Mark Mulder was once one of the elite pitchers in the game. He was drafted number two overall by the Oakland Athletics in 1998 and thus began his stellar yet short career. As part of Oakland’s “Big Three” along with Barry Zito and Tim Hudson, he helped lead the Athletics to four straight playoff appearances from 2000 to 2004. In 2001 at the young age of 23 he finished second to Roger Clemens in the Cy Young balloting going 21-8 with a 3.45 ERA.
In 2004 the Athletics moved Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals in a four player trade that brought pitcher Dan Haren to Oakland. 2005, Mulder’s first year in St Louis, was almost as good as his 2001 season. He finished the year 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA. But then things slowly began to fall apart for the southpaw. He underwent surgeries on his left shoulder in both 2006 and 2007. Unfortunately, Mulder reportedly said that his throwing arm “never worked right” after the surgeries.
With his hopes of continuing in the majors seemingly dashed, Mulder officially retired from baseball in 2009. In 2011 he became an analyst at ESPN and spent his spare time traveling with his wife and three children. Then in October of this year, just a few months ago everything changed.
Mulder, now 36, was watching the MLB playoffs from the comfort of his home near Scottsdale, AZ when he saw something in the delivery of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, Paco Rodriguez. It was something he was able to imitate without irritating his throwing arm and shoulder that had been an issue throughout his entire career with both Oakland and St. Louis.
After working out in Arizona, during the month of November, Mulder is now able to throw off the mound for the first time since 2006 and his fastball is up in the 89-90 mph range. Mulder told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnik by phone on Tuesday,
“I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am. To be honest with you, I never anticipated this five or six weeks ago. It was just a flat-out fluke that came from me trying to imitate Paco Rodriguez in my living room.”
After recently playing catch with former Cardinals teammate Kyle Lohse, Mulder became more convinced than ever that emulating Rodriguez’s delivery by raising his hands above his head instead of his midsection as he always had just might be the key to addressing his shoulder issues. Lohse told him that he was beginning to look like his old self again.
“The best way to describe it is, the ball is coming out of my hand better now than at any point when I was in St. Louis,” Mulder said. “I wouldn’t be trying this is if I didn’t think the stuff I was throwing was good enough [to pitch in the big leagues].”
Though Mulder is still under contract as an analyst at ESPN for another two years he has decided to put his tv career on hold for one more chance at big league success. He plans to try out with with several teams before the end of December. It is always a good thing to pursue your dreams even after you thought the opportunity had passed you by. As he put it,
“Why not give it a shot?”
So we may just be seeing Mark Mulder back in a big league uniform before the beginning of March when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.