August 28, 1998: Mike Heathcott
More than seven years after being drafted in the 13th round of the 1991 MLB Amateur Draft, Mike Heathcott finally got his chance on a big-league mound. 21 years ago today, he made his major-league debut for his hometown Chicago White Sox against the Texas Rangers.
For a long time, it seemed as if Heathcott was destined for career minor league glory as he approached his 30th birthday. He still had the memory of playing on the Birmingham Barons with Michael Jordan in 1994 amidst a media frenzy, but that wasn't enough. However, the White Sox gave the 29-year-old his shot after he had pitched to a 1.83 ERA in Double-A the previous season. Though he was struggling at the Triple-A level in 1998, the team decided to give him a shot.
Heathcott was Chicago's first guy out of the pen in the second game of a late-August doubleheader after Scott Eyre went just 2.1 innings. He came on in the third inning with two runners on and just one out. Despite throwing a wild pitch in the frame, he was able to get out of trouble and strand the two runners on base.
He followed with two more perfect frames in the fourth and fifth, but the sixth is when he ran into trouble. Will Clark led the inning off with a double and Todd Zeile followed with an RBI single. Perhaps flustered, Heathcott threw another wild pitch, which allowed Zeile to advance to second base. The righty settled down, striking out Mike Sims looking, but after walking the next batter, Bill Haselman, manager Jerry Manuel, was forced to make a move.
In an outing that had started off promisingly, Heathcott was on the hook for a second run. However, Jaime Navarro replaced him and shut the door, ensuring Heathcott's stat line was 3 IP, two hits, 1 ER, three strikeouts, 1 BB. Certainly, that seemed good enough to get a few more audition outings, but that was the last time Heathcott would toe a big-league rubber.
He pitched two more seasons in the minor leagues, 1999 with the Triple-A Charlotte Knights, and 2000 split between the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and Edmonton Trappers. In neither full season did he post an ERA south of 5.00 and like that, he was out of baseball for good. His MLB career may have been less than memorable, but six years after his retirement, he became the ninth Creighton baseball player ever inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.
Heathcott had been the ace of the Jays' staff in 1991 when the school made an improbable run to the College World Series and won the team its first-ever College World Series game, an 8-4 opening win over Clemson. It's just a reminder that even the least memorable of MLB players often leave a prior winning legacy in their wake.