October 14, 1968: Zak Shinall
Zak Shinall is one of the more recent "cup of coffee" players we've profiled so far as he was born on this day 51 years ago. The L.A. native went to El Segundo High School and then El Camino College in Torrance, California. Clearly, the local ballclub liked what they saw, because the Dodgers selected him in the 29th round of the 1987 June Amateur Draft.
For such a late-round pick, Shinall was relatively successful in the minor leagues. Most players taken that late don't make it out of A-Ball, but he defied the odds early. After pitching two full seasons in A-Ball, Shinall was in Double-A by 1990 where he went 6-3 with a 3.55 ERA for the San Antonio Missions. Finally, the major leagues were within sight as he earned a Triple-A call up during the 1991 season and pitched there for the Albuquerque Dukes during all of 1992.
His 1992 season where he went 13-5 with a 3.29 ERA in Triple-A put him on the map. However, the Dodgers placed him on waivers and he was claimed by the Seattle Mariners. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he was picked up by a team who believed in his ability to be a major-league quality pitcher. After a month-long stint at Triple-A Calgary, Seattle brass felt confident enough in Shinall to call him up to the big club.
On May 12, 1993, he made his big-league debut against the White Sox at the Kingdome. Nearly 20,000 people were on hand to see Ken Griffey's squad square off with Frank Thomas'. Shinall was the first man out of the pen for Seattle as starter John Cummings fell apart allowing five runs in just 2.2 innings. After giving up a Ron Karkovice double, he got Craig Grebeck to ground out and end the threat.
Given how short of a start Cummings had, Shinall knew he might have the ball for a while. Again, he got into trouble early allowing a lead-off triple to Joey Cora, but again he settled down. Lance Johnson lined out, Frank Thomas walked and then George Bell and Robin Ventura both popped out to strand runners on the corners.
Into the fifth, Shinall worked, starting to settle in. He went 1-2-3, retiring Ellis Burks, Bo Jackson, and Ron Karkovice in order. Back out for the sixth he went and finally, he made a mistake he couldn't erase: Grebeck took him deep to open up the frame. After walking Johnson and allowing a single to the Big Hurt with just one out, manager Lou Piniella had seen enough. Shinall was yanked and luckily for him, reliever Jeff Nelson worked his way out of the jam, keeping Shinall's numbers solid.
He had gone 2.2 innings, allowing just one earned run on the solo homer, good enough for a 3.38 ERA. Like that, he was done. He had pitched admirably for Seattle, but there wasn't room for him on the big-league club. While the Mariners had made a big comeback, they ultimately lost the game 6-5. Following the 1993 season, which saw Shinall finish back in Triple-A, the local press was tough on him.
In an end-of-year story, the Seattle Times said, "Bob Ayrault and Zak Shinall joined such 1992 luminaries as Juan Agosto and Dave Schmidt as relievers fans will little note nor long remember." Yikes. Shinall did not pitch at all in 1994 (nor did most of baseball from August on due to the player's strike) and had his swan song in 1995.
It was in his final professional season that he fell apart while pitching for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Milwaukee Brewers' Triple-A affiliate. Shinall posted an ugly 7.62 ERA in just 13 relief innings spread out over nine appearances. Like that, two years after his major-league career seemed like it might potentially take off, he was out of organized baseball for good. Luckily for him, today, on Shinall's 51st birthday, he has plenty of life left to live and plenty to look back on fondly from a relatively short, yet complete professional baseball career.