Mike Armstrong

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Michael Dennis Armstrong

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Biographical Information[edit]

Mike Armstrong was a middle reliever whose career was derailed after he was traded to the New York Yankees.

Originally selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the January 1974 amateur draft, Armstrong was traded to the San Diego Padres in a minor league deal. After a few appearances with the Padres in 1980 and 1981, Armstrong's contract was purchased by the Kansas City Royals. Royals manager Dick Howser soon installed Armstrong as the primary setup man for Dan Quisenberry, and Armstrong did well in that role over the next two years for the 1982 Royals and 1983 Royals.

On July 18, 1983, the Royals played the Toronto Blue Jays in a nationally televised game at Exhibition Stadium. With the Blue Jays leading 1-0 and a runner on second, George Brett ripped a fair ball down the right field line into the visitor's bullpen, which was situated on the field in foul territory. The hit looked like a sure triple, but Armstrong, who was in the middle of a conversation and wasn't paying attention when the ball was hit, assumed the ball was foul and fielded it as it caromed off the wall. The umpires ruled it a double due to interference and a sheepish Armstrong was ridiculed by ABC announcers Howard Cosell, Earl Weaver, and Al Michaels for the rest of the broadcast.

Armstrong also became the answer to a trivia question during that year, when he became the winning pitcher of the Pine Tar Game.

After the season, the Royals traded Armstrong and Duane Dewey to the Yankees for Steve Balboni and Roger Erickson. The Yankees, who were anticipating losing Rich Gossage to free agency, were desperate to shore up their bullpen when they made the trade. However, the deal soon turned into a PR nightmare for the team. Balboni, a heavily-hyped prospect who had been unable to succeed in limited trials with New York, settled in as Kansas City's starting first baseman and clubbed 117 homers over the next four years. Armstrong, on the other hand, showed up at spring training in 1984 with a sore arm. It turned out Armstrong's bum elbow was one of the worst-kept secrets in baseball, but the Yankees hadn't gotten the memo. George Steinbrenner, convinced that he had been peddled "damaged goods," asked Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to intervene and amend the deal with the Royals, but no resolution was ever reached. Armstrong did not make his debut with the Yankees until June 16th.

Prior to 1985, the Detroit Tigers reportedly offered aging slugger Darrell Evans to the Yankees for Armstrong. The Yankees declined. Evans went on to lead the American League with 40 home runs. Meanwhile, things didn't get any better for Armstrong, as he had a poor spring and was sent down to Triple A at the beginning of the year. He was recalled on June 4, but Yankees manager Billy Martin had no use for the finesse-tossing Armstrong and buried him in the back of the bullpen. On June 20, Yankees closer Dave Righetti blew a 3-run lead in the bottom of the 9th inning against the Tigers, then put runners on the corners with 2 outs in the 10th. Armstrong was summoned from the bullpen, even though he hadn't pitched since June 9th. On his second pitch, Armstrong threw a walk-off wild pitch. That effectively ended any possibility of Armstrong having a meaningful career with the Yankees, and he was soon sent back down to Triple A. However, the Yankees recalled him immediately before the brief players' strike later that year so they could avoid having to pay his salary during the work stoppage. The Yankees kept shuttling Armstrong between New York and Columbus and late in the season, the Players' Association filed a grievance on his behalf, claiming the Yankees had sent Armstrong down improperly. Armstrong apparently ended up dropping the grievance to avoid having his guaranteed contract terminated.

Armstrong spent most of 1986 at Triple A, with a handful of appearances with the Yankees. He signed a minor league contract with the Yankees in 1987, but was released in April after refusing to accept a demotion to Double A. He then signed with the Cleveland Indians and made 14 appearances for them during that season.

Armstrong was still pitching as recently as 2006 in the Athens Area Men's Baseball league in Athens, GA. A car accident left Armstrong with a rod in his leg, which made it hard for him to cover a bunt, but he still had a fastball in the mid 80's. [citation needed]

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