ALBUQUERQUE — Born in Los Angeles on August 25, 1960, Bobby Meacham attended Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, where he played three sports – football, basketball and baseball – because, back then, most boys played more than one sport.
There weren’t club teams and baseball players sticking to that sport 12 months of the year, so to speak. And prep coaches weren’t selfish with their athletes.
“I always wanted to play in the big leagues,” he said. “Basketball and football were kinda after-thoughts. … I was pretty good in all of them.
“I was a big Dodgers fan – my whole family was,” he said.
Although he was initially drafted by the Chicago White Sox out of high school in 1978, he headed to SDSU, where he was a teammate of Tony Gwynn, and signed after the Cardinals selected him as their first-round pick in 1981. The Cardinals later traded him and outfielder Stan Javier to the Yankees in December 1982 for three guys that never made it to the majors.
Meacham did; he played six seasons, 1983-88, all for the Yankees.
Today, Meacham is the bench coach for the Albuquerque Isotopes, for whom he also coaches first base. On a recent afternoon before an Isotopes game, Meacham consented to an interview in the home team’s dugout.
He’s a baseball lifer,, finding steady work as either a coach or manager, working for 10 organizations — Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Miami, San Diego, Houston, Toronto, Philadelphia, the Yankees and the Rockies (1993, 2005 and again this season).
“I got drafted in ’81 and never really knew much about the Yankees, to be honest with you. The National League stuff I knew about, but not the American League.”
After a standout three-year stint at San Diego State University, where he was a teammate of Tony Gwynn, Meacham was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round.
Not long after that, the Cardinals dealt him to the “Yankees, where he’d play for one of the most famous Yanks of all, Billy Martin.
The “Bronx Zoo” years were over and the championship run wasn’t nearly two decades away. But after the traditional rise through the minors, Meacham was in pinstripes for the first time in the 1983 season.
Although his most memorable season was in 1985, when he was the starting shortstop in 155 games, he said his most unforgettable day in the bigs was July 4, 1983, when the Yankees’ Dave Righetti threw a no-hitter.
It was during what he recalls was a 10-day stint with the Yankees, and Meacham felt fortunate to be in the dugout, watching the masterpiece, “as this guy just dealt against Boston. I’ll never forget Wade Boggs striking out (to end it), just the crowd and the excitement. It was a great feeling to watch these guys, as I had my first chance in the big leagues.
“It was crazy with George (Steinbrenner, the team owner) running things, which made it different, but the reality is it was all I knew as a big-leaguer,” Meacham said. “My first big-league camp with the Yankees was in ’83 and I got to see all these old guys trying to get back, trying to hang on. They were big names in other places and they were in Yankee camp, trying to make the team.
“I saw some of the mainstay Yankees guys coming up, and I got to play with a lot of them,” he said. “The Yankees were just different. … When I went to the Yankees, it was like, OK< these guys are used to winning everywhere and all the time, at every level, and I’m trying to fit in here.
“I went to triple-A and I wanted to be on a team that won every year, and … I didn’t want to be the reason they didn’t win every day,” he said. “So, every day when I played in triple-A, I was dotting I’s and crossing T’s, and I didn’t have time to be anything other than the best I could be.
“That’s kinda what I learned from the Yankees – the desire to win is big, and if anybody’s in the way of that, you need to step aside, because the whole point of playing this game is to win.
“When I first got there, George loved me, because he was the reason I got traded there,” he said. “I had a great spring training and he put his arm around me in the dugout after a couple games here and there. I remember when I got hurt, he was the first guy in the training room to make sure I was OK.
“I was only 22 years old, wearing No. 82, and I was playing really well. And then as I became a starter, he still enjoyed watching me play and loved me, but you hit a bump in the road and you don’t play great,” he said. “Everybody’s wondering why, and, ‘Let’s get somebody better.’ When I didn’t play real good, he sent me down and I went down there (in 1984) and worked my tail off to get back up. Did pretty good for awhile until I wasn’t as good as he needed me to be anymore.”
Yeah, it wasn’t the Bronx Zoo, but Steinbrenner ran that circus.
