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  • Cal Eldred Started Strong But Injuries Derailed a Promising Career


    Matt Breen

    What might have been? In July of 1992, Cal Eldred arrived in Milwaukee and proceeded to put up numbers that Cy Young would have admired. The Brewers and their fans thought they had the makings of an ace. But it was not to be.

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    Cal John Eldred was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1967. He attended the University of Iowa and was drafted by the Brewers in the 1st round (17th overall) in 1989. Eldred was a big right-hander with everything you'd want in a pitcher - size, athleticism, and a plus fastball and curve. As an advanced college arm, he moved quickly through the Brewer system, enjoying a cup of coffee in 1991. But it was Cal Eldred's masterful 1992 debut that Brewer fans would forever remember.

    Eldred began the '92 season at AAA, logging 141 innings in 19 starts before being called up to the big leagues mid-July. Over the rest of the season, he threw 100 innings, produced an ERA of 1.88, and won 11 games in 14 starts. He finished 4th in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. The team won 92 games - good, but not enough to capture the division (stupid Wild Card game - where were you when we needed you). Few pitchers have begun a career on such a high note - and certainly not one for the Brewers. Big things were expected from the young Midwesterner. 

    With expectations high, Eldred came down to earth in his second year. He won 16 games plus led the league in innings pitched, but his ERA rose to 4.01. In 1994, his numbers continued to falter as his strikeout rates dropped and his walk rates increased. Then, in 1995, after only four starts, Eldred was placed on the Disabled List with a sore elbow. Tommy John surgery was next, and he missed the rest of the season, plus parts of the 1996 campaign.

    Eldred threw 202 innings in 1997, but he was not the same pitcher - as his 4.99 ERA would attest. He fought injuries and ineffectiveness for two seasons, including an ugly 7.79 ERA in 82 IP in 1999, before being dealt with Jose Valentin to the White Sox in return for Jaime Navarro and John Snyder.

    Eldred’s first season in Chicago wasn’t bad - until elbow problems flared up, and he was forced to shut down his season in July. But it was worse in 2001. Another elbow injury limited him to just two games. He spent the rest of 2001 and all of 2002 rehabilitating his arm, and in 2003, at the age of 35, he returned to the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals as a reliever. He pitched three more years, retiring after the 2005 season. He was 37.

    After retiring, Eldred moved into the broadcast booth, serving as an analyst for the Big Ten Network and the Cardinals. He also served as a Special Assistant to Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak. In 2017, he became the pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. He was fired from that position after the 2022 season.

    Two of Eldred’s sons played collegiate baseball, including C.J. Eldred - who pitched for Iowa - just like his father. 

    Looking back, Eldred's rookie season was electric. The team was competitive, and Eldred was a large part of that, as he produced a 4.2 bWAR in only 100 innings. He was a Midwest kid with a strong work ethic - an All-Star in the making. But it was not to be as injuries ultimately undid a promising career. Many points to the hefty workload imposed upon him in 1993 as the source of Eldred's woes. He was only 25 years old, and Manager Phil Garner had him work a league-leading 258 innings (after he had thrown 241 the previous year). A sore arm and TJ surgery were almost inevitable, and the rest of his career was marred by various arm injuries. 

    During his time in Milwaukee (parts of nine seasons), Eldred threw 1,078 innings, struck out 686 batters, won 64 games, and produced 13.1 bWAR - all of which slot him in the top 10 in club history for each of those categories. 

    Please share your memories of former Milwaukee Brewer pitcher Cal Eldred.

     

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    This is not the most relevant point to mention regarding Cal Eldred.  But I have this recollection of hearing in maybe '93 that part of Cal's routine was, on the day he was scheduled to start he would eat nothing but a giant stack of pancakes.  I always thought that was a pretty ridiculous thing for an athlete to eat purposefully. 

     

    I will always have a soft spot in my heart for that 92 Brewers season.  It was such a special season in so many ways.

