02/22/2006 5:38 PM ET
No nostalgia for all-business Hammond
Veteran glad to be back with Reds, but focused on job at hand
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Almost everything is different since the last time Chris Hammond pitched for the Reds in 1992.
There is different ownership, a different front office, different uniforms and even a different Spring Training site. The only teammate left whom the 40-year-old Hammond played with is Tom Browning, who is in camp as a special instructor.
So, what is still the same?
"The clubhouse guys," said Hammond, referring to longtime attendants Rick, Mark and Bernie Stowe.
Hammond debuted with Cincinnati in 1990, and remained until he was dealt to the Marlins during Spring Training in 1993. His numbers with the Reds were 14-19 with a 4.25 ERA.
A very long circle was completed in December after he signed a one-year deal with the Reds worth $800,000, with a $2 million mutual option for 2007.
While happy to be back with the Reds again, the left-hander was less interested in his history with the club than he was concerned about the present.
"I don't think about tradition or that," said Hammond, who was 5-1 with a 3.84 ERA last season for the Padres. "I've got one job to do: Get guys out."
That's something Hammond has done well since returning from retirement in 2002. Over the past four seasons with the Braves, Yankees, A's and Padres, he posted a 2.47 ERA in 221 relief appearances. Opposing lefty hitters have batted .228.
"I think I've matured a lot. I don't just throw anymore. I pitch," Hammond said. "When you throw 84 mph and your best pitch is a changeup, you have to know how to pitch."
With the Reds, Hammond won't be confined to working in situations exclusively against left-handed batters. The bullpen also has lefties Kent Mercker and Brian Shackleford.
"I really don't look at it strictly as a 'left-handed specialist,'" Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "For our bullpen to work, they're going to have to get guys out beyond just left-handed hitters."
In 1998 as a starter with the Marlins, Hammond was sent down to Triple-A while also coping with his wife going through a difficult pregnancy. The pitcher decided to walk away from the game and retired.
"I took the rest of the year off," Hammond said. "And I really liked it. It's just something that happened."
A couple of years later, Hammond and his wife, Lynne, were looking to start a new business venture when another idea came up.
"My wife and the guy we were talking to were like, 'Why doesn't Chris play baseball?'" Hammond said. "She mentioned to me the only thing that bothered her was that the kids didn't see me on the field."
The Hammonds have three children, ranging from ages 6-9. Eventually, he caught on with a club and went to Spring Training with the Indians as a non-roster player in 2001.
"I figured I'd try to get my arm in shape and, if nothing else, go down to Spring Training and we'll have a great time," Hammond said. "If I don't make a team, I don't make a team. At least my kids saw me in uniform on the field."
It worked out much better than that. Although, Hammond was released from Cleveland's Triple-A club in the summer of 2001, he signed with the Braves' Triple-A Richmond club. That led to a return to the Majors in 2002, when he went 7-2 with a stifling 0.95 ERA that led all relievers.
The following year, Hammond made it to his first World Series with the Yankees. The Reds are hoping the veteran's revived career success continues with them.
"It's been great for him," Narron said. "I think a lot of that is the number of Major League teams there are today. There have always been guys that, for whatever reason, may have retired or may have been released and never got a second chance.
"The great part for him is he took advantage of it."