Posted at 10:36 AM on August 16, 2008
by David Zingler
The life of a professional baseball player is not an easy one. For every Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, there are dozens of Dustin Mohrs.
Mohr, you may remember, first came up with the Twins in 2001 and finished 8th in the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year balloting. Never a regular, he spent the 2004 season in San Francisco and hit .274 with a .394 On-Base-Percentage in 117 games. He joined the Rockies in 2005 and belted 17 homeruns in just 266 at-bats.
Since then Mohr has appeared in just 28 big league contests. Now, the Mississippi native finds himself with the Wichita Wingnuts of the American Association clinging to the fringe of the pro game.
Last month the 32-year-old had a nodule removed from his thyroid that turned out to be cancerous. Thankfully, the disease hadn't spread and he was able to return to action with a new perspective on life and his career.
I caught up with the former Twin on Thursday night at Midway Stadium as the Wingnuts prepared to take on the Saints.
DZ: Could you talk a little bit about the thyroid situation?
MOHR: Ah....I don't really like talking about it. They found a little nodule and they went in and found out it was cancer, so they took it out. Everything's good now so...It was two surgeries...so that's how it went. It's not exactly what you want to hear...(It) was the best-case scenario for (cancer)...that's what they say.
DZ: So you are pretty much DHing for the rest of the year?
MOHR: Yeah, I just don't have the energy. Your thyroid controls your energy and your metabolism. I just don't have the kind of energy it takes to play defense...running around the outfield and things like that. DH is just about all I can do and I am pretty spent after the game doing that right now. We've got 9 games left and I'm just trying to stick it out. I look forward to the off-season when I'll be able to get myself back to 100%. I am looking forward to that.
DZ: What would you say the level of play is in this league?
MOHR: I would say Double A - a mix between Double A and Triple A, probably more so Double A than anything. There are a lot of guys here that I've seen that could be in an organization really easy, but for whatever reason, haven't gotten the right people to see them or whatever. It's pretty competitive.
DZ: Do you get a lot of guys on a team like this that just want to talk about the big leagues?
MOHR: Yeah, it's been kind of fun. A lot of these guys are young and they are trying to get to where I've been, so I can help out with some of the experiences that I've had and help them do what they want to do.
DZ: You started (the season) here and then went to Colorado Springs (Triple A affiliate of the Rockies).
MOHR: Yeah, I went to Colorado Springs; they had a couple of injuries at the big league level. I played for the first few days I was there. I did OK, I was hitting the ball pretty good - the numbers wouldn't indicate that, but I was hitting the ball real good and just not finding any holes. Then I got relegated to pinch hitting, basically and then that was it. I didn't really get ...a...good opportunity to really play and they admitted that much to me when I left. At least they admitted it, so I just decided to come back here because I like playing, I wanted to play and then of course, I found out about the thyroid thing and then that just made it a really tough year for me.
DZ: You were with Tampa a couple of months last season and then nothing really happened this (past) off-season?
MOHR: No. Nothing happened this off-season. I contacted everybody that I knew, including the Twins. Nobody really had any interest in even letting me come to minor league camp, which I thought was ridiculous, to be honest with you. The last 7 years I've spent in the big leagues and not to even be able to come to minor league camp - I was dumbfounded by that.
DZ: It seems like a lot of veterans are getting the pinch.
MOHR: Yeah. I wasn't the only one. I mean, Trot Nixon had to go to Arizona to try out for Pete's sake. To try out! I don't know what's going on with this game, but it seems like to me that they are paying the superstars all of the money and just going young with the other guys. The middle guys are getting squeezed out because they don't want to pay those middle range salaries. They want to pay the big guys their money and then pay minimum wage to the young kids.
DZ: So you are heading into this off-season hoping for an invite (to spring training) of some kind. Do you have a back-up plan if that doesn't work out?
MOHR: I would like...I don't know after last off-season. Last off-season, it wasn't like I was even asking to go to big league camp. I was just asking to go to minor league camp and even compete for a spot and I couldn't even get that. I am hopeful that somebody will at least let me come in see if I can win a spot. If they don't, then I've had a pretty good ride as far as playing. I got to play 7 seasons in the big leagues.
I know I'm not the only guy...there are a lot of guys...its crazy the way teams seem to work these things out. I am hoping that a team will give me a chance to come into minor league camp to compete even if it's just for a bench job - a chance. We'll see what happens. If they don't, I would like to coach if it turns out they just won't let me play anymore, I'd at least like to coach. I know I could do that. I am going to wait and see how it goes.
DZ: Have you talked to anyone about (coaching)?
MOHR: No, because I am only 32-years-old and I can still play. I see guys on major league rosters and Triple A rosters that I know I bring more to the table than they do, but they are there and I am not. It would be one thing if I felt like I couldn't play anymore, but I know I can still play.
