Pulsipher working at a comeback
Left-hander pitches for Puerto Rico in Caribbean Series
MAZATLAN, Mexico -- Former big league pitcher Bill Pulsipher is elated to be pitching for Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series, but admits the road to Mazatlan has been anything but expected. He didn't grow up dreaming of becoming a journeyman pitcher in search of one last shot at the big leagues and he certainly never imagined the mental and physical issues he would encounter along the way.
"I guess they say everything happens for a reason and I guess this has taught me patience," Pulsipher, 31, said. "Baseball, they say, is life and it is true for me. You take the good with the bad."
Pulsipher has seen both this year. The left-hander went 5-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 40 innings for Mayaguez in Puerto Rico this winter, but was charged with nine hits and seven earned runs in 4 1/3 innings in his first appearance in the Caribbean Series.
His wallet has also taken a hit or two.
"Financially, I have not made any money this year, but that's not always the most important thing," he said. "Feeling like I can get back to being a successful Major League baseball player is the most important thing."
Pulsipher was drafted by the Mets in the second round in 1991 and played the better part of four seasons in the minors before making his big league debut in 1995 with New York. That season, he went 5-7 with a 3.98 ERA in 126 2/3 innings, but things changed quickly.
He had Tommy John surgery in 1996 and anxiety problems on the mound surfaced soon upon his return. He went 1-9 in the minors in 1997 and was eventually traded from the Mets to the Brewers in 1998. A short run with Milwaukee ended in another trade back to the Mets two years later. Since 2000, he has also had short stints in the Arizona, Tampa Bay, Boston, Chicago White Sox, Texas, New York Yankees and Baltimore organizations.
"I tell you what, each time you think it's a closed chapter, a new chapter begins," he said. "I think when I was younger I expected things to happen a lot sooner. As I have gotten older, I have matured and I have learned to deal with things."
Pulsipher had been plagued by back problems in the past, but said his battle with anxiety was the biggest issue of his career. His anxiety is now under control and he feels healthy, which was not always the case.
"In 1997, it felt like I never even played baseball before. I was more concerned about how in the world I was going to be able to throw strikes, much less face the hitters," he said. "I struggled with that off and on for years, probably denying anxiety was a problem. It is something in the past year and a half that I got under control because of a change of medication."
Pulsipher last pitched in the big leagues in 2001 for the White Sox and spent last season pitching for Long Island in the Atlantic Independent League, going 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 115 1/3 innings. He later went 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA for Triple-A Tacoma before heading to Puerto Rico.
He went 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in 12 2/3 innings during the playoffs for Mayaguez.
"I am a firm believer that you have to be under control and being overaggressive or too nervous is counterproductive," Puerto Rico manager Maco Oliveras said. "There is a happy medium and Bill looks like he has found that. I think he can make it back to the Major Leagues, but he has to trim down a little bit, maybe 25 pounds. He's not what he used to be, but he can still get left-handed hitters out and his medication seems to be working."
Pulsipher agrees. Overall, he is 13-19 with a 5.19 ERA in 323 big league innings and recently signed with Tijuana in the Mexican League. He was not invited to Spring Training by any team, but remains optimistic.
"Some of my past anxiety problems might have gotten in the way, but if I keep working hard and I put up decent numbers and I show people my mind and my arm and back is healthy, I will be up there again," he said. "I finally feel comfortable again and I'm lucky to feel that way. I'm left-handed and I'm not over the hill yet, so I've got a chance."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.