An Interview with Mike Felder

added 10/25/01 by Ray Kerby

Mike Felder is a native of the Bay area in California that broke into the big leagues with Milwaukee in 1985. He spent one season, his final in the majors, with the Astros in the strike-shortened 1994 season. He has a lot of fond memories of his playing days, and shared them in a telephone interview. I hope you enjoyed reading about them as much as I enjoyed listening to them!

(c) Houston Astros
Ray Kerby: As a child, did you always want to be a ballplayer? What made you want to be a ballplayer? How did you get started?

Mike Felder: Growing up as a kid, that's basically what everybody did, playing football, basketball and baseball. I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of kids, and we were very active and that was something that we did to basically keep us out of trouble.

RK: Did you play more than one sport in school?

MF: I played football and baseball in high school. We also had a bowling league, and I bowled.

RK: What position did you play on the team?

MF: In football, I was a defensive back and a wide receiver. On the baseball team, I played shortstop and second base.

RK: What part of California did you grow up in? Did you have a favorite team?

MF: I grew up in northern California in Richmond, which is five minutes north of Berkeley, about ten minutes Oakland and fifteen minutes from San Francisco. I had the luxury of having two teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's, well actually, the Raiders and the 49ers and the Golden State Warriors were my favorite teams growing up.

RK: Were there certain players you idolized?

MF: Most definitely. I was fortunate to have two great teams. The San Francisco Giants had Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and McCovey. The A's were a young team that had just moved to Oakland in the late Sixties. They came in with players like Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers and Daryle Knowles, so I had those guys to look up to as idols. They both were pretty good teams and we had a lot of success with them so we had the luxury of going back and forth across the bay and rooting for our teams.

RK: When you were playing in high school, what kind of response did you get from the professional leagues and what made you decide to choose baseball over football?

MF: Coming out of school -- I graduated in '79 -- our area was a pretty tough area where we didn't get a lot of scouts out here to look at us. We had a lot of talent down here in Richmond and, for some reason, it was like they were scared to come down in our area. It seemed like they would either just stop in Oakland, or pass through us and head up towards Sacramento's way. So a lot of talent was bypassed and a lot of players in our area would have to go to junior college and hope to get drafted or move on from there. We had a lot of exceptional athletes, but we were small -- the little guys. Back in those days, everything was built around size and if you weren't six feet tall, you pretty much got overlooked.

RK: Did some of the guys you played alongside with make the pros?

MF: One my high school teammates, Ryan Harrison, made it as high as AAA with the Oakland A's. He had a bad injury where he broke his wrist one year in Spring Training - against us. I was with Milwaukee at the time and him and a young infielder, Steve Kiefer -- who did make it to the big leagues -- had a collision. Ryan messed his wrist up real bad and was never able to really recover after that. He was on the track where he might have made it to the big leagues before me.

My middle linebacker, Kenny Daniels, in high school played for the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts. He made it in football and he also started for the Oakland Invaders before he came over to the NFL.

RK: That's a lot of pros for just one high school.

MF: Well, that's just two of my teammates. Benny Barnes, who played for the Dallas Cowboys for 12 years, graduated from this high school. Alvin Moore, a third baseman who played for the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox, graduated from my high school. So we had a few players that came through here before me that had made it to the pros. And, actually, Benny Barnes and I grew up on the same street. Actually, I had three pros on the same street: Benny Barnes, Travis Williams, and Jackie Rigel. Williams was with the Green Bay Packers and L.A. Rams. Rigel was a basketball player who went to Cal-Berkeley and was a first- or second-round draft pick with the Cleveland Cavaliers. I was fortunate to be surrounded by three pros.

RK: After looking at the 1994 Astros media guide, it was hard to believe how many stolen bases you had in the minor leagues. It was obvious that speed was your primary weapon as a player.

MF: Yeah, that was my forte. Coming up in the minors, I was fortunate to be a player that could run a little bit. Stolen bases were a big part of my game. In my years in the minor leagues, I was always the leadoff guy, so it was my job to get on base and try to score as many runs as I can. Being a person who grew up stealing bases in Little League, it was just something that I did naturally once I made it to the pros.

RK: Do you think your speed on the bases typecasted you into a certain role when you reached the big leagues? Did you get a good chance to be an everyday player?

