When Jeff Cirillo walked away from the Major Leagues following the 2007 season, he took with him some unique accomplishments…a record 99 consecutive errorless games at third base, the distinction of being the only player to hit 45 or more doubles in both leagues and the dubious honor of hitting the game’s 200,000th home run since 1900.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to the 14 year Major League veteran about a litany of things.
HOVG: Of all the accomplishments you had throughout your career…what achievement means most?
CIRILLO: I believe my greatest achievement in baseball was going down to Mexico back in 2004 and playing six weeks in the winter league at the age of 35 to break a mechanical flaw I had in my swing. From outside perspective, it could have been easy to walk away. For me, I had put myself into a huge mechanical flaw where I tinkered with a toe tap and eventually couldn’t break it. I knew the only way to have a shot at playing was to go to Mexico and work this flaw out. It wasn’t easy, considering my family didn’t endorse it…I had to produce or be sent home and the stigma of playing in Mexico at 35 years old. This six week quest enabled me to play three more productive MLB seasons and when I retired, I was able to let it go knowing that I had made it all the way back.
HOVG: Before appearing in the 2007 NLDS, you had played in 1617 regular season games…and no post season contests. What was it like getting that monkey off your back?
CIRILLO: It wouldn’t have killed me to not make the playoffs! I do feel that people apply a sense of credence to post season play however.
HOVG: You’ve had more plate appearances (65) against Randy Johnson than anyone else…and in 2004, you became his 4000th strikeout victim. Earlier in the season, I was fortunate enough to get some interesting perspectives on “The Big Unit”. What are your thoughts on the recent 300 game winner?
CIRILLO: Facing Randy Johnson was by far the greatest experience I had in facing a pitcher. He was either going to strike me out or I was going to get him. I liked facing him because I knew he would bring out the best in me. If I got a hit, he would glare at me from the pitcher's mound. I would spit at him from first if he ever did…which wasn’t often.
HOVG: You’re no stranger to pitching yourself. In 2007, you took the hill against your former team (Milwaukee)…tell me about that experience.
CIRILLO: Pitching is something I have always enjoyed having pitched at USC for 4 years. (My manager) Bob Melvin, asked if I wanted to pitch the ninth if we didn’t score some runs. I told him I had been waiting 14 years to pitch the ninth!
HOVG: Outside of Rusty Meacham (three for three with two home runs and a triple), who did you absolutely love to see opposing you on the mound?
CIRILLO: I loved facing Andy Pettitte! I hated facing Corey Lidle. (Note: Cirillo was 16 for 33 against Pettitte and hitless in 13 at bats against Lidle.)
HOVG: Is there a pitcher from the past or one that is coming up in the game now that you wish you had a chance to face?
CIRILLO: Nolan Ryan would have been the only one I wish I could have faced…or Rob Dibble back in his prime.
HOVG: You’ve had the pleasure of playing alongside some potential Hall of Famers. Trevor Hoffman and Ichiro are obviously shoe-ins. Let me throw some names your way and you let me know what your thoughts are about some former Rockies teammates.
HOVG: Todd Helton.
CIRILLO: Todd Helton will be a shoe-in!
HOVG: Larry Walker.
CIRILLO: Walker won’t get in, although he is the best talent I’ve ever played with.
HOVG: Anyone I missed?
CIRILLO: (Former Brewers teammate) Carlos Lee has a chance. He’s one of the most fun teammates I have ever had…I loved that guy!
HOVG: Some people are already talking about Joe Mauer as being (potentially) the best hitting catcher to play the game. Any thoughts on the young hitter?
CIRILLO: Joe Mauer's grandfather told me his grandson would hit .400. I didn’t believe him considering he played such a demanding position and gets dinged up a ton. He is an unreal human being…very reserved and respectful. He is also one of the top three defensively in the game. If I was starting a team it would be him or Hanley Ramirez…but probably Mauer.
HOVG: In July, I was able to get some All-Star Game thoughts from some other former Major Leaguers…I’m hoping you’d share some with me as well. You were selected to two All-Star Games (1997 and 2000), once representing the American League and once representing the National League. What is it like being selected?
CIRILLO: All-Star Games are time consuming and stressful for a younger player. In my first one, I felt more comfortable with the clubhouse guys than the players. The second, I had Helton with me so it was much easier. It is really a smoke and mirrors show, with players having their own agendas.
HOVG: Since the 2002 tie, the Classic is billed as "this one counts"...should it?
CIRILLO: It should count. It is all about creating a buzz. The buzz is the seller…they should also do more skills competitions.
HOVG: Before we end this…how are you keeping busy?
CIRILLO: Currently, I am helping out the Diamondbacks as a major league scout. I am also in the process of buying a baseball team and will oversee several areas. I’ve been doing a ton sports psychology and being a Dad. I still follow the crew and I miss Milwaukee.
Jeff Cirillo took his final cuts (ironically, during a playoff game) on October 15, 2007. He batted .296 during his career…six times topping .300. Currently, he can be found coaching his kids in any one of a host of sports ranging from soccer, flag football, basketball, golf and baseball.