Doug Mientkiewicz

This article was written by Ryan Palencer - Bill Nowlin


There are only seven players in baseball history who have earned both an Olympic gold medal and a World Series ring. One of these men also has a Gold Glove on his mantel — Doug Mientkiewicz.

Mientkiewicz, a 12-year major-league baseball veteran. finished with a .271 career batting average. He played for seven different teams and points to his longevity in the game as one of the things of which he is most proud.

“[I most valued] staying in the big leagues,” Mientkiewicz said. “It is hard. I played around a lot of good people, good teammates, great cities. There were a lot of good friendships and a lot of really good memories.”1

Douglas Andrew Mientkiewicz was born on June 19, 1974, in Toledo, Ohio, to Leonard and Janet Mientkiewicz. The family eventually moved to Florida. “My mom worked at the University of Miami for like 25 years. She was like an administrative assistant. My dad was an electrical contractor who had his own small business.”2

Doug attended the private Westminster Christian School in Florida and was a high school teammate of Alex Rodriguez, who was a year ahead of him. Mientkiewicz was selected as an All-State player in both football and baseball. A 12th-round pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992, he opted to go to college at Florida State instead. The decision paid off, as Mientkiewicz hit .371 with 19 home runs and 80 RBIs in his third season with the Florida State Seminoles. He was named to the All-Tournament team in the 1995 College World Series. Riding that momentum, he was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the fifth round in 1995. He signed in late July and appeared in 38 games for the high-A Fort Myers Miracle.

His first full year was 1996; he played in 133 games for Fort Myers and drove in 79 runs with a .291 batting average.

In 1997 he was advanced to the Eastern League’s New Britain (Connecticut) Rock Cats. He hit .255 the first year but in 1998, at 24, he blossomed with a .323 batting average, 16 homers and 88 runs batted in in 138 games. He was named to the league All-Star team as a designated hitter. This earned him a look with the Twins and he made his major-league debut on September 18 against the Detroit Tigers. Though he went 0-for-3 in the contest, he picked up his first hit the following day. In 25 big league at-bats in 1998, Mientkiewicz hit .200 with a double and two RBIs.

However, his time in Minnesota was not always peaches and cream. After his cup of coffee in 1998, he had some high expectations coming into the 1999 campaign. Unfortunately, those were not realized. Mientkiewicz hit just .229 in 327 at-bats. The 2000 campaign was not that much better, as he spent most of the season with the Salt Lake City Buzz in the AAA PCL, only playing in the Twins’ final three games of the year. He had made the league’s All-Star team but, nonetheless, Mientkiewicz found his confidence at an all-time low. However, the timing was actually on his side, as he was selected to represent baseball’s Team USA in the Sydney Olympic Games. Mientkiewicz went 12-for-29 with two home runs in nine total games. A grand slam in one was a game-winner, his walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning sent Team USA to the final gold medal round. “Just being on the gold medal stand and hearing the national anthem is something I’ll never forget.”3

Mientkiewicz credits his Olympics experience with saving his baseball career. “It instilled confidence in what I did. It put me back on the map with the Twins.”4 Years later he added, “The gold medal — without it, I don’t think that I would have even played ever again. I was just in a bad spot. I just had come down from the big leagues and had really gotten beat up. I started having some success in Triple-A. … It put me in a place where, if I don’t play back in the big leagues, I have done something that not many people can say they have done. It gave me confidence and had me believing in myself again”

Mientkiewicz credits the work he put in growing up with his father for his Olympics success. “I always felt like I was better built for a two-week tournament than I was for a six-month season, I have always had a knack…I think it came from my dad preaching that it was always bottom of the ninth and two outs when we took batting practice, down by a run. What are you going to do? That situational thinking really prepared me for tournaments and playoffs. I had a knack for slowing it down because my dad emphasized those situations. I went out there and had a solid two weeks.” 

