First of all, he was just an amazing major league pitcher in his own and then he was just on a personal level. he was a class guy. He was very steady emotionally. He had a high expectation level from each individual pitcher … He was just a real steady and consistent figure in my life and in a place like New York City where it was just crazy and the expectations and the criticisms were great. He was always very steady and that was important.
MetsRewind: In hindsight, looking back on your career, if you looked at the scouting report for Jeff Innis on the day he arrived in the major leagues, what do you think your scouting report would have looked like? What were your strengths and weaknesses?
JI: My weakness was definitely left-handed hitters, especially the tall left-handed hitters that could take my sinking fastball that’s low and away and still get a good part of the bat on the ball. They could see the ball down, or the ball was never hidden from them.
The scouting report on me would probably be hit him early because if he gets two strikes on you he’s going to try to put you away with that big sweeping slider.
MetsRewind: Did you read the book The Worst Team Money Can Buy?
JI: I remember thumbing through it at the time, but I couldn’t recite any of its passages.
MetsRewind: I didn’t expect you to know it in detail, but I know that book was written about the 1992 team, which you were a part of. You were in that clubhouse every day. What made that team so dysfunctional?
JI: The Mets were still living off of the 1986 persona, but ’86 was a bunch of fighters and bad boys, right? I think that was more of an anomaly. It worked in ’86. I think for many years after that they were trying to reclaim that kind of tough, ‘I don’t care what the world thinks’ attitude and it usually doesn’t work. It wasn’t the front office j… they brought really good players in, but we just couldn’t gel together. Maybe it was a lack of leadership from the older players at the time, I don’t know. We certainly had the caliber of player. Yeah, it should have worked.
MetsRewind: They brought in some really good players — Eddie Murray, Vince Coleman, Brett Saberhagen, Bobby Bonilla, David Cone — strong personalities, great players, but sounded to me more like a collection of individuals and not a team. Would that be a fair summary of that?
JI: I think that’s a fair summary. I think a lot of these guys were great players, but I don’t know if all of them were great leaders and could help bring the team together. You also have a very difficult in New York with the media and it’s difficult to keep that team, the individual players together, apart from the media and not irritate the media as well. You know?
MetsRewind: After not receiving a contract offer from the Mets in 1993, you signed with the Twins. You faced Michael Jordan in spring training and you hold the distinction of giving up his first professional hit. Do you remember that?
JI: Yes, because my brother called me that night after the game. It was the first time in many months I had gotten a phone call from him and I was pissed at him. I’m like, hey, is this is what it takes to get a phone call? Michael Jordan’s first hit. I remember it because he was like 0-for-16 or something in spring training.
He hit a ball that it hit on the plate actually and it bounced to the third baseman. By the time the ball came down he had crossed the first base … then they asked for the ball. I thought, well, that makes sense. He probably put a big nick on it, but no, they wanted it because it was his first hit. Then I was the biggest baby about that. Looking back on that because like all the reporters crowded in my locker after the game, what’s the fuel or give up Michael Jordan’s first hit? I didn’t know these stats counted. It was nothing more than me being a big baby about it. I don’t know. I threw a pitch. He hit it. I was happy for him. I can appreciate the enormity of what he was trying to do.
MetsRewind: The team in those early 90s had some really polarizing characters. We talked about some of the guys who were in the clubhouse. I’m going to play a little name association with you. I’ll give you the name of a player and you give me your thoughts and experiences with each one. Eddie Murray?
JI: Eddie Murray was not who I expected him to be. I expected him to be this jerk standoffish Hall of Fame guy, but in the clubhouse, he was almost a child. I mean his innocence portrayed somebody completely different. On a personal level he was childlike. The rest of the world, he was this very standoffish cold figure.
MetsRewind: Mackey Sasser?
JI: I still know Mac. I see him every year at Mets fantasy camp. He was a pure hitter. I mean, just I’ll tell you. He’s he’s a very simple personality. He’s very proud of the fact he’s from Alabama. He’s a very caring guy, took all the science out of the game. He could just, you just saw the ball and hit it.
MetsRewind: Vince Coleman?
JI: I really liked Vince. He got a bad rap because he’s a really good person, but he got a bad rap in the locker room because his laughter was so loud. Every time we lost, it seems like you could hear Vince laughing. It’s not that he didn’t care. It’s just that he had a really loud laugh. It’s not like everybody was in there in their little cubicle after a gamewe lost, crying. It’s just that Vince had a really loud, so you can hear it. You know, that’s what stands out with me as Vince was just a really talented, intelligent guy and got kind of a bad rap.
MetsRewind: Bobby Bonilla?
JI: Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn — in a good way though. I remember his line. He said when he signed with the Mets, ‘They’re not going to be able to wipe the smile off my face.’ Tthe media kind of took that as a challenge and it got Bobby off to a bad start with everybody. He inadvertently created a me vs. them attitude with the media. I don’t think he meant to do that because he’s just a really nice guy. You know, I liked Bobby a lot and I thought he was a great player.
MetsRewind: David Cone?
Maybe the nastiest pitcher I ever saw in terms of his stuff. He could drop down and throw sidearm nastier than anybody and his overhand stuff was nasty. He was a competitor. And in those years with the Mets, he was crazy. He had no control his behavior. I mean, he was just crazy. I saw him walking in one night at 5:00 a.m. It was the last game of the year against Philadelphia. He walked in at 5:00 a.m. I know because I knew I wasn’t going to pitch that day. I was told I wasn’t going to pitch. So I decided I was going to party all night that same day. I think that was a noon game in Philadelphia and Cone pitched that game struck out 20, so I mean he lived hard and played hard and he was good at it.
MetsRewind: Anthony Young?
JI: Anthony Young was just a wonderful human being. I hated pitching in games that he was pitching in because just in case I didn’t want to blow the lead. He had that streak. I think 26 or 27 games where he lost them in a row and a few of those games I was in, when he was on the line to get the win. I was so nervous cause I didn’t want to blow it for him. I just loved Anthony Young. Then I found out later what a good husband and father he was.
MetsRewind: You had a record in 1991. You went like 60 plus games without recording a win or a save. Were you aware of that streak while you were pitching?
JI: The, the baby and me and the, and the defensive, uh, acting child in me is quick to point out that my earned run average was like 2.66 ERA, and my runners inherited to runners held was extremely high too. So, I can’t explain that that’s kind of a baseball anomaly to me … It was it’s crazy to me.