Meacham was the Yankees’ starting shortstop for most of the 1984 and ’85 seasons, seeing action in a career-high 155 games there in 1985, his best pro year. But Meacham’s era was a time of mediocrity for the Yankees, who, after a loss to the Dodgers in the 1981 World Series, didn’t get to the Fall Classic again until 1996, when a youngster named Derek Jeter was playing shortstop.
“So, no problems with as far as George dealing with me as a player,” Meacham said, knowing even then that baseball at the pro level is a business.
Meacham thinks he could’ve learned even more about the game if Martin didn’t get fired and honestly says, “I never got to learn as much as I should have and could have – I actually wasn’t as good as I should have been.”
He also played for Yankees managers Yogi Berra and Lou Piniella, “All great experiences.”
His theory on MLB: “Being great, being good enough to win all the time. If you didn’t, they moved on to somebody else – that’s the Yankees’ way.”
More on Meacham
- First home run: “It was at Yankee Stadium. I was hitting left-handed. (The pitcher was ) Ron Romanick; we were playing the Angels – that was where I grew up. I went to high school five years away from Anaheim Stadium. … My third career home run was against Romanick also. I didn’t hit many.”
- Meacham remembers the game he lost a home run, with teammates on first and second and Stump Merrill in the first-base coach’s box.
“I hit a high fly ball. Billy had just become the manager again; I think it was ‘Billy 4.’ … I was running like crazy.” The ball went over the fence, but Willie Randolph thought it was going to be caught and was returning to first base. Because Meacham passed Randolph on the base paths, he was called out, turning what should have been a three-run homer into a two-run single.
- “I played with (Don Mattingly) five years. There was no better player in the game for those five years – there may have been some equals,” Meacham said. “Donnie did some amazing things, defensively as well as offensively. Those five years I was there, he was a Hall of Famer, no doubt about it.”
- Why has he stayed in the game so long? “I love baseball. Growing up, I loved it. I learned a lot from watching games all my life and playing them my whole life. … I always wanted to be a teacher, and all the stories I heard about my mother and father teaching, it was so gratifying to hear them tell about watching people grow and learn and get better in their lives. As I do this year after year, I think about how much I’ve learned and how much I want to give back. … It’s more than just baseball, it’s about being good leaders and being men, being leaders in their family and the community.”
- Closest friend in baseball? Willie Randolph and Brad Mills. “Those are the two guys I talk to the most.”
- “I would love to manage in the big leagues. Every time it’s Jackie Robinson Day, and I heard stories and how he couldn’t be more proud than seeing a Black face in the third-base coach’s box; he was talking about managing.
“I’ve done a lot in this game; I’ve done everything but that. I would love to bring that to a lot of different players from my perspective: Coaching and managing in the minor leagues at every level, and playing in the big leagues,” Meacham said. “And being this guy at the top, the No. 1 pick, and being the guy at the bottom, catching in bullpens at triple-A —- and everything in between.”
IsoTopics: The Isotopes are on extended road trips this month, in Tacoma June 13-18 and then Reno June 20-25. The team returns home for six games with El Paso, June 28-July 3. Visit abqisotopes.com for game times and ticket prices.
… To retain more interest, the Pacific Coast League has returned to a format previously used – a split season. The second half of the season begins June 28, with all 10 teams 0-0. It’s hard for fans to maintain interest late in a season when their teams are long out of the “pennant chase.” The first-half champ will then play the second-half champ in a best-of-three series to determine this year’s champ.
… Infielder Elehuris Montero, now with the parent club in Denver, was named the PCL’s Player of the Month for May, after he produced one of the most torrid months in Isotopes history — five doubles, nine homers and 30 RBIs in 22 contests. Montero hit safely in 18 of 22 games played during the month while producing 12 multi-hit performances.
… A new book from Artemesia Press, with its HQ in Tijeras, is “Roy White: From Compton to the Bronx,” about another New York Yankee. White played for the Yankees from 1965 through the 1979 season. “My dad was his first coach; my dad was a P.E. coach and teacher at Van Guard Junior High in Compton. Roy White was on the baseball team there.”