Eyre rewarded by Cubs for resilience
Lefty battled disorder to earn valuable free agent deal
CHICAGO -- One of the first things Scott Eyre did when he knew he was going to the Chicago Cubs was to check the team's 2006 schedule. Eyre wanted to know when he'd be back in San Francisco because he doesn't want to let the kids down at Charles Armstrong School.
They can expect a visit in May.
In May 2002, Eyre began taking medication for attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). He didn't know he had it until the previous month, when Tim Hughes of the Toronto Blue Jays medical staff suggested Eyre talk to someone about it during an off day in Tampa, Fla. Eyre never thought he had a problem.
"No, I was just me," he said Friday at Wrigley Field, where he was introduced as the newest member of the Cubs' bullpen.
The free agent reliever signed a two-year contract with the Cubs on Thursday night that includes a player option for a third year. If the option is picked up, the total package is worth $11 million. The deal includes a $1 million signing bonus, and will pay Eyre $2.7 million in 2006 and $3.5 million in 2007. The player option year in 2008 is for $3.8 million.
Eyre wouldn't be such a valuable commodity if he hadn't been diagnosed and learned how to deal with ADHD.
"There were little things, like someone tapping on the back of your chair, that would drive me nuts," Eyre said. "Now it doesn't bother me at all. Nothing bothers me. I drive, listen to the radio, listen to my wife talking and the kids do what they would do. I was lot grumpier, I guess, as my wife describes it. Now I'm a lot more happy."
He's also a better pitcher. From 1997-2001, before he was diagnosed, Eyre had a career 5.50 ERA, giving up 139 earned runs in 227 1/3 innings over 95 games. From 2002-05, he gave up 102 earned runs over 252 2/3 innings in 313 games for a 3.63 ERA.
"You get critics who say, 'You grew up as a pitcher,'" Eyre said. "I'm sorry, but you don't get your ERA two points different in three years or whatever by learning. It doesn't happen like that."
And that's part of the message he delivers to kids who also are struggling to deal with ADHD or attention deficit disorder (ADD). The difference? As Eyre talked on Friday, he was constantly moving his hands. He's a little hyper.
"In San Fran, I've had numerous kids or parents who say they take this [medication] now because of you," Eyre said. "One kid's dad said, 'He doesn't want to take [the medication] because the kids make fun of him.' I looked at [the kid] and said, 'How do your friends know you take it?' and he said, 'I told them.' I said, 'Tell them you don't take it any more, and take it at home and they'll never know.'"
Eyre wants students to know they aren't alone, and he'll reiterate that message when he sees the kids at Charles Armstrong School in Belmont, Calif. The Cubs will be in town to play the Giants May 9-11, 2006.
"I made them a promise that if I wasn't a Giant next year that I would still come back and visit them, so I have to go back and visit in May," Eyre said. "I already looked at the schedule to see when we're in San Fran."
Eyre is willing to talk to children in the Chicago area as well.
"[The kids] didn't care if I wasn't Barry Bonds or Jason Schmidt," Eyre said. "They cared that I played in the big leagues and I had ADD or ADHD, and that I made it to where I was. That's rewarding to me to see a kid smile like that."
The Cubs are smiling now that Eyre is part of the relief corps. His agent, Tommy Tanzer, said every Major League team called to inquire about the left-handed reliever.
"I was getting headaches every day from the stress," Eyre said. "How do I pick a place to play without knowing what the clubhouse was like?"
The good-natured lefty, who will be a perfect complement to Chicago closer Ryan Dempster, played for Cubs manager Dusty Baker when the Giants plucked Eyre off the waiver wire in August 2002. He helped San Francisco reach the World Series that year.
Eyre talked to Baker and also got good vibes from conversations with new teammates Glendon Rusch, Jerome Williams and Neifi Perez. Rusch told him about a team dinner the last weekend at a Houston steakhouse that all but one player attended, and that player missed it because he was sick.
About a week ago, Eyre checked in with Baker again.
"All he said is, 'Did you sign yet? We're going fishing,'" Eyre said. "I've got a nice fishing partner."
The lefty decided to leave the Giants because it was just too long a commute to his Bradenton, Fla., home. Twice this year, he left San Francisco after a Sunday day game, flew to Florida, spent the Monday off-day playing with his two sons, ages 7 and 5, then flew to Arizona to rejoin the Giants. The Eyres have a seven-acre spread in Florida that is home to two horses, three dogs, two cats and a turtle.
"I love my wife and kids very much and this is closer to home," he said of Chicago. "They have a good team, and [Cubs general manager Jim] Hendry made it almost impossible to say no. The negotiations were 45 minutes long. We had dinner, I walked out in my Greg Maddux autographed jersey and said, 'How do I look?'"
Eyre had gotten Maddux to sign a jersey this summer, not knowing he'd be the right-hander's teammate a few months later.
Eyre gave the Giants credit for his success.
"Felipe [Alou] showed a lot of faith in me," said Eyre, who led the National League in appearances. "I'd have a bad game or give up an inherited run or something, and it didn't matter what I did on Monday, I was pitching Tuesday. I was the go-to guy. That instilled confidence in myself. I hope I can do the same thing here in Chicago."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.