Pagliarulo reminisces in Cooperstown
By Bill Francis
He turns 50 years old in 10 days, but Mike Pagliarulo looks as if he could still turn on an inside fastball and deposit it in the right field seats at Yankee Stadium.
The one-time lefty swinging slugger, who spent 11 big league seasons patrolling the hot corner for the New York Yankees, San Diego Padres, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers, was at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on Friday as the keynote speaker for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Clinic.
After the morning session, “Pags,” as he was known, talked about his life in the National Pastime. In fact, it was game that ran in the family, as his father played a few years of minor league ball and his son played ball at Dartmouth University.
“There are things that tear families apart and there are things that bring them together. I’m just glad it was baseball (bringing things together) for us,” he said. “We really don’t talk about it too much, but we like playing.”
After the Massachusetts native and lifelong Red Sox fan was selected by the Yankees in the sixth round of the 1981 amateur draft, Pagliarulo made his big league debut with the Bronx Bombers in July 1984.
“One of the great things about growing up with the Yankees and being part of that organization was the way we felt about each other. It’s a tough organization, and they made it that way on purpose because they develop players to play in New York City,” he said. “You’re not playing in some other town where nobody really cares, but in New York the fans understand the game, they know the game, so you can’t mess up out there. You have to be ready and you have to be able to play. Whether you are good or bad, you have to be able to play. The Yankees did prepare us for that.”
So after hitting 28 home runs in 1986 and 32 in ’87, it was a surprise to Pagliarulo when he was traded to the Padres in July 1989.
“I didn’t want to be traded from New York. I didn’t care how I played, I just didn’t want to be traded,” he said. “So I went out to San Diego … that’s a different world out there. I had to yell at a couple of the fans sometimes, ‘Look, I’m stinking it up. Throw something at me, yell, do something, will you?’ A beautiful place, but I liked playing in New York.
Eventually finding his way to Minnesota, Pags saw his only postseason action with the 1991 Twins. Not only did he hit a 10th-inning, pinch-hit homer off Toronto’s Mike Timlin to win Game Three of the ALCS, but was also played the entirely of the classic Game Seven of the World Series, in which Minnesota’s Jack Morris, who went 10 innings, outdueled Atlanta’s John Smoltz in a 1-0 triumph.
“What a great experience that postseason was for me. I’m glad I played well, but it was just great to be a part of that. One of the best experiences of my baseball career,” Pagliarulo said. “The great thing about Game Seven was that even though it was deafening in the Metrodome – I was standing up in the dugout and (shortstop) Greg Gagne was standing right next to me and I couldn’t hear a word he was saying – when you are on the field the thing that was different I thought was the awareness that the players have.”
Pagliarulo was a participant in last year’s inaugural Hall of Fame Classic, a seven-inning legends game played at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown. And he drove in the winning run with a double.
“Being on the field brought back a lot of memories for me. The performance end of it was a little tough. Maybe I’ll get a jog in once in awhile before the game this year,” Pagliarulo joked. “It was great to see the other players, and the players really loved it. Being on the field, the fans are out, the weather’s great, you are in Cooperstown, not much beats that. I think it’s a great thing for Cooperstown and I know the guys really want to do it too.”
This second annual Hall of Fame Classic, featuring seven Hall of Famers and 20 other former big leaguers, takes place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 20. For more information, click here.
Bill Francis is a library associate for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.