Monday, July 4, 2011
#486) JASON ISRINGHAUSEN
Jason Isringhausen was selected by the New York Mets in the 44th round of the free agent draft on June 3, 1991. The right-hander was drafted out of Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois. "My dad said, 'Go have a fun summer and get ready to work when it's over.' We both figured it would be a little summer fling thing," recalls Isringhausen. "For a summer job it worked out all right."
Jason beat the odds of being a late round draft pick from a small school, and became the third part of a trio of talented pitchers dubbed "Generation K". Isringhausen along with Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson were showcased as part of what became more of a media circus building tremendous expectations. "I don't know many teams who wouldn't trade their five veteran pitchers for our guys." said Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine at that time.
"Izzy" made his major-league debut at Wrigley Field on July 17, 1995. The rookie starter was not part of the decision, but threw seven strong innings of the eventual 7-2 Mets win. His first big league victory came during his Shea Stadium debut on July 30th. Jason tossed eight innings allowing only a single run for a 2-1 triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He finshed the season with a 9-2 record, 55 strikeouts, and a 2.81 ERA. The performance allowed him to finish fourth in balloting for the Rookie of the Year Award in 1995.
"We took a flier on him," Assistant general manager, Gerry Hunsicker said. "Izzy never had the maturity that Pulse did, and I don't think he had the mental toughness Pulse had. One thing about Izzy is he always had the great breaking ball. He sailed through the minor leagues because he had that hammer." Isringhausen's poor decision making became a problem in 1996. By his own admission he drank too much beer and gained too much weight. A ribcage injury forced a stint on the disabled list for the last half of August. In total, Jason fell to a 6-14 record and saw his ERA balloon to 4.77. It was discovered in September that he would require athroscopic surgery on his throwing arm. Surgeons repaired a tear in his labrum, and removed bone chips from the right elbow. "The doctors wondered how I was able to pitch with it all year," Jason said.
While the club was expecting him to rest following the operation it appeared that Izzy was shockingly playing for a softball team in February. Then after a sub-par pitching performance while rehabbing from the surgery at Triple-A Norfolk, an angry Izzy punched a plastic trash can and broke his right wrist on April 11, 1997. He returned home to heal and began experiencing severe pain in his chest and breathing problems. Tests were inconclusive, but showed a spot on his left lung that was ruled as tuberculosis. Jason responded well to treatment, but the combination cost him essentially the entire season. "Knock on wood, it can't get much worse than this," Isringhausen said in May 1997. "Hopefully, we can just put this behind us and start succeeding a little better."
That was not the case. The pitcher went to Puerto Rico to rehab during the Winter League season. Discomfort while throwing there made it apparent that Izzy would require reconstructive right elbow surgery. "It's just too painful," he said. The procedure was done and he was lost for the 1998 campaign.
Jason returned to pitching in 1999, but struggled. On July 31, 1999, the Mets traded him along with Greg McMichael to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Billy Taylor.
Isringhausen returned to the New York Mets in 2011. "I'm not near the person I was then, To me, I feel like I'm a better person," Jason said. "I was real immature, and pretty much an idiot back then." He came back after a career that had a total of three Tommy John surgeries between two All-Star appearances for the man that became the St. Louis Cardinals all-time team leader in saves. "Been a lot of games between then and now," he said. "It was hard, but I wouldn't change the path of my career for anything...It's been a long road."
Jason Isringhausen signed his card in the set for my friend, Tom before the New York Mets and Washington Nationals spring training game in Viera, Florida on March 29, 2011.