The MLB is very hard. Like, really hard. I think that, as fans, we sometimes take that for granted. I know I’m guilty of this. We view players as “things” that are there for our viewing pleasure. Things for us to get angry at or happy with. And while it is true that baseball is an entertainment business, we forget that players are actual humans with feelings and emotions and struggles and stuff.
It’s one thing to get to the major league, it’s quite another to stay there. For every Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, etc… there are 100 other guys that are just trying to make a living doing what they love. That’s not to say that big-time stars aren’t doing that also. They, too, have worked hard. But not everyone is blessed with outrageous natural ability. This is another reason why I wanted to do the “Where Are They Now” series.
Sure, it’s fun to bring up guys that we’ve forgotten about to see where they are (past ones are here and here). But it’s also interesting to hear about their triumphs, their struggles, and their stories. Randy Wells is a perfect example of a guy whose journey to the majors was not stereotypical, nor was it easy.
Mr. Randy Wells was also kind enough to spend a bit of his day answering a bunch of my questions. He couldn’t have been more awesome with his time.
Randy actually began his career as a catcher and ended up being converted to a pitcher while he was still in the minors (you’ll learn about this shortly.) He was drafted by the Cubs in the 38th round of the 2002 amateur draft and made his way around the minor leagues for 5 years, never really being given a chance to break into the majors. In late 2007, he was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the Rule 5 draft, and Wells made his only appearance with the team in 2008. Randy later landed back with the Cubs.
In 2009 he was able to make his first start with the Cubs and actually had a pretty successful rookie campaign going 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA (I know, Brett. Wins don’t mean anything. But it’s still interesting to see a rookie win that many, okay? Get off my back, man!) [Brett: I'm just saying, from where I sit, it's even more complimentary to say he had a nicely above-average 3.88 FIP that year, didn't walk anyone, and accumulated 3.1 WAR. It was a great year, and he should have beat out current Cub Chris Coghlan for the Rookie of the Year.]
Randy remained with the Cubs until 2012, which was a rough year for him (he explains below). He eventually elected free agency and left Chicago.
And now, in his own words…
Myles: You had somewhat of a wild ride in minors after being claimed in the rule-5 draft. Can you explain how that situation went down?
Randy: I enjoyed every moment of my minor league experience. I met a lot of great friends that are still friends to this day. When I switched from catching I was so pissed at the time but it turned out to be a blessing. A few short years later the Blue Jays gave me a chance and my career changed forever. I was working as a laborer for my dad when my agent called me with the news. I had been to big league camp before, but never with a real chance to make a team. I went in there had a great camp and was fortunate to make the team. It didn’t last long [as] I was sent back a month into the season and was back in AAA. I remember thinking to myself, “Did that really just happen?” I remember thinking was that a dream.
Myles: I’ve always wondered, when you play in Canada, does the team you play for take care of any visa and travel issues with it being a different country?
Randy: I don’t remember, I just remember we had to have a passport to the traveling secretary before camp was over. They took care of things. I only flew in once. Flying out was a pain.
Myles: What was it like walking into Wrigley that first time?
Randy: Walking into Wrigley was amazing. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had only ever heard about how amazing it was. My first game with [the] Cubs was on the road, so we flew in late and I fell asleep on bus. When I woke up we were there at like 2 am, so all I saw was the clubhouse and the concourse. The next day I took a cab and did the whole Lake Shore Drive tour of the city and pulled up on Waveland. It was just like everything I’ve ever seen on TV. When I walked up steps for the first time, the first time from the dugout, and the first time I threw a pitch there are etched in my memory forever.
Myles: As a starting pitcher, what goes through your head when the bullpen blows the game?
Randy: You never really think about the bullpen blowing a game. It happens, it’s part of the game. I know I had a lot of short starts where they picked my ass up and saved a loss for me so you always just try to pick your teammates up.
[Man that answer was good as hell. Well done, Randy. Exactly what I would want to hear if you were on my team.]
Myles: What are your thoughts on the Win/Loss stat in pitching?
Randy: I always cared about wins and losses. People say your ERA and other stats are more important, but you play to win the game, to beat the other team. That was always number one in my mind when you take the mound. Doesn’t always work the way you plan it, but Ted Lilly told me [something] one time that always stuck with me: If you give up one, don’t give up two and so on, grind it out till they take you out. You never know what can happen.
Myles: Do you keep in touch with any of your Cubs teammates?
Randy: I used to. A couple guys: my roommate Russell and then Samardzija, and Travis Wood every once in awhile. Those guys came down state for some of my golf tourneys and charities. [I] keep in touch with my best friend and old teammate from the minors, Tony Richie, and my friend, Neal Cotts, the most.
Myles: What was it like playing for Lou Pinnella?
Randy: Lou was the best. Very fond memories of playing for him and Larry [Rothschild]. Some of the funniest things you will ever hear came out of that guys mouth during games. Makes ya wonder what he was saying while you were in the files though. Ha!
Myles: I, in all honestly, don’t know the circumstances behind you leaving Chicago. However it looks like you elected free agency in 2012. How did that play out? Did the Cubs say that they wouldn’t be resigning you?
Randy: I didn’t have the best year in 2012. [I] had a bitter taste in my mouth after spring training and I didn’t handle it well. I had a chip on my shoulder and it showed in my performance. Felt I should have been given a better shot to make that team. Then when I got called up I shit the bed the whole year. Which is unfortunate cause I really liked the people around that team that year. I loved Chicago. I’ll never forget my time there and will cherish those times. Wish it ended better. I ended up having surgery halfway through the year and figured my time with team was over and elected free agency and signed with Texas. Went to camp with them [but] didn’t make the team and went to Round Rock. Arm troubles continued and I finally decided to retire. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Texas is a first class organization with first class staff and treated everyone amazing. It was tough to walk away from.
Myles: What are you currently doing?
Randy: After baseball I worked with Northwestern Mutual for awhile before taking a position coaching at Lindenwood University in my hometown. Something I love very much. We won the small college World Series last year and passing on knowledge and experience is the best feeling next to playing.
Myles: You grew up in Belleville, IL which is right outside of St. Louis. Be honest, did you grow up rooting for the Cards?
Randy: Growing up down state I grew up a Cards fan. The day I signed with the Cubs I was a Cubs fan. When I played with Toronto I was a Blue Jays fan. When I was with Texas I was a Rangers fan. Chicago will always be one of my favorite teams. Especially when friends are still playing for them.
Myles: Can you share the funniest/craziest story you have from your time as player?
Randy: There were so many crazy stories from playing, it’s hard to chose just one. I think for me just the whole thing was a crazy ride. Drafted as a catcher convert. Never expected anything then one day it changes and your in this wild ride. Loved every second of it.
- Everyone says awesome things about Lou.
- People love Wrigley.
- Baseball is just plain hard. But players love it. Because why else go through the heartache?
- As a player, you’re a fan of whatever team is paying the bills and giving you a shot. Can’t knock that at all.
- Finally realizing that you have to retire from a game that you truly love is almost heartbreaking. No, not almost. It definitely is.
Randy seems like a fun guy. Like one that I’d want to go out and drink with. In fact I offered him that opportunity. Door is always open, Randy.
“Where Are They Now” status: Coaching in the game he loves.