DZ: Is it tougher being an outfielder just because there are so many outfielders?
MOHR: It could be. I can play all three (outfield positions). I've begged every team I have played for to work at first and third just to add that to my (resume). They always say, "Well, you're too good of an outfielder to put in the infield. I've gotten to play first base a little bit here, so I got some experience doing that at least. I am know I am not an All Star or anything, but I know I can bring a lot to the table in terms of in the clubhouse and defense and offense too.
DZ: Following the 2003 season, the Twins traded you to San Francisco.
MOHR: There were so many outfielders they could afford to get rid of me and Bobby (Kielty). The whole time I was here, they always wanted to Cuddyer to be the right fielder anyway. I knew the whole time I was in Minnesota that at some point they were going to have Cuddyer up there no matter what and that me and Bobby would be gone. It happened and I enjoyed my time here - I loved being a Twin. I would love to be a Twin again, but going to San Francisco was a lot of fun too. I actually had what I thought was one of my best seasons in the big leagues there. I almost had too good of a year in terms of...at the end of that year, they really didn't want to go to arbitration with me because they would have had to pay me more than they wanted to be a back-up outfielder. Then Moises Alou decided to come out there and play - his dad was the manager - and they decided...they were honest with me, they said, "We're going to do you a favor and let you go somewhere else."
DZ: Did you get a chance to interact with Barry Bonds much?
MOHR: Oh yeah, I talked with Barry all of the time. I've kept in touch with him since I left.
DZ: What are your impressions of him?
MOHR: He's like everybody else, it's just that he's Barry Bonds and people put him on a different level. He has good days and bad days - some days he comes in and is quiet, some days he talkative, just like everybody else. Just because he is Barry Bonds, the days he comes and is kind of quiet and doesn't feel like talking a whole lot, people think he's a jerk because he won't talk to them. I didn't have any problems with him at all. He was quiet in the clubhouse; he loves the game and likes to talk baseball and things like that. I really didn't have any issues with him.
DZ: He's like you now...
MOHR: (laughs) He's not like me!
DZ: On some levels he is...
MOHR: He's had trouble getting a job not because he's not good enough because it seems to me that teams have gotten together and decided they don't want Barry Bonds in the game. There's no way that somebody could tell me that he couldn't help a team out, that's ridiculous.
DZ: He could hit 25, 30 homeruns...
MOHR: Easily. Put him in the American at DH. It amazes me that teams are not interested in that.
DZ: After San Francisco, you went to Colorado.
MOHR: I got hurt Opening Day there and, I didn't use it for an excuse - but getting hurt Opening Day and missing the next six weeks...and having to catch up two months in, it was rough. Especially playing catch-up as an extra outfielder, that made it a little bit harder, so my average suffered. But, I was productive off the bench - 17 homers in 250 at-bats. It terms of a 4th outfielder, it was - I thought - productive, but they chose not to bring me back and everything has kind of gone downhill since then. Maybe I am just not good enough anymore, (but) I don't feel that way yet.
DZ: You can't, can you?
MOHR: I don't think so. I've seen myself play, but teams do what they want to do and once they get use out of you, they are done with you - they don't really care.
DZ: You're basically a piece of meat.
MOHR: Yeah, exactly.
DZ: It's got to be stressful when you are not playing everyday and you come in there and have a bad game.
MOHR: You just hope you have a coaching staff and a front office that understands it is not an easy game when you are playing everyday, much less when you are playing as an extra. It's hard to come in there and just rake, sometimes it seems like teams expect you to come in there and get two or three hits when you do play. The unfortunate thing about being an extra guy is that if you are not hot all the time when you get to play then they'll just drop you and look for somebody else. That's just part of it. It's frustrating; it's not stressful as much as just frustrating. You don't get the same kind of chance as everybody else.
DZ: Is it a situation where you have a finite number of chances, but you don't know how many you have until there're gone?
MOHR: You don't know how many you have. There is not much value placed on the extra guys. The Twins were not like that; the Twins play everybody regularly enough for everybody to stay sharp. That was the one thing about the Twins that is really good and that's why they win because they use their whole 25-man roster. A team like the Red Sox, they use their main 8 guys and the extras are just there.
(Photos courtesy of David Zingler)
Great article and insight on how tough it is to actually stay in the big leagues...can't believe he couldn't even get a chance at a minor league camp with his experience.
Glad to hear you're still playing, Dustan. I still miss you here in Minnesota. Whenever an outfielder doesn't get to a ball in the gap or in foul ground I always say, "Dustan would have caught that!"
I hope you have been able to keep your positive spirit through all the struggles. I know you will be a great coach/manager when the time is right. Keep smiling and God bless
Yeah, that was an awesome interview. Really interesting to hear his views on the current salary structure of most teams. Not good for players with his experience, but probably a smarter move for the baseball teams.