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Where've you gone, Dave Fleming?
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06/10/2003 11:20 PM ET 
Where've you gone, Dave Fleming?
Success for lefty came in a flash, was all too fleeting
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Dave Fleming went 11-3 in the first half of 1992, yet the 22-year-old wasn't an All-Star. (Otto Greule/Allsport)
SEATTLE -- The best starting pitcher on the Mariners staff in 1992 was a left-hander.

He won 17 games, posted a 3.39 ERA, completed seven of the 33 games he started and tossed four shutouts.

Randy Johnson, you say? Wrong.

The ace of the '92 staff was Dave Fleming, a quiet southpaw born in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, N.Y., who went from College World Series star at the University of Georgia to the Major Leagues in a blink of an eye.

It was a career that ended almost as quickly.

Fewer than six years after making his MLB debut with the Mariners -- on Aug. 6, 1991, at age 21 -- Fleming's big-league career ended, primarily because of a weak left shoulder and control lapses.

Still only 33 years old, Fleming currently lives in Southbury, Conn., with his wife, Ivy, and their two daughters, Taylor (8) and Peyton (4). He is in his first year of teaching the fifth grade, does a little coaching on the side and runs a summer baseball clinic that includes kids from Little League to college.

"I love it," he said of his life after baseball.

A rapid rise to the bigs
He felt the same way 13 summers ago when the Mariners selected him in the third round of the 1990 First-Year Player Draft. Fleming decided to end college a year early and become a professional baseball player, spending the remainder of that summer with Class A San Bernardino (California League).

After starting the 1991 season at Double-A Jacksonville, Fleming was promoted to Triple-A Calgary on Aug. 6, but a funny thing happened on his way to Canada.

While he was changing planes at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Fleming received a phone call from Lee Pelekoudas, the Mariners' assistant general manager.

"Someone had been injured, I think it was Russ Swan, and I was being called up to replace him," Fleming said. "So, instead of going to Calgary, I was supposed to fly to Oakland."

But by the time his luggage had been removed from the plane going to Calgary and he reached the boarding area for the flight to Oakland, the plane had already departed.

"I couldn't believe I missed my flight," he recalled.

The Mariners arranged for Fleming to fly into San Francisco and take a taxi from the airport to the Oakland Coliseum, where the Mariners were playing the Athletics that night.

He arrived in "the second or third inning" and went directly to the visiting clubhouse, where a uniform was waiting. He got dressed and went to the bullpen, figuring he would watch the game, not participate in it.

As he warmed up in the bullpen, Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre went to the mound and called for the left-hander to face left-handed hitter Harold Baines.

"There were two outs and (Jose) Canseco was on first base," Fleming recalled.

Canseco attempted to steal second base during Baines' at-bat, but he was thrown out by catcher Dave Cochrane.

"Three pitches," Fleming said. "That was my Major League debut."

Fleming made eight more appearances, including three starts, that season and reported to Spring Training the following February full of excitement. "I had been told that I was going to be in the rotation as the fifth starter."

A memorable 1992
He actually began the '92 season as the No. 4 starter and the Mariners opened the regular season with a four-game series in Texas against the Rangers.

A rotation that also included Randy Johnson and Erik Hanson was swept, signaling the beginning of what became known as "The Plummer Year."

Lefebvre, who managed the Mariners to their first-ever winning season in 1991, was dismissed and replaced by Bill Plummer, a longtime minor league manager in the organization and former catcher.

The '92 season didn't start well.

"We were outscored something like 47-7," said Fleming, who started and lost the series finale to Texas. "After the game, Plummer called me into his office and really got on me, asking me if I was up to the task of pitching in the Major Leagues. I couldn't figure out why I was getting chewed out and the other pitchers weren't."

Fleming remained in the rotation and reeled off a club-record nine consecutive wins.

"I just remember how much fun it was to win, as opposed to getting overwhelmed like I did in Texas," he said. "I don't know if that (Plummer chewing-out) had anything to do with it, but I did pitch much better afterward."


"I am probably more disappointed now than I was then. My career went a lot shorter than I expected. I didn't think that would be my only chance."
-- Dave Fleming on not making the 1992 AL All-Star team

Fleming had a 10-3 record as the All-Star break approached and there was talk that he would be selected to the American League All-Star team. But Fleming had his doubts.

"I had pitched a 1-0 shutout against Minnesota -- Greg Briley hit a leadoff home run -- but afterward, I heard that (Twins manager) Tom Kelly had said he wasn't that impressed."

Kelly, the American League's All-Star Game manager that summer, didn't select Fleming.

"I am probably more disappointed now (at not being selected) than I was then," he said. "My career went a lot shorter than I expected. I didn't think that would be my only chance."

Fleming went into the break with an 11-3 record, beating the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on the Sunday before the All-Star Game, and enjoyed the three days off with family and friends in the New York area.

The shunned lefty came back for the second half and improved his record to 15-5 before finishing at 17-10. He pitched a lot of innings -- a career-high 228 1/3 -- for a team that lost 98 games.

An unfortunate sign
Fleming shut out the White Sox in his final start of the season, but experienced discomfort in his left elbow.

"It was nothing severe," he said.

Fleming returned to the Northeast for the offseason, feeling good about the way his career was going. After all, there weren't many 23-year-old 17-game winners in the Major Leagues.

But the discomfort he felt in September returned in January when Fleming began getting ready for Spring Training.

"I thought the warm weather in Arizona would help," he said.

The problem was diagnosed as "stress overload syndrome," which caused severe tendinitis. The Mariners decided to shut him down for the rest of Spring Training and he began the regular season on the disabled list.

After four rehab starts at Double-A Jacksonville, Fleming returned to the Mariners and ended up with a 12-5 record in 26 starts, but never felt he impressed either new manager Lou Piniella or pitching coach Sammy Ellis.

"That added pressure going into '94," he said.

And that led to a 7-11 record and a stratospheric 6.46 ERA. His career with the Mariners was in a serious nosedive and it ended midway through the 1995 season when he was traded to the Kansas City Royals, taking with him a weakened left shoulder.


"I didn't throw 95 (mph) but I knew how to pitch. I always looked forward to being an older pitcher using guile and knowledge -- just like Jamie Moyer."
-- Dave Fleming

Fleming missed out on most of the memorable '95 season, but he was in Yankee Stadium for the first two games of the Division Series. "I went with some buddies," he said.

And whom did he root for?

"The Yankees," he said. "I probably still had some bitterness in me."

Fleming never won another big-league game after that '95 trade, largely because of a worn-out shoulder. The Royals released him in '96, and brief minor league stints with the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles didn't materialize into another big-league shot, either.

"I was 29 years old with a wife, daughter and another daughter on the way," Fleming said. "So I decided to finish college and get my degree, and then I got a masters in education, which allows me to teach."

Looking back on a career that started out so well but ended too quickly, Fleming said, "I didn't throw 95 (mph) but I knew how to pitch. I always looked forward to being an older pitcher using guile and knowledge -- just like Jamie Moyer."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.




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