John Olerud Didn’t Need Dad’s Advice

John Sr. has more rings, but not near the thrills

Roy Hobbs Baseball

John and John Sr.
Photo courtesy of the Olerud FamilyJohn and John Olerud, baseball through and through.

John Olerud Sr. could have offered his son all kinds of advice about persevering in the minor leagues: enduring the bus rides, the fast food, cheap hotels. But he never got to.

John Jr. never spent a day in the minor leagues. He went straight from Washington State University to the starting lineup of the Toronto Bluejays in a 17-year career that saw him win 2 World Series titles, an American League batting title, three gold gloves, and earn two All Star appearances.

“Yeah, he gives me a hard time about missing those bus rides,” John Jr. says.

“I also kid him about the fact that I have more World Series rings than he does,” John Sr. adds.

As a member of the Washington Titans – John Sr. will again play for the Titans in the Vintage Division of the 2011 Roy Hobbs World Series – he has been on a half dozen World Series championship teams.

But back in the 60’s, he was a catching prospect trying to make his own way to the Majors. He signed with the Angels and labored in their minor-league organization for 5 years, spent a season with the Cardinals AAA team in Tulsa, and his final season was with Montreal’s AAA team in the International League. And during the off-season of all those years, he was earning his medical degree.

“I had a pretty good season that year at Tulsa,” he said, “but I got passed over. Because I was finishing medical school, teams didn’t think I was a serious contender to play in the Majors. Of course, if I’d had my son’s kind of ability, they would have found a way for me to keep playing.”

John Jr. was only two-years-old when his dad’s professional baseball career ended. From a baseball standpoint, he knew his dad mostly as a coach and advisor. After a 30-year layoff, John Sr. took up the game as a player when a relative appealed to him to come out and play.

“I know he pulled a lot of muscles trying to play that first year,” John Jr. said. “He hurt himself quite a bit. But he decided he wanted to keep playing, so he got in better shape.”

During those initial years, John Jr. was in the middle of his own playing career, so he didn’t get a chance to see his dad play until just a few years ago when he went out to watch one of his dad’s league games in Seattle.

“I was surprised,” John Jr. said. “They played awfully good baseball. Better than I’d anticipated. It was fun to watch. The pitching was tough. The defense was solid. They were taking extra bases. I pulled muscles just watching them.”

Although John Sr. had to leave his advice about coping with the minor leagues on the shelf, there were still times during John Jr.’s stellar career that the son sought the father’s input. “Especially early in his career,” John Sr. said, “there were times when he struggled, and he was always willing to listen to ideas.”

One thing John Jr. remembers with appreciation is that his dad always made the game fun for him when he was young. Instead of rote exercise, practice was turned into games. How many balls can you hit out of the infield in the air? Having a knowledgeable catcher to practice with helped him understand hitters and aided in his development as one of the top collegiate pitchers in the country at Washington State.

As a medical doctor, John Sr.’s recreational time is limited. But what he has now he devotes to baseball.

“Baseball gives me a reason to go the gym and stay fit,” he says. “It gives me a reason to try and play closer to my ability level. I like to feel like I’m playing as well as I can at this time in my life. Plus I just love to play the game.”

John Jr. thinks baseball fills the need for competition in his father’s life.

“That’s hard to find at this point in his life. Getting together with a group of like-minded guys and finding a place to compete is what he likes.”

John Sr. would like to do one more thing that he has not yet done on a baseball field. “I’d like to catch him in a game, while I still feel like I could,” John Sr. says. “If he ever wanted to go with me to one of those father-son tournaments it would be great. I think I could still handle him. Anyway it would be fun to try.”

He understands, though, that for a former Major League star to step back onto the field in amateur competition is not as simple a matter as it might sound. His son is very much like him. “He was one of those guys who took preparation very seriously. It’s not that he doesn’t still have the ability. He just doesn’t have the venue for preparation that he had before. And he’s not about to do something when he feels like he’s not prepared.”

So while that dream might not come true, John Sr. says, John Jr. has already given him a lifetime of thrills on the baseball field.

“In his professional career,” John Sr. said, “he went to the playoffs 12 times in 17 years. So we made quite a few memorable baseball trips. We got to be very attentive baseball parents long after he had his own family. He was quite tolerant of letting Grandma and Grandpa tag along.”