Forgotten Player of the Moment – STEVE ONTIVEROS
(by Bill Barnwell)
A few months ago, I was re-reading Robert Whiting’s “You Gotta Have Wa”, the book primarily about gaijins in Japanese baseball. One of the players prominently featured in the book is mid 70’s major leaguer Steve Ontiveros. This confused the heck out of born-in-84 me, as I remembered Steve Ontiveros playing all the way till the nineties, in albeit a very weird fashion. It took about five minutes of research for me to realize that there were two Steve Ontiveros’s. Steve Ontiverii?
Since Whiting already covered the seventies Ontiveros pretty well, I’m gonna talk a little bit about the later one.
Steve Ontiveros has to have had one of the weirdest career paths of a modern-day major leaguer. He made it to the majors at age 24, in 1985, with the A’s. He was a reliever and then got to start for a couple of years, with limited success. He then traveled to Philly, where he spent two years in the pen with good ERAs, if ugly peripherals. After the Phillies let him go, he spent three years out of the majors. I have no clue where. For all I know, Hanshin mistook him for the old Ontiveros and tried to bring him in to play first. Three years later, Ontiveros returned to the majors a early-90’s Mariner, an ugly, ugly thing to be if there ever was one (sorta like being a modern-day Red. But the Reds have a NEW STADIUM!!! Ed weeps). He pitched a few innings in relief and returned to the A’s.
And for some reason, in 1994, at age 33, Steve Ontiveros was amazing. Well, sometimes. He started off the year in relief and had some ugly performances. For some reason, Oakland threw him into the rotation and he went from being a decidedly mediocre mop-up reliever to being THE GREATEST STARTER IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. He gave up 1 earned run in
his first full start, against Toronto, and then he went off. He had one disaster game in the middle of his run, against Baltimore. Besides that, he had a streak of 48 1/3 innings where he gave up one run – a home run to Mike Stanley that gave the Yankees a 1-0 win over him. As a reliever in 1994, Ontiveros was 1-2 with a 5.58 ERA. As a starter? 5-2, 1.59 ERA. What was the difference? Undoubtedly steroids.
The other great thing was Ontiveros knew EXACTLY when to time his great run. As his
pitching started to show signs of letting up, the strike hit. As a result, Ontiveros’ 115 innings were enough to qualify for the league ERA title, which he won.
The next year, Ontiveros got 22 turns in the rotation, was almost exactly league average, and disappeared into the ether, never to ret-
For some reason, Ontiveros took FIVE MORE YEARS off from baseball. He returned in 2000 to pitch 5 awful innings for the Duquette Sox. Well, he was probably better than John Wasdin.