Though Mientkiewicz saw some success on the field, the Twins were in a huge drought as a group. Their most recent winning season had been 1992 and they strung together four straight 90-loss seasons from 1997 to 2000. With low expectations, the Twins then put it all together and finished second in the American League Central in 2001. The following three seasons, with Mientkiewicz manning first base, Minnesota claimed three straight AL Central crowns.

“We were in a rebuilding phase there,” Mientkiewicz said. “We brought respectability back to that town that deserved it. That city really got us, because we were not high profile, big name guys at the time. We were kind of the blue-collar type and that town really fed off us and we fed off them.”

While he played with seven different teams, by far his longest stop was with the Twins. He played in parts of seven different seasons with the team, and he said that it will always feel like his baseball home.

“I was professionally born as a Twin,” Mientkiewicz said. “I was fortunate to come up with mostly the same group from A-ball all the way to the big leagues. I am still in contact with a lot of those guys. People didn’t think we were very good at the time and we made the playoffs. Looking back at those teams, there were some pretty good guys on that team.”

Mientkiewicz stood 6-foot-2 and is listed at 195 pounds. He batted left-handed and threw right-handed. He was, however, far from a typical, power-hitting first baseman in the early21st century. Most corner infielders were expected to hit homers in bunches and drive in runs by the hundreds. This was not Mientkiewicz’s game. He was a finesse hitter, but a solid on-base guy. Where he made his biggest difference was with the glove.

In 2001, he was back with the Twins for the full season, playing in 151 games and leading the team in batting with a .306 average. He homered 15 times and his 74 RBIs placed him third on the Twins. The team finished in second place, six games behind the Division-leading Cleveland Indians. This was the year he won his Gold Glove. He was also named the Twins’ MVP for 2001. How did he become a Gold Glove first baseman? “Countless hours with my old man hitting me ground balls on the concrete for years.”5 He said he wanted to be known as a “gamer…a blue-collar, lunch-pail kid.”6His belief in his defensive abilities paid off when he was awarded the 2001 Gold Glove at first base. “The Gold Glove, for me, was about the only thing I could win, as a first baseman,” Mientkiewicz said. “I had to do things that other guys didn’t do…That was pretty much catch everything that comes this way and turn hits into outs. That is the way that [manager] Tom Kelly wanted it and that is how I got my chance. Defensive players have longer chances to bail themselves out of offensive slumps. I think that my glove earned me a lot of at bats and jobs that maybe that outside world didn’t understand. I was hoping to win a lot more than one [Gold Glove]. With just the one, I am in a pretty high-profile fraternity and that means a lot to me.”

With a 94-67 season, the Twins won the Central Division in 2002, though Mientkiewicz had something of an off-year, his average dropping 45 points to .261 and his RBIs dropping by 10. While his career playoff numbers don’t showcase this fully, Mientkiewicz has displayed that he is a clutch player. In his first playoff series, he smacked two home runs in the 2002 American League Division Series against the Oakland A’s — a solo home run in Game One and a two-run homer in Game Four. This was the Twins’ first playoff series win in over a decade, and Mientkiewicz was a catalyst. In the ALCS against the Angels, he hit .278 with a double, but the Twins were defeated, four games to one.

Mientkiewicz rebounded in 2003, batting an even .300 and achieving a career-high OBP of .393. He only committed four errors all season long, a .997 fielding percentage. The Twins lost the Division Series to the New York Yankees, winning the first game but then dropping three in a row. Mientkiewicz was 2-for-15, both singles.

Before he got the opportunity for his third straight playoff performance with the Twins, he was traded by the team that had developed him. In 78 games with the Twins, he’d hit .246. When he was in a slump, things really ate at him to a degree that seems surprising. He remembered slumps for a long time. In May 2001, he told Bob Nightengale about his 1999 season. “I wake up every morning and remember what it was like, It’s still very fresh in my memory. And to be honest, I don’t want to ever forget that feeling. That year was an embarrassment. It was hard for me to even look at myself…I didn’t deserve to be here…There wasn’t a player even close to being as bad as I was.”7 Hard on himself, for sure.

