Chicago Cubs: Steve Trachsel is remembered for all the wrong reasons
Former Chicago Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel should be more than a footnote.
Longtime Cubs hurler Steve Trachsel gave up Mark McGwire’s record-breaking 62nd home run but there was a lot more to his career than that singular moment. The right-hander will no doubt be featured on ESPN’s ‘Long Gone Summer’ this weekend for that reason – but he deserves more.
Chicago drafted Trachsel out of California State in the eighth round of the 1991 MLB Draft. He made his debut a little over two years later, tossing seven innings of two-run ball in a loss to the Florida Marlins. That kicked off an eight-year run with the Lovable Losers, which included a fourth-place finish in National League Rookie of the Year voting and a lone All-Star appearance.
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Before we get into this, I want to say – Trachsel was never an ace. No one is saying he ever was. But he was an important piece on those mid-1990s Cubs teams and he ate a good number of innings, especially by today’s standards.
From 1996 to 1999, the right-hander averaged 205 innings per season. By comparison, just two National League starters pitched more than 205 innings last year: Stephen Strasburg and Madison Bumgarner. Obviously the game has changed an immeasurable amount in the last 30 years – but it’s still a good note when looking at Trachsel’s career.
That singular All-Star appearance came in ’96, when he worked to a 2.14 ERA in 16 first-half outings. Opponents hit just .214 and he was nothing short of lights-out. Down the stretch, he faded – but still finished the season with a very respectable 3.03 ERA in 31 starts.
From there, it was a lot of up-and-down for the Oxnard, CA native. He led the Senior Circuit, allowing 32 long balls in 1997 and, quite frankly, didn’t miss many bats, allowing more than 10 hits per nine. Still, he ate innings, eclipsing 200 frames for the second time in as many years.
Now, Trachsel’s 1998 season has and will always be remembered for the infamous pitch he threw to Big Mac at old Busch Stadium on September 8, 1998. McGwire took the pitch, a knee-high fastball and hit a wall-scraper into the left field corner, etching his name into the history of the game atop the all-time single-season home run rankings.
But like I said – there was a lot more to Trachsel’s career and his ’98 season – than that one moment. He tossed a career-high 208 innings that year, won 15 games (his personal single-season best) and gave manager Jim Riggleman a strong veteran presence in the middle of his rotation.
The next year, Trachsel lost a staggering 18 contests in his final season with the Cubs, with a 5.56 ERA – although, again, he broke the 200-inning mark. In 2020, he’ll turn 50 – and at this point, he’s probably destined to be little more than barstool trivia for baseball fans. But even so, given the fact the spotlight is shining on the 1998 season this weekend, it’s worth tipping our cap to a forgotten member of the club.