Interview with Steve Karsay: Reflections on a MLB Pitching Career
Friday November 4, 2011
Jonathan Hacohen: While I get to interview many current MLB prospects and stars on the Reports, it is rare that I have the opportunity to talk baseball with a former great that I watched growing up. As a personal bonus to me, that chance recently came up when I was able to connect with Steve Karsay, former major league pitcher. Steve was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round (22nd overall in the 1990 draft). After being a part of the famed 1993 trade to Oakland for hall-of-famer Rickey Henderson, Steve played 11 major league seasons for 5 different squads. Steve played his final season in 1996.
I reflected with Steve Karsay on his career, from his time with the Blue Jays organization, through to his final season. Steve was very candid in his responses and certainly did not hold back. For all the readers that grew up idolizing Steve Karsay and wondering about his future baseball plans- today you will receive your answers.
Featured on MLB reports, I proudly present my interview with former Major League pitcher, Steve Karsay:
MLB reports: Welcome to MLB reports Steve. Let’s start today’s interview from the beginning. A 1st round pick in 1990 with Toronto. What was the feeling when you got the call? Did you expect to be drafted by the Jays? Thoughts/feelings at the time?
Steve Karsay: Wow! Going back a few years. That is correct- I was the 22nd pick overall in the 1990 draft by the Blue Jays. What a great time and what a great organization I was drafted by. The Blue Jays and their organization taught me so much to make me the player I was over my 16 year career. I will always be grateful to the Blue Jays organization and the coaches for the years I spent there. I did not know I was drafted until late in the afternoon for the fact that I was playing for my high school championship at Yankee stadium at the time. The feeling when I did receive the call was shock. I was not sure I was going to get drafted in the first round and had my sights set on going to LSU in the fall. But when it sunk in and realized the opportunity that I had and the feeling of shock turned to joy and excitement made the decision to sign and start my career in St. Catharines.
MLB reports: You will forever be linked to hall of famer Rickey Henderson, being traded for him in July 1993. What was your reaction when you learned of the trade? Have you ever spoken to Rickey about it?
Steve Karsay: First being traded at the time for Rickey was a great honor. I was only 21 at the time in 93′ when the trade happened so learning I was traded I had a mix of feelings. I was disappointed because I wanted to reach the big leagues with the team that drafted me. But realizing that I may get my opportunity to pitch in the big leagues faster, I understood that these are the things that happen when the big club is trying to position itself to win a World Series. After the trade I ended up making my Major League debut two weeks later against the Brewers at the Oakland Coliseum. So that is what made the trade worth it. As far as talking with Rickey, we had a brief conversation when he returned to Oakland the very next year.
MLB reports: After being in the Toronto organization your whole life, what was it like joining the A’s and playing for them for three seasons?
Steve Karsay: Being with Toronto for three years and going to Oakland was an adjustment, but for me was an easy transition. I enjoyed the A’S organization very much. Working with Dave Duncan and having Tony La Russa as my first manager was great. They were both mentors and I credit them for helping me transition to pitching in the big leagues.
MLB reports: Injuries took a big toll on your career- especially your surgeries in 1995 and 1996. After undergoing Tommy John, did you think your career was finished? Give us an idea as to what the surgeries/rehabs were like and your road to continue playing baseball.
Steve Karsay: To be quite honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew I had had to have Tommy John and back in 1995, it was not nearly as perfected as it is today. So I knew there was a chance that I may never play at the big league level again. The surgeries were lengthy and the rehab tedious, but I always had the drive to get healthy and pitch in the big leagues again. I was never one to give up. It was a long three years but in the end to resume my career and compete at the highest level was an accomplishment in itself.
MLB reports: Your career actually took off when you joined the Indians. Your four years in Cleveland represent some of your finest major league numbers. What was the secret of your success with the tribe?
Steve Karsay: I guess if there was any secret to my years in Cleveland, it was that I was finally healthy. I had gone through some tough years with injuries and rehab and when I finally got traded in 97′ to Cleveland, I felt like I turned the corner and it was just all coming together. In Cleveland they decided to put me in the bullpen and really got into a nice niche of what I was really capable of doing. But ultimately I would have to say that the four years in Cleveland I was as healthy as I have ever been throughout my career.
MLB reports: Aside from the occasional start, you became a full-time reliever in 1998. What was the process like to transition from starting to the pen? After coming up as a starter, how did you feel about becoming a reliever?
Steve Karsay: As a starter you have routines and you know what days you’re going to pitch and who you are going to pitch against. As a reliever you just have to be prepared every day. The transition was fairly easy for me because I had some great mentors when I did it in Cleveland. Mike Jackson, Paul Shuey, Paul Assenmacher, and a few others, so I got to learn from some guys who tough me well. I wasn’t excited at first to become a reliever but it definitely grew on me and felt after having success in the bullpen that is where I was supposed to be. It also gave me a new found respect of how hard the bullpen is.
MLB reports: You finished your career with 41 saves. Looking back, do you wish that you had more 9th inning opportunities- was the “closer” role something that you had in the back of your mind?
