Porcupines in Pinstripes Spotlight: Butch Wynegar
This past Friday, I had the chance to chat with former Twins, Yankees, and Angels catcher Butch Wynegar, Wynegar is entering his seventh season as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hitting coach, and after spending all of 2012 on the road, he can’t wait to get back to the newly renovated PNC Field.
Andrew Kappes: You made your first All-Star team as a rookie. That must have been quite the experience for you.
Butch Wynegar: That whole season was something I never expected, I just finished High-A ball the year before. Gene Mauch had them invite me to spring training. I never in a million years would’ve fathomed I could even make the club out of spring training.
A.K.: How big of an achievement was it for you to wear the Yankee pinstripes?
B.W.: I played with a lot of good ball players during my time with the Yankees. Our pitching struggled, we were in a lot of 8-7 games, but I grew up a Yankee fan. I knew I was going to be traded by the Twins. They were trying to dump salary, but I thought I was going to Cleveland, then I was told I was going to New York. I was like you got to be kidding me. That was a dream, to wear pinstripes after growing up a Yankee fan. I stood in the mirror for 15 minutes just to admire myself in Yankee pinstripes. Those are five years I’d never give back.
A.K.: You had a lot of memorable moments in your career. Two that really standout are Phil Niekro’s 300th win and 3,000th strikeout. Those had to be some incredible moments.
B.W.: I took a phone call during winter from the Yankees, and they asked me if I ever caught a knuckleballer. I said no, and they asked if I was willing to try, and I said sure, but who we looking at? They said Phil Niekro. I became Phil’s personal catcher, whenever he threw I caught him. Looking back on it, it was fun. I caught him for two, maybe three years, There were some hairy moments catching it, but it was fun. His 300th win came against Toronto. He had a dream about pitching without his knuckleball. That morning, he called me over to his locker and said, “Butch, today’s the day.” I thought he was talking about his 300th win, but he said, “No not that, I’m going to win my 300th game without my knuckleball.” I said, “Are you serious?” He warmed up, and never threw a knuckle. The whole game, he threw little sinkers, little curveballs, but no knuckles. We got to the ninth inning with a big lead, he had them off-balance without the knuckle. Then he called me out to the mound and said, “Butch I got 299 life-time wins with my knuckleball, lets finish it off with a knuckleball.” He struck Jeff Burroughs out with three straight knuckles without throwing one the whole day. Not a lot of guys have caught a 300th win, I’m proud of that moment.
A.K.: How frustrating have the injuries in the big league camp been?
B.W.: It’s been difficult. The guys that have gotten hurt, not to mention guys we lost to free agency. But (Derek) Jeter is on track, he’ll be playing first game shortly. I hate to use the term devastating, but it is going to give other guys opportunities. Hopefully they get back in the time period they’re talking about, and until then, we can hang tight in that first month. Our pitching looks strong, the bullpen looks strong, hopefully they can carry us in a tough division. When your GM breaks his leg, you know things aren’t going well.”
A.K.: With the injuries at the big league level, that’s opened up some doors for some guys to make impressions in big league camp. What are your thoughts on the likes of Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte, Corban Joseph, Luke Murton, and David Adams?
B.W.: With what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, Melky might be one of the front runners to make the team. He’s got a good arm, can go get them, and runs well, real lively juice in his bat. He’s still a young type of hitter, he strikes out a lot, sometimes he over swings but Melky has a real good chance of making club, but there’s a lot to be done in the next three weeks.
On Zoilo Almonte: He’s a big strong, a bit of a dark horse to make the team, but if he got hit, he might get looked at. Zoilo is a guy that I didn’t really know much about until last spring training. He had a great camp last year, he’s a hard working kid, and he’s had a pretty good spring so far this year too. Being a switch-hitter, if he continues to swing the bat well, that could give them some flexibility.
On Corban Joseph: The kid can flat out hit. He’s a small kid, but has really good hands, good bat speed, but his downfall right now is defense. He lacks arm strength right now; they’re trying to play him at third base to get flexibility. He’s a hard worker, and I like him a lot.
On Luke Murton: He’s a big kid who had a real nice year in Double-A, he’s got tremendous power. Right now, we’re trying to get him to cut his movement at the plate, he’s got a lot going on with his stance, but he’s a smart kid. Very coachable, he’s trying to make adjustments.
On David Adams: If they haven’t seen him yet, fans are going to love watching David play. He’s a blue collar kid, he can hit and play solid defense. He’s a hardnosed guy who plays hard every night. The Yankees are real high on him; the injury bug has knocked him out of lineup. We got some good, home-grown kids coming up, and I’ve been very impressed with a lot of the younger guys.
A.K.: Last year, you guys were on the road for all 144 games. I’m sure you’re excited to get up here and into the new PNC Field.
B.W.: I love Scranton, this is my seventh year, and it’s a terrific place to play. Guys who played the year before understand how spoiled they were. I love our clubhouse, and as a hitting coach, I miss my cage. Last year, I had to share it with other teams. Luckily there are good coaches in the league and it wasn’t a problem, but we were spoiled having our own cages in Scranton. Now, I can’t wait to get there and see it. I’m excited to see the new facility.