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Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Steve Sparks learned ML knuckleball: Baseball Profiles

Steve Sparks 1990 Stockton Ports card

Five seasons into his professional career, Brewers minor leaguer Steve Sparks seemed to need something else - a knuckleball, Brewers officials thought, The Los Angeles Times wrote years later.

So, they went to Sparks with an idea - Sparks needed to develop a knuckleball, The Times wrote.

"They gave me a three-year plan, which is a lot, of leeway to develop a pitch, and I was 26 at the time," Sparks told The Times in April 1999. "I figured there was no sense in trying at at all if I wasn't going to give it my best shot, so I went in with a good attitude."

Sparks went and learned the pitch. Four seasons later, he was in the major leagues. He ended up staying for nine seasons.

Before he made the bigs, came the incident for which Sparks came to be best known, an incident involving a phone book and a dislocated shoulder.

Sparks' career began in 1987, taken by the Brewers in the fifth round of the draft out of San Houston State University.

Sparks started with the Brewers at rookie Helena. He made single-A Beloit in 1988 and then AA El Paso briefly in 1990. He played 1991 largely at high-A Stockton. He went 10-7, with a 3.69 ERA in 19 starts at Stockton.

He then started working on his knuckleball. He played 1992 at El Paso, then 1993 and 1994 at AAA New Orleans. Then, in 1995, he made the majors.

Sparks picked up his first big league win that May, with the spring 1994 phone book incident prominent in the win story.

After a motivational group demonstrated mind-over-matter techniques that included ripping a telephone book in half, Sparks tried to do the same and dislocated his shoulder.

"That was blown a little out of proportion but for whatever reason, that's what stuck with me," Sparks told The Associated Press after his first major league win. "Hopefully I can go ahead and prove myself."

He saw 33 games, 27 starts that first year. He went 9-11, with a 4.53 ERA. He then saw 20 outings, 13 starts.

After losing 1997 to injury, he played 1998 and 1999 with Anaheim. He then moved to the Tigers for 2000 and he stayed into 2003. After finishing 2003 with Oakland, he rounded out his career with the Diamondbacks.

He ended with nine seasons played, 270 outings and 182 starts. He went 59-76, with a 4.88 ERA.

Sparks has since gone into broadcasting. Since 2015, he's worked as an Astros radio broadcaster. He continues that work in 2024.

Steve Sparks 1990 Stockton Ports card

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:4,364
Made the Majors:1,406-32.2%-X
Never Made Majors:2,958-67.8%
5+ Seasons in the Majors:573-X
10+ Seasons in the Minors:354

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