Jeff Pico had pitched well at AAA Iowa in 1988. Through late May, he'd gone 5-2 with a 2.24 ERA. Making his first major league start on May 31, Pico did a little better.
He threw a complete game shutout. In his major league debut.
"I'm thrilled," Pico told reporters afterward. "Yes, I'm a little stunned. ... That's the best I've pitched all season."
Despite his solid start, Pico's time in the majors would be relatively brief. Three seasons later and his major league career had ended, and not on the best of terms.
Pico's career began as a 13th round draft pick in 1984, selected by the Cubs. He started that year at rookie league Pikeville, making AA Pittsfield and AAA Iowa in 1987. He returned to Iowa for 1988, getting his call-up to Chicago in late May.
For the Cubs in 1988, Pico started 13 games, appeared in 29. He went 6-7 on the year. And, despite that initial showing, had an ERA of 4.15. Part of that ERA came July 2, when Pico was far from what he was in that debut. In 3.2 innings of work, Pico gave up six runs. Then, on Aug. 28, he did it again. A complete game shutout.
In 1989, Pico was back in Chicago. This time, he was serving mainly as a reliever. In 53 appearances, he had an ERA of 3.77. He got a win in relief May 1, pitching three perfect innings. He did get five starts. In mid-May, he pitched seven shutout innings in a 4-0 Cubs win.
It was back to 31 appearances and eight starts for 1990. Pico's ERA also topped out at 4.79. He started the year with the big club. But it was briefly back to the minors in late April. His ERA then topped 10. Pico was pitching bad and he knew it.
Returning to the majors two weeks later, he got another start and another six scoreless innings.
"I don't blame them," Pico told The Chicago Tribune after his return. "My ball wasn't sinking, which is what I'm here for. . . . I blamed myself."
Pico was looking for a return to the Cubs for 1991. But his spring apparently wasn't good enough. It included one outing where he gave up three runs and four hits in two innings of work.
Two weeks later, he was cut. He was stunned, again. He told The Tribune afterward his hope was that he would sign with another National League team "because I want to pitch against this team right here.
"I did whatever (manager Don Zimmer) asked," Pico told The Tribune. "It wasn't good enough . . . I've been used and abused, but my arm withstood all of that."
Pico did sign with a new team, but it wasn't in the National League. It was with Oakland. Pico played the year at AAA Tacoma, never seeing Oakland. Parts of two more years with two other organizations and Pico's time in affiliated ball was done. He returned in 1995 and 1996 for looks at independent ball and he was done.
Pico has since served as pitching coach for several minor league teams, most recently the Mobile Bay Bears in 2009. For 2010, Pico served as the Diamondbacks' roving pitching coordinator.
He later served as pitching coach for the Reds in 2014 and 2015 and then served in 2019 as bullpen coach for the Tigers.
- Milwaukee Journal, Associated Press, June 1, 1988: Cubs get a rare performance from Pico
- Chicago Tribune, May 17, 1990: Jeff Pico Blames Himself For His Recent Demotion
- Chicago Tribune, March 19, 1991: Angry Pico Cut
Made the Majors:1,159-36.2%
Never Made Majors:2,044-63.8%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 480
10+ Seasons in the Minors:283