Where Are They Now?: Mike Bielecki

Image credit: Mike Bielecki (Sporting News/Getty)

Righthander Mike Bielecki played parts of 14 seasons for five teams in the major leagues. He made appearances in the National League playoffs and in the World Series. Every one of those seasons was played under a one-year contract.

“Every spring training I had to come in, outside of a few years, and win a job,” Bielecki said. “I never had the luxury of backing off and taking it easy every winter, because I had to come into spring training ready to go. I think that’s why I played so long.”

Bielecki splits his time these days between homes in Ocean City, Md., and Bradenton, Fla., occasionally offering pitching tips to area high school players. He participates in both the Cubs’ and Braves’ fantasy camps.

He also reflects on a career in which he seemed to master being in the right place at the right time.

As an overlooked high school pitcher in Baltimore, Bielecki attended hometown Loyola University Maryland before the school dropped baseball. Then he was selected in the 1979 January and June drafts out of Valencia (Fla.) JC, signing with the Pirates for $38,000.

Four seasons into his career, Bielecki was on the verge of being released by the Pirates when he began to tinker with a forkball. Good results followed.

Bielecki went 15-7, 3.19 at Double-A Lynn in 1983, then fully broke out in 1984 when he ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the Pacific Coast League. He went 19-3, 2.97 for Triple-A Hawaii and claimed Minor League Player of the Year honors.

Bielecki made his big league debut during that 1984 season and spent four nondescript years in Pittsburgh before a trade to the Cubs in 1988. He put together a career year in 1989, when he went 18-7, 3.14 and finished ninth in NL Cy Young Award voting.

Bielecki landed with the Indians for spring training in 1993 and was invited during an off day to attend a cookout at teammate Tim Crews’ home. Bielecki instead went with his wife and 1-year-old daughter to Disney World.

Crews and Steve Olin were killed in a fishing boat accident that day and Bob Ojeda was seriously injured. Bielecki credits divine intervention for the save.

“You just believe it wasn’t meant to be,” he said.

By 1996, Bielecki believed his career had come to an end after shoulder problems the previous season. Then Atlanta manager Bobby Cox called with an invitation to spring camp. That postseason, Bielecki did not allow a hit in 6.2 innings, including two World Series appearances covering three innings in a series loss to the Yankees.

Bielecki returned to Atlanta in 1997 and appeared in 50 games by mid-August. A torn rotator cuff ended his season and his career with a 70-73 record and 4.18 ERA in 347 games, including 178 starts.

Along the way, Bielecki also started in the first night game played at Chicago’s Wrigley Field in 1988 and saved the final regular season game played at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium in 1996.

For Bielecki it was all about being in the right place at the right time.

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