Steve Karsay: I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a closer for a bit in Cleveland and fill in New York when Mariano Rivera was injured. I always had the “closer” role in my mind but was never what drove me to play. I figured opportunities would present themselves if I pitched well enough. My saying was ”How well you are pitching will determine where you pitch in the game coming out of the pen”. When I signed as a free agent, I had the opportunity to go to a couple other clubs to compete for that job but chose to go to NY to set-up. At that point, winning was more important to me than closing. That was a tough choice I had to make.
MLB reports: Your career ended in 2006, after pitching 9 games with the A’s. Why the decision to hang up the glove at that point? Any regrets?
Steve Karsay: I have absolutely no regrets about my decision to retire in 06′. At that particular point, I was still having problems with my shoulder (after having surgery on my rotator cuff in 03′). I was pitching with pain and I felt personally like I couldn’t compete at that level with an injured shoulder. It was not fun any more coming to the ballpark, and I had always told myself that if I felt that I couldn’t compete at the highest level, I wanted to walk away from the game as a player on a respectable note. After retiring I had one last shoulder surgery to repair my rotator cuff for a final time. I came to realize that I was pitching with my rotator cuff torn the whole time in 2006. So looking back, I felt the choice I made was 100% correct.
MLB reports: You pitched for 5 major league teams (A’s, Indians, Braves, Yankees and Rangers). Favorite team(s) that you played for and why?
Steve Karsay: All of the teams hold a special place in my heart. I had great memories with all of them. I had the opportunity to meet and play with some of the best players in the history of the game over my career. I will always be grateful for the Blue Jays for drafting me and giving me the chance to start my career in professional baseball. Then the A’s for giving me my first shot in the Major leagues. The Indians is where I had my most productive years and had the chance to experience playoff baseball for the first time. Atlanta and playing for the great Bobby Cox. He is a player’s manager and a great man. Also having the opportunity to have great teammates in every spot that I played. Too long of a list to compile, but to name a few of the greats I played with: Mark McGwire, Dennis Eckersley, Ron Darling, Rickey Henderson, Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar Jr., Robbie Alomar, Omar Vizquel, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Mike Mussina. I know I am probably missing many other great ones I played with. Overall, the experiences were priceless. It was the most exciting time in my life with the exception of the birth of my son Kingston.
MLB reports: Do you still keep in touch with many of your ex-teammates- any ones in particular?
Steve Karsay: I don’t keep in touch per say with them, but whenever I get the opportunity to see them when they come into town I always like to stop by the ballpark and say hello.
MLB reports: Growing up so close to Shea Stadium, it must have been a dream come true to play in New York. Were you a Mets fan growing up- did you consider playing for them at one point?
Steve Karsay: Growing up in NY and so close to Shea was great. I was a baseball fan growing up. I liked players more than I did teams. I watched both the Yankees and the Mets. I went to more Mets games as a kid because it was just a short train ride away. I never had the opportunity to play for the Mets over my career, but playing for the Yankees and the tradition of the Yankees was definitely a highlight of my playing days.
MLB reports: Since you left the game, what has been life been like for Steve Karsay? What are you up to these days Steve?
Steve Karsay: Life has been wonderful since retiring in 2006. After being able to have a 16 year career in baseball I wanted to step away from the game for a short time to pursue a few things that I was not able to do while I was playing- like travel and explore different countries. I also became involved in my friend’s company in Aerospace Manufacturing which has been exciting and to say the least interesting. And last but not least, the birth of my son which has been more work than all of the above. With that being said, baseball is my life and I am pursing opportunities to get back in the game in some capacity. The time off was great, but I want to be able to pass along the knowledge of baseball that I learned while I was playing and help young kids fulfill their dreams of hopefully getting to the big leagues.
MLB reports: If you could give one piece of advice to a young baseball player trying to make it to the show, what would it be?
Steve Karsay: My advice would be to work hard, be consistent, and do not take anything for granted because you never know when it will come to an end.
MLB reports: Will we be seeing you in the future in the major leagues in another capacity, perhaps a broadcaster or coach/manager?
Steve Karsay: I hope so. I am pursuing some things as we speak and would love to get back in the game in any capacity, either as a broadcaster, front office or on the field coach. Baseball is my passion and it what I love.
MLB reports: Final question Steve: everyone at the end of the day wants to leave a mark on the game. What do you most want to be remembered for as a professional baseball player?
Steve Karsay: Looking back I would want to be known for every time I stepped between the white lines I gave everything I had and I did not take anything for granted. I wanted to be the best player I could be when I stepped out on the mound. The fire for competition was always burning when I played. If I can be remembered for that, I would be very proud.
MLB reports: Thank you very much for taking your time out of your busy schedule so we can have you with us. Much appreciated!
Thank you again to Steve Karsay for taking the time to join us today on MLB reports. We highly encourage our readers to post at the bottom of the article any questions and/or comments that you may have for Steve. As well, please follow Steve on Twitter (@Steve_Karsay)
Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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Posted on November 4, 2011, in Interviews with MLB Stars and tagged alomar, assenmacher, athletics, baseball, braves, clemens, cox, darling, duncan, henderson, indians, jays, karsay, laRussa, mlb, mussina, pettitte, prospect, rivera, shuey, thome, yankees. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.