Life in the Minors
January, 2002

Where have you gone, Joe Shlabotnick?

By Joe Kuras

It’s always interesting to come across the names of old sports figures. Even if they are obscure minor leaguers who never made it to the show. They may never lose the tag of “former professional ballplayer”. Regardless of how far they went with their professional career, it is always interesting to sit down and listen to them spin yarns about their days in the bush leagues. And for some of these guys, it is even more interesting to hear what they are up to today.

Case in point – three former members of the Boston Red Sox organization – manager DeMarlo Hale, outfielder Paul Thoutsis and pitcher Steve Bast. None of them made it to the majors with the Red Sox. Hale is the only one to get to the big leagues albeit as a coach with another organization, the Texas Rangers. But like thousands of other minor leaguers, they all have their post-minor league story.

Made it to the bigs
The Boston Red Sox drafted DeMarlo Hale as a First Baseman/Outfielder in 1983. He played four seasons in the Red Sox organization before being released by Boston. Hale was finished as a player in 1988 in the Oakland A’s minor league system.

Hale then spent seven seasons as a manager in the Red Sox organization. He made it as high as Double-A Trenton, managing the Thunder from 1997 – 1999. His ’99 Thunder team posted a Minor League-best record of 92-50 and earned Minor League Manager of the Year honors from USA Today Baseball Weekly, Baseball America and The Sporting News. He also led Michigan (A) to a 75-63 record in 1995 and was named Midwest League Manager of the Year. He compiled a 234-190 record in his three seasons with Trenton and had 491 wins with Red Sox affiliates.

When Pawtucket Red Sox Manager Ken Macha moved on to become the bench coach of the Oakland A’s in 1999, Hale was considered the logical choice to move up a rung and manage the AAA team in Pawtucket. Wrong! Gary Jones was imported from the A’s after a frustrating season of fanny patting as a Major League coach in Oakland. The handwriting was on the wall, and as long as Dan Duquette was calling the shots in Boston, Hale would be no more than a Double-A manager.

In 2000, DeMarlo Hale signed on as the manager of the Oklahoma Redhawks, the Triple-A team of the Texas Rangers. Despite a .500 record in two seasons (143-143), his club finished 2nd in the evenly matched Pacific Coast League in 2001. A major contributor to that team was pitcher Justin Duchscherer. The right-hander from Lubbock, Texas was obtained from Boston for catcher Doug Mirabelli on June 12, 2001.

Hale’s patience and work ethic finally paid off on November 29, 2001 when he was named the new 1st Base Coach and Outfield Instructor for the Texas Rangers.

“It is a great opportunity for me,” Hale was quoted by several media sources. “I am very excited to do my part and ready to help out (Manager) Jerry Narron and (General Manager) John Hart in any way that I can.”

Hale’s former general manager in Trenton, Rick Brenner, was also quoted, “ We are all very proud of De Marlo. We were fortunate to have a man of his caliber be part of the Thunder family. His baseball knowledge and approach with people will be a great benefit to the Rangers.”

Pitcher turned Physician
Pitcher Steve Bast climbed as high as Triple A baseball in the early 1990’s. No one probably ever heard of him again since those days in Pawtucket, until Monika Guttman featured him in an article. Ms Guttman is a former contributing writer to HSC Weekly, USC Trojan Family, Norris Cancer Center Report and USC Health at the University of Southern California. She recently wrote about Bast in an article “Alumnus and former Red Sox pitcher returns to USC as a physician”.

As a professional pitcher, the southpaw faced the likes of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson in the minor leagues. But he never dreamt of striking them out. By his own admission, baseball was a stepping-stone to setting bones, not setting records.

Bast signed with the Red Sox in 1986 after three years at USC. After five years in the Boston organization, he applied for and was accepted in to the USC medical school program. Playing minor league ball was no longer glamorous, especially with a wife and young son. His last year of professional ball was also his first year of medical school at the University of Southern California. After juggling the two careers for one year, he finally decided that there was more to life than playing baseball.