MF: No, actually, I didn't get a chance to be an everyday player at all with Milwaukee. I think, at the time when I came up, Rickey Henderson was a big idol of mine with him being from Oakland, coming up with the A's and Billy Martin just letting him play his game. I saw how fast he rose to the big leagues and became a major player with the stolen bases, so I tried to pattern myself after Rickey Henderson. Speed was something that a lot of teams didn't have and, being in an organization like Milwaukee, I thought that was one asset I could bring to the club. Once I made it up, they didn't want to lose that stigma of being a power-hitting team. In 1982, my second year in the organization, was the year of the famous "Harvey Wallbangers" when they went to the World Series on home runs. They built the team around just power hitters. So when I finally made it up in September of '85, the only way they knew how to win was through power. It was like they didn't want to make that transition or change, and they were afraid that "if we change up and add a speed guy it would affect us." So basically I never got the opportunity. But because of the stats I put up in the minor leagues, they were still afraid of losing me for nothing and looking bad at the time.

RK: So they hung onto you instead of trading you to a team that would play you?

MF: Right. And in my rookie season of '86, Robin Yount was coming off of shoulder surgery. That's the year they moved him to center field, so basically I was there as an insurance policy just in case he couldn't adapt to center field -- coming from shortstop.

RK: In your first major-league at bat, you picked up a 9th-inning pinch-hit single, starting a rally to beat the Yankees. Could you describe your callup and first at-bat?

MF: We had just won the AAA championship the night before against Phoenix -- I was with Vancouver. I remember receiving the callup and was actually supposed to start that night against the Yankees, but our plane got in late and we didn't make it to the stadium before the game had already started. About five of us got called in that night, I got dressed and, basically, it was almost like a Spring Training atmosphere for me. Here I was, coming from a championship team, coming to a team that was almost 40 games out of first place. There was no pressure; the guys in the clubhouse were basically just waiting for the season to get over. The Yankees were on an 11-game winning streak and trying to catch Toronto that year, which had gotten off to a great start. It was a great thrill because Billy Martin was over in the other dugout, and he was a great manager that I grew up watching coach the Oakland A's. I had a lot of respect for Billy Martin because everywhere he went, he won.

To come in and get a pinch hit in a tie ballgame when the manager, George Bamberger, called my name -- I was just in another world!

RK: How did the at-bat go?

MF: I led off, Rich Bordi was the pitcher, and I pinch-hit for Ed Romero in the bottom of the ninth inning. I believe it was a 1-0 pitch and I lined a single right over the shortstop's head -- a little line drive into left-center field for a base hit in my first major-league at-bat. It was an awesome feeling -- and then I came around and scored the winning run. All I remember was I was on first base and they were paying a lot of attention to me, thinking I was going to steal. The next guy ended up hitting the first or second pitch into left field for a base hit. So here we are at first and second and Randy Ready bunted us over to second and third with Cecil Cooper coming up next. They brought in a lefty, it might have been Dave Righetti, to pitch to Cooper. He lined a shot down the left field line that the left fielder started to catch, but then he realized that a fast guy was on third base and he tried to let it drop. The ball fell in fair, I ended up scoring the winning run and we left Billy Martin out there arguing with the third base umpire, kicking dirt on him and saying the ball was foul.

RK: Now that is funny!

MF: And, actually, it snapped their 11-game winning streak and kind of slowed them down. Toronto had gotten off to an awesome start that year and the Yankees had closed to within a game. When we beat them, it kind of started the Yankees into a little losing streak and Toronto ended up holding up and winning the division. But I thought it was great because all I remember is the guys patting me on the head, saying "Mike, is it that easy?", and I was just standing there watching Billy Martin argue with the umpire after the game was over.

RK: So were you thinking then, "hey, this is easy" ?

MF: Well, I knew it wasn't easy. I think that we had played so well as a team in Vancouver and I was one of the hottest hitters on the team throughout the playoffs, it just carried over to the next night.

RK: In your first year or two in the majors, were there any players that served as mentors for you?

MF: When I first came over, Ray Burris took me and Ernie Riles under his wing. He had us throughout Spring Training; I had spent Spring Training in the major-league camp in the previous two years, so I knew a lot of the guys on the team and just hadn't ever made the team. Ray Burris had always told me, "whenever you get called up, you're gonna stay with me; don't worry about a thing, I'm going to take care of you", and that's what he did. So he was the guy that took me under his wing.

