Discusses death of Royals’ top pitcher
By Erik Buchinger
Clintonville native Mike Jirschele stopped by Matthew’s Supper Club on Monday, Jan. 23 and spoke of his experience in professional baseball during the Clintonville Rotary Club meeting.
Jirschele is currently the Kansas City Royals’ third base coach, and he won a World Series in 2015. He graduated from Clintonville High School and was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the fifth round of the 1977 MLB June Amateur Draft.
Jirschele spent 13 seasons playing minor league baseball until 1990 before getting into the coaching side of baseball.
Before he heads out to Arizona on Feb. 10 for spring training, Jirschele spent a half hour speaking with the Rotary Club answering several questions, and he passed around his World Series ring and brought in a replica of the trophy for everyone to see.
Jirschele began by discussing the death of Kansas City’s 25-year-old starting pitcher Yordano Ventura, who died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic a day before Jirschele spoke with the Rotary Club.
“Anyone who has been in Dominican, you don’t want to drive around in that country,” Jirschele said. “I’ve been there a couple times when I was in the minor leagues because we had camps down there. People just drive like crazy down there. It’s also not illegal to have a beer while you’re driving.”
Approximately 10 to 15 years ago, Jirschele went to the Dominican with George Brett because the president wanted to meet him.
“We weren’t driving, but we were in the back seat,” Jirschele said. “We were going down the road, and the next second we’re in the ditch because if we would have stayed in our lane, it would have been a head on crash. It’s not real safe driving around there, but things like that happen here too.”
Jirschele said a tragedy is always a concern when the team sends its players off into the offseason.
“You worry what’s going to happen to them in the offseason when they’re on their own,” Jirschele said. “Because most of those guys don’t have to worry about a job in the offseason, so they have a lot more time to get themselves in trouble.”
Jirschele said the staff had a meeting recently discussing Ventura prior to his death.
“It’s sad, but those are things that happen in the offseason,” Jirschele said. “We just had a meeting a week ago on a conference call talking about our starting rotation, saying he’s our No. 1 pitcher, so we were pretty much set with our starters. All of a sudden, on Sunday morning you find out you don’t have your No. 1 starter anymore, so that was a sad day for Kansas City.”
In addition to finding another pitcher to get into the rotation, Jirschele said the Royals have an important season coming up from a free agent standpoint.
First baseman Eric Hosmer, shortstop Alcides Escobar, third baseman Mike Mustakas and centerfielder Lorenzo Cain are set to be free agents after the season.
“We’re going to have to make some big decisions,” Jirschele said. “If we get to the trade deadline and we’re not doing well, we might have a fire sale and end up unloading those guys because we would likely lose them in the offseason anyway.”
Jirschele said it is a difficult process being one of the small-market teams in baseball.
“Those aren’t things you to look forward to, but we’re hoping that it pushes these guys to really get themselves going and have a good year this year because the better they play, it will help them down their road with their next contract,” Jirschele said.
Jirschele said it is difficult to compete consistently with a limited payroll, but sometimes players enjoy playing in smaller cities.
“You do run into guys though that they don’t want to leave,” Jirschele said. “They’re in Kansas City or Milwaukee, they like that small-town atmosphere. They don’t want to go to New York or Boston where those fans can get really nasty. Some guys can’t play with that.”
Even after winning a World Series in 2015, a small-market team like the Royals know they cannot keep the same players around.
“After we win a World Series, going into the next year, you’ve got to cut your payroll,” Jirschele said. “Here we’ve got this good club, and we know we’re going to lose guys because we can’t pay them the money they can make. We lost Kendrys Morales, our DH for the last couple years. He signed with Toronto because we were unable to afford what he was going to get from Toronto.”
Years ago, Jirschele had a two-year contract and was making $29,000 in the first year and $34,000 in the second year, and he asked to increase his pay to $30,000 and $35,000.
“They said, ‘No we can’t afford that,’ and I thought oh well, I tried,” Jirschele said. “In spring training, we were talking about this infielder, who wasn’t going to make our team, but we might want to keep him in the minor leagues in case somebody got hurt, which would cost $300,000. ‘I don’t care about the $300,000,’ he said.
“Now I’m thinking I just asked for $2,000 over two years, and you were worried about that,” Jirschele said with a laugh. “In the minor leagues, they cut back all the time.”
Jirschele said it can be difficult not making much money in minor league baseball.
“You look at these kids coming up through the minor leagues, and they’re not making any money,” Jirschele said. “Some players’ take-home pay for two weeks is probably $400 or $500. I always joke with our office saying you go out and hire these nutritionists to talk with minor league players, but how can they work on their nutrition when all they can afford to do is go to Taco Bell?”
Jirschele said his sons would have four or five players in the apartment just to be able to have enough to pay the rent.
His son Justin played in the minor leagues and is set to be the youngest manager in affiliated minor league baseball with Kannapolis, a Class A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Another son Jeremy also played in the minor leagues and is now the head coach of the UW-Stevens Point baseball team.
Jirschele and the Royals begin spring training on Feb. 14, and Kansas City’s first regular-season game of the season will be on April 1.