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    I was in attendance for Cal Eldred's first start. September 24, 1991 vs. the Yankees. About 5 rows behind the 1st base dugout. Pretty sweet seats my friend was able to score (for free) from a friend who worked for a major Milwaukee employer at the time. Elred got the win.

    Looking it up it appears not many can make this claim. 9,378 in attendance that Tuesday night for team that was, at the time, 72-76.

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    1 hour ago, AKCheesehead said:

    This is not the most relevant point to mention regarding Cal Eldred.  But I have this recollection of hearing in maybe '93 that part of Cal's routine was, on the day he was scheduled to start he would eat nothing but a giant stack of pancakes.  I always thought that was a pretty ridiculous thing for an athlete to eat purposefully. 

     

    I will always have a soft spot in my heart for that 92 Brewers season.  It was such a special season in so many ways.

    Agree. Just a special team chemistry-wise. Pitching, defense, stealing bases, moving runners, clutch hitting, just ran out of games. 

    Last home game of the season they gave away a Yount memorabilia book and had to delay the game because of traffic jams around county stadium, people couldn’t get in to the stadium. Reminded me of the home series vs the Rangers in ‘87 during Easter weekend when Selig had them delay the games for nearly an hour because of record same day ticket purchases. 

    Just under 56,000 super enthusiastic fans willing the team to a Sunday sweep of the A’s. Magical years at county stadium in ‘92 & ‘87.

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    I have very vague memories of him as a Brewer in the late 90s and mostly see him as a Cardinal. I remember a low to mid 90s fastball and a pretty good upper 70s/low 80s curve. What did he throw in his early years?

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    He still probably had the second best career of the four Rookie of the Year candidates that season. Lofton was the only one for whom that wasn’t the no question about it pinnacle of their careers.

    Bonus points to anyone who remembers the fourth.

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    damuelle
  • Brewer Fanatic Contributor
  • Posted

    24-year old dude threw 141 innings in AAA, then pitched ANOTHER 100 innings in MLB the same season. Man, the game has changed and will never return to those days.

    I think it took the fraying of pitchers like Kerry Wood and Ben Sheets for teams to really wake up.

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    37 minutes ago, damuelle said:

    24-year old dude threw 141 innings in AAA, then pitched ANOTHER 100 innings in MLB the same season. Man, the game has changed and will never return to those days.

    I think it took the fraying of pitchers like Kerry Wood and Ben Sheets for teams to really wake up.

    And now they throw so few innings and get hurt at an even greater rate. They still haven't figured it out.

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    57 minutes ago, Axman59 said:

    And now they throw so few innings and get hurt at an even greater rate. They still haven't figured it out.

    They also throw way harder now, which is probably the root cause of most of those injuries.

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    On 10/29/2022 at 5:38 PM, AKCheesehead said:

    This is not the most relevant point to mention regarding Cal Eldred.  But I have this recollection of hearing in maybe '93 that part of Cal's routine was, on the day he was scheduled to start he would eat nothing but a giant stack of pancakes.  I always thought that was a pretty ridiculous thing for an athlete to eat purposefully. 

    Carb loading, man.

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    On 10/29/2022 at 10:08 PM, CheeseheadInQC said:

    He still probably had the second best career of the four Rookie of the Year candidates that season. Lofton was the only one for whom that wasn’t the no question about it pinnacle of their careers.

    Bonus points to anyone who remembers the fourth.

    I was gonna guess Ivan Rodriguez...but you said 4th best career, so...Doug Henry? I remember he got ROY votes for the Brewers that year...or there about. 

    Obviously Pat Listach was the ROY that year. 

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    1 hour ago, UpandIn said:

    I was gonna guess Ivan Rodriguez...but you said 4th best career, so...Doug Henry? I remember he got ROY votes for the Brewers that year...or there about. 

    Obviously Pat Listach was the ROY that year. 

    It wasn't a Brewer. There were four main candidates that year, Listach, Eldred, Lofton and the Mariners' Dave Fleming. And looking at the stats, I forgot he had a second good season that might push him past Listach.

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