RK: When you were stealing bases, did you rely on your natural speed or did you make an effort to study the moves of the different pitchers?

MF: You study the pitchers because that's who you're stealing off of and you want to get the best possible jump. Most of the catchers, especially in the minor leagues, are all young and have strong arms and I was stealing all of those bases off the pitcher. I studied the pitchers, trying to see what they moved first: if they were a "shoulder" guy, a "leaner", did they have a high leg kick or a short leg kick, and I just basically went off of that. And then you learn how to pick your spots in the count, 1-0 or 2-0, when you think the pitcher has to throw a ball over the plate. Because a guy like me, who ran all the time, I faced a lot of catchers who liked to call a lot of pitchouts. It became a 'cat and mouse' game a lot of times.

RK: Were there certain pitchers that gave you trouble, or certain pitches that were harder for you to handle?

MF: I didn't have too many pitchers that gave me a lot of problems. In my years in the minor leagues, there was a shortage of left-handed pitchers. For a person like me who didn't start switch-hitting until I was in minor-league ball, I had to learn how to hit left-handed in pro ball, and I found myself spending all of my time on the left side since most of the pitchers I faced were right-handed. Whenever I would face a left-handed pitcher, it was to the point where it had been so long since I hit from my natural side -- my right side -- I used to forget how I used to stand. Seeing the ball coming from that side of the field, that different angle, it just took some getting used to picking the ball back up.

But once I made it to the big leagues, I used to tell everybody that the toughest pitcher that I faced was Jack Morris when he was still in his prime. He threw so many different pitches, and then he changed speeds off of each pitch. If he had five pitches, it was like he had ten because he switched speeds off of them. He'd throw you the curveball, then he'd throw you the big, looping curveball. He'd throw you a slider, but then he'd throw you a harder slider. Then, of course, he had the split-finger and the change-up, but then he changed speeds off of each pitch. I remember one game I faced Jack Morris in Detroit, in my first three at-bats I saw a different pitch each time! So I couldn't just sit on one certain thing because he had so many pitches and he threw them all for strikes.

RK: You came to Houston after the 1993 season with Mike Hampton in a deal that sent Eric Anthony to Seattle. What was experience like with the Astros? How did you get along with the players and manager Terry Collins?

MF: When I first came over to Houston, I thought it would be a pretty good deal for me. I knew I wasn't going to be in the same role that I was in Seattle. When I first went to Seattle I was supposed to go over in a starting role. I was having a great Spring with Seattle, broke my finger and missed the last three weeks. After I didn't get off to the super start that I had in Spring Training, they kind of gave up on me and put me on the back burner. So when they brought me back over to the National League in Houston, I felt it was a good move for me. I knew the Astros had their outfield set, but being back in the National League, there was a chance you would play every day or you would hit every day because of the pitcher. I could just prepare myself better to stay in the game mentally because, in the American League, when you don't play you're not going to play for the [whole] game because of the designated hitter. There's not a lot of pinch-hitting and double-switching going on like there is in the National League.

It's just unfortunate that, when I came to Houston, they were overloaded with outfielders. They had a young James Mouton who was just the Pacific Coast Player of the Year. He was a second baseman, and they tried him in the outfield -- in right field. Then they had brought Kevin Bass back... so we were loaded. Finley, Gonzalez, and Mouton were the starters, and then myself, Kevin Bass -- and then we even traded for Milt Thompson. So we were loaded with outfielders, and I didn't get the chance to play as much. With the addition of Andy Stankiewicz and Sid Bream in the infield, we had so many guys that Terry Collins could call on to pinch-hit, even that role was reduced. My playing time was very limited over in Houston. Even though we had great team and were winning, the opportunity for me to play there wasn't there.

But as far as Terry Collins, I had no problems with Terry. I played against his teams in the minors. He came up coaching in the Dodgers' organization, and of all of the teams I played coming up in the minor leagues, I had played against a couple of his teams. I knew the type of manager he was: he was a little, fiery type of guy. We even fought with him a few times, and I know he had respect for me because I used to kill his teams on the basepaths back in the minors. It's just that we had a lot of good role players and I just couldn't get a chance to get a lot of playing time. And plus, they were trying to work Mouton into the lineup back then.

RK: This was your last season, and everybody knows it was ended early by the strike. What were you feelings on the strike then and how do you feel about it now?

