September 20, 2018

Joe Grahe: Baseball’s Comeback Kid

September 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Former pitcher Joe Grahe saw extreme highs and lows during his professional baseball career that are seldom experienced by the same player. For better or for worse they helped shape his seven-year major league career, which as it turned out was a complete success.

The right-handed Grahe was taken in the second round of the 1989 draft by the California Angels out of the University of Miami after having been drafted and failing to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1986 and Oakland Athletics in 1988. He made quick work of the minors, getting called up to the big leagues after just 23 minor league appearances.

Grahe started and relieved (including serving in the closer role 1992-1994)for the Angels over the next five seasons before signing with the Colorado Rockies as a free agent in 1995. Unfortunately, injuries derailed his career and he was out of baseball in 1996 and 1997. However, he fought back and made it back to the majors with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1999, where he pitched in an additional 13 games and was able to finish his major league career on his own terms.

In his seven-year career, Grahe went a combined 22-30 in 187 games (39 starts) with a 4.41 ERA and 45 saves. His best season came in 1992 when he had a 3.52 ERA and 21 saves, but truly impressed in the second half of that season, as evidenced by his 2.17 ERA and 17 saves in 29 games after the All Star break.

Grahe has a lot of interesting insight on his career and time in baseball. Keep reading for more on this great example of perseverance.

Joe Grahe Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: Johnny Bench. Was a huge Reds fan in the ‘70s. I was in heaven when the Reds came to West Palm Beach for a night spring training game and I got to see him in person. My respect for him was cemented further when I saw him on the Baseball Bunch TV show. Seemed like a great guy. I wish I could have met him.

How did you arrive at your decision to attend the University of Miami (and then return there) after being taken in the draft by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1986 and Oakland A’s in 1988?: Toughest decision I ever made. For the Brewers it just came down to me not thinking I was ready to go across the country and away from home. With the A’s they really didn’t get serious about signing me until late in the summer so I figured I might as well just go back to school. Plus I felt I was better than fifth round.

You were promoted to the majors with less than one full year of minor league ball under your belt. Do you believe you were rushed, and how did getting called up so quickly impact your career?: I’d have to say that I was probably rushed, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It was tough at first getting over the fact that I’m now pitching to guys that are on my baseball cards at home. It made them a little too “larger than life” and caused me sometimes to give them too much credit and not trust myself. It was definitely a trial by fire but I thought I handled it pretty well.

What do you remember most about your major league debut?: Getting out to the mound and thinking “damn these lights are bright.” Also I remember the feeling of pitching in a beehive. There were I believe 52,000 people there that night and the constant din was remarkable.

In your opinion, who was the most underrated player you ever played with or against, and if you are feeling bold, is there anyone you can think of who was overrated?: Larry Walker– best all-around player I ever played with. Could do it all.  The only thing I could possibly comment on as far as being overrated was the season that Barry Larkin had in his 1995 MVP season. Dante Bichette should have won it.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: When we clinched the wild card in 1995 in Colorado. Coors Field went nuts. 1A would be taking the mound at the Vet when I made it back in 1999. My first thought was “wow, I did it.”

What was the difference in pitching in the Colorado atmosphere compared to lower elevations for you?: I actually liked pitching there. My goal when I started was to go seven innings and give up five runs or less. With our lineup that gave you a good chance to win. As far as pitching goes the altitude made my sinker cut, and the curveball will back up on you. You really had to get on top of that pitch to make it work. It’s not a myth about altitude affecting your stuff. Plain fact.

How did your journey back from injuries impact you as a person?: I cried like a baby when I got the call from our AAA manager Marc Bombard that I was being called up with the Phillies. I had gone from having decent success in the majors to being back on buses with kids just barely out of junior college ball (Northeast League 1997). And then I made it back up. It was a long road and taught me simply that hard work and persistence does in fact pay off.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I am a realtor with ReMax in Jupiter, Forida. And I also coach high school. I would like to coach in college if the opportunity arises and I may at least try to get back into pro ball once my two kids are on their own. I saw the sacrifices many coaches made when I was playing in regards to their family life and decided that I wasn’t willing to pay that price and leave my kids while I coached. But I do wonder what could have been had I stayed in pro ball as a coach since I see other teammates that have done quite well for themselves in the pro coaching ranks.

Who is a current player you wish you had the chance to pitch again, and how would you approach that at-bat?: I would like to face Giancarlo Stanton. To me he seems very pitch-able on TV. But apparently not since he is still launching!

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew or on Facebook.

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