Bast is now a resident student in orthopedics at USC. His first article, "Upper Extremity Blood Flow in Collegiate and High School Baseball Pitchers” was published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Despite a totally different kind of career, Bast has been able to draw similarities between sports and medicine.

"On a team, you're only as good as the people who surround you in the outfield and the infield, " he said in Ms. Guttman’s article. "In medicine, you're only as good as the people who assist you, as good as your patient compliance, as good as your mentors and teachers." According to Bast, the camaraderie in the medical profession is similar to sports teams and athletes. Like sports, medicine prepared Bast for life. It taught him how to accept disappointment and mistakes, along with victory and defeat.

After three years of medical school, Bast was still debating between majoring in pediatric orthopedics and sports medicine. "I really enjoy working with kids," he said in Ms. Guttman’s article. Orthopedics appealed to him not because it was so tied in to sports but because "I'm a kind of a hands-on personality. I rebuilt my own car, I work in the yard. It's a field where your patients are usually pretty healthy, and there's not a lot of morbidity."

When it comes to baseball, Bast has not lost any of his senses. The smell of popcorn and the baseball field are still fresh in his mind. He still sees enthusiasm in the eyes of kids, especially when they are looking at a major league field or stadium. Steve Bast no longer clings to the dream of reaching the major leagues. But he is perceptive to see that same dream in today’s youth.

Paul Thouts his horn
Paul Thoutsis was a 3rd round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1983. Roger Clemens was drafted ahead of him in the first round. After making all star teams in the New York-Penn League (short season A) and South Atlantic (A) League, Thoutsis thought he was on a steady pace to land in Boston in a couple of years.

After hitting .247 with Single-A Winter Haven in 1987, Thoutsis was released. He signed on with the St. Louis Cardinals and played in their organization for 3 years. Thoutsis sat out the 1991 season and returned to the Boston organization in 1992. He batted .242 in 108 games at Double-A New Britain. In 1993, at New Britain again, he hit .291in 64 games, and then .391 in 60 more games at AAA Pawtucket.

Would the left-handed hitting outfielder finally get the call to the majors, for a September cup of coffee? That answer turned out to be “no”. To do so, the Red Sox would have had to drop someone off of their 40-man roster and risk losing that player to another major league team. At the end of the season, Paul Thoutsis was voted the Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year by. The Red Sox signed him as a minor league free agent that winter and invited him to spring training.

The dream of making it to the major leagues quickly vanished when Thoutsis was returned to Pawtucket in 1994 for one final season. It was a struggle to even land in Triple A ball. If General Manager Dan Duquette had gotten his way, Thoutsis would have been demoted to Double A after his Player of the Year season of ’93. Pitching coach Lee Stange fought for Paul’s cause. He cited that the demotion of the organization’s player of the year would set a bad example for younger players in the Red Sox minor league organization. According to Thoutsis, Duquette was never able to explain his reasoning.

The knock on Thoutsis was that he didn’t hit for the power expected from an outfielder. Despite only 304 at bats, he sacrificed his batting average and hit .224 in limited playing time at Pawtucket in 1994. But he did manage to belt 10 home runs.

Today, Paul Thoutsis sells real estate on Martha’s Vineyard. “I’m happy doing what I’m doing but I miss baseball,” he told Nick Manzello of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. “I still believe deep down that I could have hit big-league pitching, and one of baseball’s greats, Ted Williams, also believed that I could.”

Thoutsis was never bashful about hitting a baseball. In his life after baseball, he volunteered his own thoughts and opinions on the state of the Red Sox and the trade of prospect Rick Asadoorian for pitcher Dustin Hermanson.

“Tell the kid he’s lucky to be getting away from Duquette and that organization,” he said in Manzello’s column. “Tell him that he’s better off and will be in the long run.”

As for Dan Duquette, “Get rid of the bum!” Thoutsis told Manzello. “Dan Duquette is the reason that the Red Sox are going nowhere. I hope the new owners of the team find out before it’s too late.”