Kevin Mitchell was born in San Diego and grew up in a tumultuous area of the city. Being raised by his grandmother from a young age, he preferred football and boxing, but grandma knew best and directed him to the diamond, even taking him to many of his Little League games.
After attending Clairemont High School a friend took him to a New York Mets sponsored tryout in his hometown of San Diego where he excelled, teeing off on Major League caliber pitching.
The Mets signed him to a minor league free agent deal where he rapidly ascended through the organization and made this debut for the team in 1986. He was a valuable piece of the Mets World Series championship team that season, contributing throughout the playoffs and coming up clutch in Game 6 of the Fall Classic.
He was known for his powerful bat but certain highlights throughout his career made him memorable for what he did in the field, which included playing every position but pitcher and catcher during his time in the majors.
His career year came in 1989 when he won National League MVP honors by leading the league in home runs with 47 and driving in 125. He sparked the Giants playoff run and eventual World Series berth.
Mitchell played 13 big league seasons for the Mets, Padres, Giants, Mariners, Reds, Red Sox, Indians and A’s. After battling through various injuries that robbed him of much of the shine of his playing prime, he retired after the 1998 season. In his career, he piled up 1,000 hits, nearly 250 homers and over 700 RBIs.
These days he teaches hitting to younger kids.
In this recent Card Back interview, Mitchell talks about some of what was written on the reverse side of some of the cards issued during his career, including his aggressive mentality at the plate, the catch everyone asks him about, his magical MVP season and more.
Tony Reid– You were quoted on the back of your 1990 Score card saying “Only the mail man walks.” when I asked about your aggressive hitting style and approach at the plate. Is that a legit quote?
Kevin Mitchell-Only the mailman walks. Yes, sir. That’s an actual quote. It was said playoffs against the Cubs and I ended up hit a home run. We are up there to swing the bat. A walk don’t help me. It don’t have to be a strike for you to get a base hit. That is what I teach my kids right now. If you like it, hit it… hard.
TR- Your 1990 Topps Big card noted a career highlight when it mentioned “Kevin caught a foul fly ball barehanded in 1989.” For me, personally, that is one of those highlights and moments that will be in my head forever. Can you walk us through that amazing play?
KM-That is all people remember. I tell people, I used to hit, too. I wasn’t a defensive guy at all. I wasn’t graceful out there. I went from the infield to the outfield. We were bunching Ozzie Smith behind second base and Kelly Downs threw him a split finger and he sliced it down the line. Balls hit by lefthanders come back to you. All I could do was run to the corner and stick my hand out. Terry Kennedy and other people asked me if it hurt. No, I was just ready to hit. We were facing John Tudor that day and I liked hitting off of John Tudor. I ended up hitting a home run right when I got to the plate.
TR–In 1990, Topps produced a set with the department store Kmart. The back of your card said “In Kevin’s first a bat of the 1989 season, he belted a home run. By the end of the campaign, he had led both leagues in homers, RBIs and slugging percentage.” That was a magical, NL MVP Award winning season for you. What are your lasting memories from that amazing run?
KM-You always tell yourself you want to do more. I wish I did more in the game. I’m sad that I didn’t play as long as I wanted to. When you get older you don’t get better and it was time for me to walk away. When I played a game in Oakland and it was the first time I wasn’t called in the starting lineup. It felt like I lost something. It was time to leave. I accepted that. The game was good to me. That 1989 year, everything just went right. We went to the Series and I’m sad that we lost it but I have to give a lot of credit to Will Clark. He was my spark plug and I fed off of him.
TR-Will Clark. What an underrated player. You never hear his name brought up with the best of that era.
KM– No doubt. He does. He’s a gamer. On the field he is a different person than he was off the field. Off the field he is somebody else. When he’s on that field you would love to go to war with him.
TR- The back of your 1994 Studio card had some fun facts. The first is that your hobby was collecting cars. What did that collection look like back in its heyday?
KM-I love motorcycles. I have been riding since I was a little kid. I just enjoy it. It’s a way to get piece to your mind. All you can think about it riding when you are on the road. If you want to get out and get some of that California air in your face, man, it’s just pure enjoyment. I have been riding for a long time. I love bikes. I have been fixing them up for a long time. Right now I am down in El Cajon. My friend owns the Indian Motorcycle shop here in San Diego. I used to collect cars and fix them up, oldies. I don’t do it anymore. It’s a lot of time. I want to live the rest of my life in peace and play some golf and ride my motorcycle and that’s it. I don’t drink or smoke. I’m still trying to get over an injury. I was paralyzed for about five years with my neck and spinal cord injury. I am blessed. I am up, walking around and riding.
TR– It also listec your favorite movie as New Jack City. Nino Brown, man. Does that still hold true 30 plus years later?
KM-Yes, sir. That is still true. That is still the one. Nino Brown. Don’t wake me (singing). I still watch all of those old movies to this day. Black Caesar, Shaft, I watch all of them.