Image credit: Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
A handful of crosscheckers were in South Holland, Ill., just south of Chicago. They were there to see Mark Mulder, at the time a pencil-thin, 6-foot-5 lefthander for Thornwood High armed with an 87 mph fastball.
Afterward, when Mulder took the passenger seat in his father’s car, the disappointment of a less-than-stellar performance could not be hidden.
“Do you think you can really make it in this baseball thing?” the father asked his son.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I?” Mulder said.
Even after a courtesy pick in the 55th round of the 1995 draft, Mulder remained steadfast on playing in the major leagues. Three years later, following a stellar career at Michigan State, he earned a $3.2 million bonus from the Athletics as the No. 2 overall pick in 1998. The first installment totaled $245,000.
“I remember looking at that check and going: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” Mulder said.
Before his nine-year major league career concluded, Mulder had led the American League in wins with 21 in 2001 and twice led the league in complete games and shutouts.
Beyond that, he never played on a team that was out of a pennant race, first with the A’s from 2000-04, then with the Cardinals until 2008. He earned a win in the first playoff game played after 9/11, outdueling Roger Clemens at Yankee Stadium. He started and won the 2004 All-Star Game.
Mulder also combined with Tim Hudson and Barry Zito to front a dominant Oakland rotation. From 2000-05, the trio recorded 278 wins for A’s teams that averaged 95 victories a season and made the playoffs four times in six seasons.
“It was a lot of fun,” Mulder said. “I honestly don’t know if I would have been as good as I was without them. The two of them pushed me to be better.”
A stress fracture in his hip late in 2003 proved instrumental in the conclusion of Mulder’s career, in which he went 103-60 with a 4.18 ERA.
“Hey, we need to be careful with this so you don’t change your delivery and hurt your arm,” Mulder recalls A’s trainer Larry Davis saying at the time.
“I remember thinking, ‘Are you kidding me? Why would that happen?’ ” Mulder said.
It happened, and ultimately led to a couple of rotator cuff surgeries.
These days, the 41-year-old Mulder jokes that he operates an “Uber service” to meet the schedules of his wife and three children. He also honed his golf game to the point he gained a sponsor’s exemption to play in the Safeway Open PGA Tour event in Napa, Calif. first week of October.
Mulder won the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournaments in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and captured the 2016 celebrity Diamond Resorts tournament in Orlando. He also served as an analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight from 2011-15, then worked another 30-35 TV games in both 2016 and 2017 for the A’s.
That’s a long way from pitching in the Cape Cod League in 1998 and turning on the TV to hear Peter Gammons call out Mulder’s name as one of the top prospects for that June’s draft.
“I went: ‘Huh? Me?’ ” said Mulder, who was about to make his father happy by succeeding at that baseball thing.