MF: Of course, that year nobody wanted to go on strike. I, for one, didn't want to go on strike because it was the last year of my contract, I was finally on a good team that was in contention to win the division, and the biggest thing was getting to the playoffs. I wanted to get to the playoffs because I had been in the league nine years and hadn't came close to making it to the playoffs. In that particular season, we were right there, so none of us wanted to see a strike happen that year. It was just unfortunate that it did. My contract was up and I was one of over 200 agents that season. You had a backlash of the owners being upset at the players and a lot of money was lost on the playoffs and world series. It was like "we lost money, so some of those guys are going to have to pay." I just happened to be one of those guys out there without a contract, being a free agent, and nobody even tried to sign me.

RK: Did you play professional baseball after that season? Did you go to Japan or play in the independent leagues?

MF: I tried to get to Japan, but I couldn't get over there. They wanted home run hitters and big guys, and all that. I ended playing in Corpus Christi in '95 in an independent league. For me, it was kind of like practice. It was something to do to stay in shape. I played in the Big South League in Tennesee in '96, and finally I went over to Mexico in '97. I figured, "man, nobody's still giving me a call so let me go over to Mexico. Maybe if I beat up on these pitchers over here," which I did, hitting over .300, "since they had a high regard for Mexican pitchers, that maybe I'll get a call and get back over here," but that never happened, either. In '98, I played in the now-famous Atlantic League. I helped start that league. I was in Bridgeport, Connecticut playing under Willie Upshaw. We went to the finals and lost the championship to Doc Elwood's Atlantic City team. And then I just decided from that point on, I said "if I can't get back in an expansion year, then that's it." And that's when I walked away -- after the '98 season.

RK: Still, so few players get to the majors, much less play for ten seasons. It's still very impressive. When you look back at your pro career, what are some of your fondest memories?

MF: Looking back, winning the championship in Vancouver -- finally getting the ring after being in the playoffs three previous years and having never won it. Making it to big leagues that first night, getting my first hit in my first at-bat against the Yankees, stopping an 11-game winning streak and leaving Billy Martin on the field arguing with the umpires. Coming home to San Francisco, playing two years for Giants. That's probably the tops of the thrills, because I'm a kid who grew up in the Bay area watching the A's and the Giants. To finally come home and play for one of your home teams in front of your family and friends -- and playing with a childhood buddy, Willie McGee. We're both from Richmond, California, and we came out of the same Little League program. In all of the years we worked out, we never played against each other because he was in St. Louis and I was in Milwaukee. He trained in Florida and I trained in Arizona. And finally, we both came to San Francisco in the same year, in '91. That was thrill, riding in to work everyday together.

And also, there was winning the Willie McCovey award. They have an award that they give out every year, that the players vote on. I was voted by the players in 1992, and I won that award. And winning the National League Player of the Week in two weeks. In won it in '91 and '92, in the same week - dj%E0 vu - at the end of May and first part of June. For a guy like myself, who was pretty much a role player coming off the bench, to win an honor like Player of the Week when you get such limited playing time -- you don't normally play too many games in a row. That was a great thrill.

RK: What are you doing now, after professional baseball?

MF: I coached two years. I coached in the Giants organization in '99, and in 2000 I was with the Expos. This past year, 2001, I took the year off and right now I'm looking at getting back into the coaching field again. Right now, I up at my old high school, John F. Kennedy high school in Richmond, and I'm kind of helping out up here -- doing a little side supervising for them. And I'm helping my brother coach the football team. He's the head football and baseball coach and I'm trying to help him out with this football team right now. The high school has kind of been on a down trend for the last 8-9 years and we're trying to help turn this program back around to where it was when we were here. I'm doing that at the moment, but Im going to be looking at getting back into coaching for the 2002 season.

RK: Mr. Felder, I appreciate your time. Is there any final comments you'd like to add for the fans that will be reading this interview?

MF: Just tell all of the Houston Astros fans that I said "hello" and that I'm still alive and well and doing OK. Don't give up on your team. You have a great team and I know it's kind of frustrating that they've been knocked out of the playoffs. They've had a hard time even winning a playoff game, but stay behind the team because they're right there -- a player or two away -- and then they'll be in the World Series. Just stay behind the team because you have a good team.

RK: Thanks very much for your time, Mr. Felder.