When Jack McDowell was a pitching standout at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in the early 1980s, umpires frequently found themselves receiving an earful from a teenager unafraid to express his feelings, because he hated to lose.
He didn’t change much at Stanford or in the major leagues, where he won the American League Cy Young Award in 1993 with the Chicago White Sox.
At 46 and in his second year as head coach at San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas, McDowell jokes, “That’s my biggest accomplishment with umpires -- staying in games.”
McDowell is returning to his alma mater Saturday to play in the alumni baseball game (“Don’t underestimate the power of Advil and nothing to lose”) and will be inducted into the Notre Dame Hall of Fame on Feb. 25.
“It should be fun,” he said. “Everything I’ve experienced positive and negative from a player’s standpoint goes into how I deal with kids now.”
One of the players on his San Dieguito team is his 6-foot-6 son, Lucas, a junior center fielder. McDowell also has two young children, a 6-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy, from a second marriage.
“Coaching my kids I’ve found is the hardest thing,” he said.
McDowell was the Southern Section Division I co-player of the year during his senior year in 1984, when Notre Dame had one of the best teams in the nation, winning its first 27 games before losing to Long Beach Millikan in the semifinals.
I once wrote about McDowell: “There were umpires in the Valley who trembled at the thought of being behind home plate with McDowell on the mound. He might have been only a teenager, but he wasn’t afraid to bark out an expletive if he didn’t like a pitch call.”
McDowell’s combination of intelligence and competitiveness carried him through 12 years in the major leagues from 1987 through 1999. He insists he never had many problems with umpires during his playing days. “I only got tossed a couple times in the major leagues, and most for fights,” he said.
McDowell’s current players probably have no idea how good a pitcher and competitor he was. He still can pitch batting practice, though his arm is hurting from spending so much time helping construct a clubhouse.
“I did a little too much painting and can’t lift my arm,” he said.
That’s not going to prevent him from doing his best in the alumni game.
“I’m definitely going to play and swing it,” he said.
His message to his current players is “to appreciate the things they have in high school, and it will always be one of the biggest things they do.”
Among the others being inducted on Saturday night in the Notre Dame Hall of Fame is former NFL running back Justin Fargas, a 1998 graduate.