Hampton jumping back into baseball as pitching coach
Former All-Star left-hander in Angels camp before heading to Double-A Arkansas
TEMPE, Ariz. -- For almost two years, Mike Hampton lived the retired life, which can be quite enjoyable when you've totaled over $120 million in salary as a Major League pitcher. He lounged around the house, traveled a lot and occasionally helped with his kid's Little League team.
After 16 years in the Majors, and several others trying to get there, he needed a break.
"Every summer it was baseball, every winter was getting prepared and getting trained for baseball," Hampton said. "So I just wanted to take a little step back, take a little time off."
Break time is over now, though.
Hampton got the itch to get back in the game a few months ago, so he had his agent put out feelers for potential coaching jobs. And the most appealing wound up being the new pitching coach for the Angels' Double-A affiliate in Arkansas, where Hampton will join a coaching staff led by his former Astros teammate Tim Bogar.
"It'll be an interesting year, getting back on buses," Hampton said. "I haven't done that since '93, but it's something I'm looking forward to."
Hampton, currently getting his feet wet in Major League camp with the Angels, had an up-and-down playing career, to say the least.
From 1995 to 2000, he was one of baseball's top lefties, compiling 82 wins and a 3.35 ERA. When the Rockies signed him to a then-record eight-year, $123.8 million contract, Hampton flamed out in the thin air of Coors Field, posting a 5.75 ERA in a nightmarish two-year stint before regaining some of his form with the Braves.
Then he had Tommy John surgery, which eventually robbed him of all of the '06 and '07 season. Then an assortment of injuries limited him in '08. Then he underwent rotator cuff surgery late in '09, costing him another full year.
"He had really highs and he had some lows as well," Angels starter C.J. Wilson said. "I think when people have that, they don't feel like they're above anybody. They feel like they're on a peer level with more people because they can empathize with the struggling guy or the successful guy, because they've been there."
Hampton pitched for the D-backs in September 2010, while Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto was serving as interim GM, and showed up to camp with Arizona the following spring. But in late March, he decided to call it a career at age 37.
The injuries had taken too much of a toll.
"Your mind and your heart says you can, but your body starts speaking a little louder as your career winds down," said Hampton, who finished with 148 wins, a 4.06 ERA, two All-Star Game appearances and five Silver Slugger Awards.
"I just physically knew that I wasn't going to be able to continue to do it. I had pushed my body to the absolute extreme. So I was able to walk away satisfied that I've done as much as I could in the game and played pretty much as long as I could without a body part flying off."
That's why, despite his desire to continue to pitch, Hampton is at ease with his new role.
And he seems to be adjusting rather quickly.
"A lot of times, when we have some staff come over, you start talking to guys and you get the feeling they haven't really peeled the paint off the game," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "You talk to Mike and from the first conversation, you know this guy understands the game, he's got a great rapport with people and he loves what he's doing. And I mean he loves the game. Put all those factors together, and I think he's going to be a terrific coach."
Left-handers are a different breed. It takes one to know one.
And Hampton hasn't been shy about chiming in with the southpaws in Angels camp -- no matter their service time.
During pitchers' fielding practice, Hampton sparked a conversation with Wilson on fielding the position, then started dropping in reminders during his bullpen sessions -- about maintaining a downhill angle, finishing in good position and not forcing the ball. Immediately after watching Jason Vargas throw, he spoke to him about standing tall while delivering his breaking ball and staying closed with his delivery.
In a few weeks, he'll work solely with rawer talent.
"To be able to experience something like that as a young player, that would've been awesome," Vargas said. "For a while, he was one of the best lefties in the game. If you're a left-handed pitcher and you can't take anything from that, then there's something wrong."
Hampton figures the biggest adjustment will be coaching the younger players, taking into account their knowledge of the game at that point and relaying a message in terms they'll understand. But he's looking forward to the challenge, and he'll fight himself constantly to not relate everything back to himself.
"I always hate it when analysts say, 'Oh, when I did it,'" Hampton said. "I kind of try to catch myself, not comparing everything from when I was doing it, because the game has changed and evolved so much."
Hampton will take his post-playing career one step at a time.
That means no aspirations of managing just yet.
"You know what," Hampton said, "let me start here and we'll see where we go from there."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.