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Jays’ LaTroy Hawkins Doesn’t Look or Sound Like a Man Ready to Retire

LaTroy Hawkins (Getty Images)

LaTroy Hawkins (Getty Images)


A.J. Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, David Ortiz, and LaTroy Hawkins are all still active, and all played for the 1998 Minnesota Twins. So is this coincidence or is there a reason that group of Twins has had longevity?

“I don’t know, good scouting by the Twins,” Hawkins told me in the Blue Jays locker room. “Great scouting by the Minnesota Twins.”

Hawkins was drafted straight out of high school by Minnesota in the 1991 draft and he made his major league debut in April of 1995, drawing the start against Baltimore at the Metrodom and in the process becoming one of eight starters since 1914 to allow at least seven earned runs over no more than 1 2/3 innings in his first career outing.

Hawkins’ tenure as a starting pitcher didn’t get much better from there. He was 26-44 with a 6.11 ERA in 98 starts from 1995-1999 – only Todd Van Poppel has recorded a higher ERA in at least that many career starts. Few would have bet on his staying power, but the Indiana native is still here thanks to then Twins manager Tom Kelly moving him into the bullpen, where Hawkins has gone 49-50 with a 3.32 ERA and 127 saves since becoming a full-time reliever in 2000.

Hawkins, 42, has been the oldest player in baseball for two seasons now, and he’s been a big leaguer for half of his life. With 1,042 games pitched, Hawkins ranks 10th on the all-time list and he could pass Dennis Eckersley (1,071) for 5th on the list if he hangs around for one more season.

“I’m proud of it but I would doubt if I would get into the top five, that would be pretty cool but I doubt if I could get there,” admits Hawkins, who is just one of 16 pitchers in major league history to appear in 1,000 games. “But it just shows longevity, being accountable, being able for your manager to count on you and that’s it. Being reliable, consistent.”

Few players have been as well traveled as Hawkins, now on his 11th team – a number matched by only 16 other players. He spent his first nine seasons with the Twins, through 2003. Since then he has had stops with the Cubs, Giants, Orioles, Rockies, Yankees, Astros, Brewers, Angles, Mets, Rockies again and finally the Blue Jays. After leaving Minnesota, Hawkins put together consecutive full seasons with the same club only once, for the 2010-11 Brewers.

As you might imagine, the baseball landscape and experience has changed quite a bit since Hawkins first started during Clinton’s first term in office. Like cellphones in the clubhouse. Or making phone calls anywhere, for that matter.

“It’s definitely changed. Everybody has cellphones, everybody got their personal smartphones. So people are into doing whatever’s on their cellphones, laptops or IPads. Instead of talking with their teammates, getting to know their teammates and things like that,” said Hawkins, who in some ways sounds like the old man who screams to the kids, “Get off my lawn!”

“But as times changed I’ve changed also. I’m a big phone guy and I’m always on my phone now. But I always tell guys that I remember times when you needed to make a phone call you had to go to the phone in clubhouse and give the lady your number and she would dial it for you. We’ve come a long way.”

Hawk, as they call him, has had a teammate born as long ago as 1956 (Paul Molitor) and as recently as 1995 — current Jays reliever Roberto Osuna, born less than three months before Hawkins made his big league debut. Hawkins was even teammates with Osuna’s uncle, Antonio, a reliever who pitched 11 years in the majors, mostly with the Dodgers.

After all these years Hawkins still remains effective, posting a 3.26 ERA across 42 games this season. On July 28, two days before acquiring David Price from the Tigers, the Jays pulled off a blockbuster deal with the Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki. As part of the swap, Hawkins also was sent to Toronto. Though overshadowed by the Tulowitzki acquisition, Hawkins’ addition to the Jays’ bullpen — along with that of Mark Lowe and the return of Aaron Sanchez — helped turn what was arguably the club’s biggest weakness into a strength. But Hawkins was just thrilled to be jumping into a pennant race.

“It definitely gives you a boost of energy being in the position that we’ve been thrown into and this is why you play the game to be in positions like this to play meaningful games in September and have a chance to make the playoffs,” says Hawkins, who has now been to the playoffs five times, including once to the World Series with the 2007 Rockies.

He was never an all-star, he never earned $5 million in a season and he never led the league in any category except earned runs in 1999. But he was as reliable as they come on the field and his generosity off the field helped earn him one of the most devoted personal fan clubs in pro sports. Heidi Sutter and Eric Englund founded the club back in 2000, which grew to have more than 1,000 members and transcended team affiliations.

Hawkins also is the kind of guy who buys his rookie teammates suits, something he learned from late Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, who was his teammate in 1995 and took a young Hawkins shopping at PortaBella in midtown Manhattan during a road trip to New York.

“That’s how you do it. You play it forward,” Hawkins says. “It’s different now than it was back then because guys have suits and stuff now. I didn’t have a suit and Kirby said he didn’t have one when he came up to the big leagues. It definitely meant a lot that he took the time to take me out and buy me a suit because we definitely weren’t making any kind of money and I was just telling someone in the locker room when I came up with the Twins we couldn’t wear jeans and stuff on the road, we had to wear slacks and a collared shirt and nice shoes.

“So you always had to be dressed a certain way and I didn’t wear jeans on the road until 2004 was the first time I ever wore jeans on a road-trip, so I was slacks and a collared shirt first seven, eight years of my career.”

Hawkins says that when his career is over, he will care only about what teammates, coaches and others think of him, and not about his stats or whether he wins a World Series.

“I just want to be remembered as a guy who came to work and did his job everyday and impacted other people’s lives on a daily basis,” said Hawkins, who has made lifelong friendships with former Twins teammates, including Hunter, Jacque Jones, Pat Mahomes and Eddie Guardo.

Hawkins is the last remaining active pitcher to have faced Michael Jordan during the basketball legend’s brief venture into professional baseball in 1994. He started on the mound for the Twins at Yankee Stadium when New York’s David Wells tossed one of 23 perfect games in history. He is one of only 73 pitchers to record an “immaculate inning” by striking out on the side on nine pitches, and he recently became the 13th pitcher in MLB history to record a save against all 30 teams in the league.

Hawkins plans to retire after this playoff run with Toronto. He wants to be home as his 14-year old daughter, Troi, enters high school. But she taken a new liking to baseball with the Blue Jays enthralled in a championship chase, and perhaps she is the one person who can change LaTroy’s mind about coming back for one last go-around.

“Well we’ll see. But it’s definitely gave her a different outlook on baseball and she’s excited about it and we will see,” said Hawkins, who is tired of spending every summer away from his wife, Anita, Troi and son Dakari, and his extended family.

“We will chit-chat again about it when the seasons over with and go from there.”

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