Defying the odds and emerging as the epitome of the most workmanlike Yankee of the 1980s, Mike Pagliarulo played in pinstripes from 1984 to 1989. In 1987, he led the team in home runs, an impressive achievement considering the presence of more highly touted teammates like Don Mattingly and Dave Winfield.
Pagliarulo’s Yankee career ended in 1989, when he was traded to the San Diego Padres for right-hander Walt Terrell. During his days in San Diego, Pags clashed with Padre icon Tony Gwynn, but he revitalized his career as a Minnesota Twin, playing a complementary role in the team’s 1991 world championship. During that classic World Series win over the Braves, Pagliarulo slugged .545 and earned his first and only championship ring.
On Sunday, I had the chance to talk with Pagliarulo during his visit to Cooperstown to participate in the first Hall of Fame Classic. Before the popular Pags took the field and banged out two hits, including a game-winning double at Doubleday Field, he discussed his current career path, his most memorable highlight as a Yankee, and his pride in watching his son succeed in college.
Markusen: Mike, let’s talk to you about what you are doing now. I know you’re involved with scouting and player evaluation and doing a lot of analysis, which is kind of an interesting transition for a former major league player. How did all that come about?
Pagliarulo: Well, what we’re doing now is that we have a consulting company. We use a lot of former players and former front office executives who can help analyze and evaluate talent, so that we can help the industry determine the value of actual skill and performance on the field. It’s hard for them to do that now. Whereas the market determines the [financial] value, we try to determine the value of the performance, which is something we’ve been doing successfully for many years.
It basically is the stuff that we did when we were on the bench playing. So we each work with some different sciences to try to put that into data. We’re trying to create some scientific methods so that people can understand a little bit more clearly. I think it would help development [of players] and help reduce injuries and help in understanding the value of skill.
Markusen: You were known as an overachieving ballplayer who got the most of your ability. A lot of people didn’t even think you would make the major leagues and you proved them wrong. Do you think you have a special eye for that kind of young talent, the overachiever?
Pagliarulo: Young talent is extremely difficult to evaluate. And no, I have a lot to learn about that. But I do have a good eye for talent at the major league level. And that’s where it all starts. If you can evaluate there, then you can help the younger generation, you can help the foundation of the industry, you can talk to them. You can talk to [young talent evaluators] about that, by using the language—it helps if everybody speaks the same language in determining value of players. I think that’s the best way to do it. It helps everybody when you’re all on the same page.
Markusen: Looking back at your career, you’re best remembered as a Yankee, but also as a Padre and as a member of a World Series team with the Twin. What was the No. 1 highlight for you? Was it playing in the Series, or was it something else?
Pagliarulo: My No. 1 highlight was my first old-timers day [as an active player] at Yankee Stadium, when Mickey Mantle put me in a headlock and wrestled me to the ground. I couldn’t believe that he would even talk to me, let alone make me feel like I was part of the family. That’s probably the day that I most remember in baseball.
And Mr. Steinbrenner has always given me great opportunities. More recently, the thing I’m most proud of, why I played baseball, is that my son is able to graduate college. That opportunity was given to me by the Yankees. I’m sincerely thankful and appreciate every bit of opportunity that I’ve had. That’s making the most of it when you put your kids through college.
Markusen: Looking back at those Yankee years, they were very tumultuous; there was a lot of turnover, a lot of close finishes in the AL East. As you look back, was there one guy in particular, a teammate of yours, that was especially colorful or offbeat, somebody that you still think a lot about today?
Pagliarulo: Oh, I think about a lot of them. There isn’t just one. If there was just one, we didn’t have much of a team. It was a group of guys, the scouts, the minor league coaches, the managers, the ownership; it was many, many things. A difficult question, but a very good question.
Markusen: The best years of your life?
Pagliarulo: The best years of my life? Realizing all the benefits that the opportunity in the major leagues has brought me, the best [moment] is my kid graduating college.
Markusen: Mike, I appreciate it very much.
Bruce Markusen, who writes Cooperstown Confidential for The Hardball Times, considers Mike Pagliarulo his favorite Yankee from the 1980s.