Mike Birkbeck

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Michael Lawrence Birkbeck

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Biographical Information[edit]

Mike Birkbeck pitched professionally for 14 years. A Conference MVP in college, he won 12 to 14 games four times in the minors and made one All-Star team. He twice came close to pitching Triple Crowns in the minor leagues, once in AAA. In the majors, he was a successful member of the Milwaukee Brewers rotation for one year. He became a college coach after retiring as a player.

College career[edit]

He was a 1985 graduate of the University of Akron with a degree in business administration and marketing, was a four-year letter winner, two-time captain and the 1982 Ohio Valley Conference MVP. As of 2006, he still holds the Akron career victories record with 24 and is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference's All-Time team.

1983-1986: Prospect[edit]

He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 11th round of the 1982 amateur draft but did not sign and then was picked by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 4th round of the 1983 amateur draft, signing this time with scout Gerry Craft. He began his professional career with the Paintsville Brewers and went 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA, allowing only 17 hits and fanning 38 in 28 2/3 innings. Promoted to the Beloit Brewers, Mike went 2-4 with a 3.43 ERA in 7 starts there. He spent all of 1984 with Beloit, making the Midwest League All-Star team as the top right-hander after a 14-3, 2.18 season. He ranked second to Bruce Tanner (1.96) in the MWL in ERA, was second to teammate Chris Bosio (17) in wins and second to teammate Mark Ciardi in strikeouts (166 to 164). Playing for a great El Paso Diablos club in 1985, Birkbeck went just 9-9 for a team that otherwise was 77-41. Odder yet, his ERA (3.43) was lowest of the team's qualifiers and 9th overall in the Texas League, a sign of poor run support in his outings. Despite his top ERA, he was not considered their top pitching prospect - Dan Plesac won more raves from league managers while Juan Nieves and Bosio made the All-Star team in his stead. Ciardi and Tom Candiotti were also on the staff that year.

Mike made it to AAA at age 25, going 12-6 with a 4.62 ERA with the Vancouver Canadians. He had a 1-1, 4.50 record in 7 late outings for the 1986 Brewers. He would spend the next three years in the AAA-MLB shuffle.

1987-1990: Stagnation[edit]

In 1987, Birkbeck struggled everywhere. He had a 1-4, 6.20 line with the 1987 Brewers, lost his only game with the Denver Zephyrs (allowing 11 runs in 5 innings) and was back in Beloit for one game (four runs, 7 K in 4 IP). His season was ruined by injuries with limited time and poor performances.

In 1988, Birkbeck was 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA in five starts for Denver. He completed four of them, throwing 44 2/3 innings in those five outings, allowing only 30 hits and one home run. He had his best major league season on many fronts, going 10-8 with a 4.72 ERA for the 1988 Brewers.

The former Akron standout split 1989 between Denver (2-2, 3.04 in five starts) and Milwaukee (0-4, 5.44 in nine starts). He presumably suffered injuries again. In 1990, Birkbeck spent all year with Denver, where his line read 3-8, 5.33. This was somewhat below the team average of 5.16 in the high altitudes of the Rockies. Milwaukee let Mike go after that year.

1991-1992: A rough couple of years[edit]

Birkbeck signed with the Cleveland Indians for the 1991 campaign but split the year between the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (0-0, 0.00 in 3 games) and the Canton-Akron Indians. Pitching around his hometown and alma mater, Mike was 2-3 with five saves and a 3.89 ERA for Canton-Akron.

Cleveland gave Birkbeck his walking papers and he was picked up by the New York Mets. Pitching for a 56-86 last-place Tidewater Tides team, Mike's 4-10, 4.08 line was average for the club, though he was the top strikeout threat (101 in 117 IP) of any of their hurlers. He got one start for the 1992 Mets, allowing 7 runs on 12 hits in the second half of a doubleheader on August 31st.

1993-1994: Two great years in Richmond[edit]

In 1993, Mike signed on with the Atlanta Braves and had a fine year with the Richmond Braves, going 13-8 with a 3.11 ERA as the ace of the 2nd-best team in the International League. Mike fanned 136 in 159 frames. The veteran just missed the pitching Triple Crown, tying Chad Ogea for the IL win lead, tying John DeSilva for the strikeout lead and finishing .05 behind ERA leader Kevin McGehee. Birkbeck was again a AAA star in 1994 for Richmond, posting a 13-6, 2.73 mark. He was second to teammate Brad Woodall in ERA, two wins behind IL leaders Woodall and Julian Tavarez (fifth in victories) and whiffed 143 (third in the circuit) in 165 innings, 17 behind leader Frank Rodriguez. In the Governors' Cup, he started game one and won 8-4 to start a sweep by Richmond. As in 1994, he was not called up by Atlanta, which had a superb rotation.

1995-1996: The last years as a player[edit]

Returning to New York, Birkbeck was 6-3 with a 2.36 ERA for the Norfolk Tides before the Mets called him up in late May. In four starts for the 1995 Mets, he was 0-1 with a 1.63 ERA and just 2 walks in 27 2/3 innings in a fine four-game run. New York let him go, though, to give him a chance to pitch in Japan.

Birkbeck signed with the Yokohama BayStars and was 2-0 for them in 1995 with a 2.82 ERA. The next year, he was 0-2 with a 11.81 ERA for Yokohama, allowing 19 hits in 10 2/3 innings as his career imploded after three very good years. He broke his foot that year when it was struck by a line drive.

Career summary[edit]

Mike was 12-19 with a 4.86 ERA (84 ERA+) in 54 major league games, 51 of them starts. He was 2-2 with a 4.78 ERA in 12 games in Nippon Pro Baseball. In the minors, he went 86-65.

Post-baseball career[edit]

Since 1998, Mike has been the pitching coach at Kent State University (holding that role still as of 2011).

Mike's son John Birkbeck attended GlenOak High School and played for Mike at Kent State.

Partial Sources List[edit]

1984-1985, 1989 and 1995 Baseball Guides, 1986-1987 Baseball America Statistics Reports, 1988-1996 Baseball Almanacs, Japanbaseballdaily.com

Related Sites[edit]