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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Interview Part 3: John Toale, Career Pattern

The St. Lucie Mets stadium, Digital Domain Park, in May 2011. John Toale played with the Florida State League team in 1988, the year the park opened. (G21D Photo)

Part 1: Promise to Parents | Part 2: Big Adjustments | Part 3: Career Pattern | Part 4: Lengthy Time

The second half of John Toale's career seemed to follow a pattern, he recalled.

It was a pattern that didn't seem to make sense.

"Every year that I had a really good year, where there was expectations of the organization having to move me forward, they either released me or sold me," Toale told The Greatest 21 Days recently. "And every year where I had a mediocre and a bad year, I elevated the next year."

That happened in 1987, with Toale at single-A Winter Haven, Toale recalled. He hit .300, with 15 home runs in 98 games. He even got a 15-game look at AA New Britain.

But the 1983 second-round pick for the Red Sox, still just 22 years old in 1987, didn't seem to fit in the Red Sox' plans. He was sold at the end of the year to the White Sox. Then, at the end of the spring, he was traded to the Mets.

After all that, hitting .300 in the Florida State League the previous year, Toale ended up returning to the Florida State League to start 1988, with the St. Lucie Mets.

John Toale in uniform for the St. Lucie Mets in 1988. The year turned out to be a bad one for Toale. (Photo provided)

That disappointment was hit by an illness early in the year. Toale got into only 55 games for St. Lucie that year, before being sent to the Rangers to complete another deal. The illness, Toale recalled, resulted in him losing 20 pounds and a month of playing time.

Eleven more games at Port Charlotte, also in the Florida State League, and Toale's average on the year ended below .200, at .194.

"Basically, my 1988 season was a complete waste," Toale said.

Still, that Port Charlotte team was stacked with future major leaguers, and Toale got to play with them. Most notably, there was Juan Gonzalez and Sammy Sosa. There was also Dean Palmer and Bill Haselman.

The future major leaguers, though, did not include Toale.

Toale's 1988 was essentially washed out. But out of it, he arrived in the AA Eastern League. Toale signed with the Tigers, who placed him with AA London. The next year, back at London, Toale made the All Star team and his team won the division.

Thinking he might get a shot at AAA Toledo, the soon-to-be 26-year-old was instead given his release.

Signing with the Yankees for 1991, Toale arrived back in the Eastern League, at AA Albany-Colonie. The team official who signed him, and spoke to him about the possibility of AAA, departed before spring training even began.

He also ended up sitting almost the entire first half of the year, in favor of younger prospects. He got into only two games. It was the same league where he made the All Star team the year before.

AutoZone Park in Memphis in 2008. John Toale played in Memphis in 1991 with the Memphis Chicks, playing at Tim McCarver Stadium, the predecessor to AutoZone Park. (G21D Photo)

Finally getting his release from the Yankees, Toale signed for the second half with the Royals, brought in by Joe Klein, Royals VP of player personnel.

At AA Memphis. In 69 games there, he hit .281. He hit third and played every day.

"At that point, I felt I had a new lease on life," Toale said. "Joe Klein brought me in. I had a great second half at Memphis. I had three years of AA. I'm with the Kansas City Royals. I'm ready to go to Omaha next year."

That didn't happen. Toale didn't figure in their plans either.

It also was to be his last year in pro ball. Toale didn't play at all in 1992, instead deciding to put the finishing touches on that degree he'd been working on every fall, fulfilling his promise to his parents when he chose the pros over college.

But Toale would return not once, but two more times before his playing career finally ended for good and his post-playing career began.

The first time he came back, it was after he received a phone call at a large college party.

Go to the final part: Lengthy Time

Part 1: Promise to Parents | Part 2: Big Adjustments | Part 3: Career Pattern | Part 4: Lengthy Time

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