On July 31, 2004, Mientkiewicz was traded as part of a four-team trade by the Minnesota Twins to the Boston Red Sox.8 This was pretty fitting, because Mientkiewicz remembers seeing what happened to the Red Sox just the season before, when they had lost to the Yankees in the ALCS in seven games.

“I remember sitting there, watching that ALCS the year before,” Mientkiewicz said. “I lived in Miami at the time and was already making plans to go see David [Ortiz and the guys in South Florida. At the time, I wasn’t a really big Yankee fan.”

His Twins teammates were sad to see him go. Torii Hunter said, “This is hard, man. I’ve never seen anyone play defense like this cart. And Dougie is chemistry.”9

The trade happened while the Red Sox were in Minneapolis. He literally walked from the home clubhouse to the visitors clubhouse.

Down the stretch, Mientkiewicz did not put up tremendous numbers; he only hit .215 in 107 at-bats for the Red Sox, but he was ready when October hit, for a cursed team who had not won a World Series in 86 years. Red Sox manager Terry Francona used him as a late-inning defensive replacement in each of the three ALDS games, in the final four ALCS games, and in all four World Series games. Mientkiewicz didn’t get to bat much, but went 4-for-8 and played a strong defensive first base, taking over for Kevin Millar near the end of each game. Indeed, in 175 career postseason chances, Mientkiewicz never committed even one error.

The Red Sox swept the Angels and earned that rematch with the Yankees.

However, things started to look grim again for Boston, as they fell behind three games to none, smacked 19-8 in Game Three. Nevertheless, Mientkiewicz knew that if any team was built to come back from that, it was that 2004 Red Sox squad.

“It was really a special group because they made us feel welcome for the guys who came over later,” Mientkiewicz said. “You know they got their hearts ripped out the year before, and turn around and stay strong enough that they can come back and do it again and finish it. That group may not have been the most talented, but they were the most battle tested. The care for one another was through the roof and I think it gets lost in the shuffle, but I think because we cared so much about one another, won us more games than we might care to admit even in the playoff run.”

The following two games were won by the Red Sox in the 12th and 14th innings. They also took Games Six and Seven to earn the World Series appearance against the Cardinals. Riding their momentum, the Red Sox steamrolled the Cardinals, outscoring them 24-12 in the four-game sweep. While he had only one at bat, Mientkiewicz was in a great spot, providing a defensive replacement at first base in all four games. With two outs in the ninth of game four, Edgar Renteria grounded softly back to Keith Foulke, who flipped to Mientkiewicz at first for the final out, earning him a spot forever in Red Sox lore.

Red Sox broadcaster Joe Castiglione uttered the words that will live in the memory of a generation of Red Sox fans: “Swing and a ground ball stabbed by Foulke. He has it. He underhands to first and the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions. For the first time in 86 years the Red Sox have won Baseball’s World Championship. Can you believe it!”

“We always joked that we hadn’t won one in 86 years, if you think we are going to do it the conventional way, you’re crazy,” Mientkiewicz said. “Getting down 3-0 was not exactly the best of situations, but looking back to win that one the way we did, I think that team will be remembered and grandkids will tell their grandkids. It will keep moving on and be a folklore. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time a lot of times.”

Doug Mientkiewicz kept the ball. He’d not even realized he had it until 20 minutes later when his wife Jodi asked where it was. He looked in his glove, saw it still there, pulled it out and put it in her purse. Unfortunately, he also remarked to a reporter, “That’s my retirement fund.”10 That didn’t set too well with many in Red Sox Nation. There were even death threats.11

Who was the rightful owner of arguably the most valuable ball in Red Sox history, the one that when caught ended an 86-year-long championship drought? How much was the ball worth? The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy called the ball the “Hope Diamond of New England sports.” He noted that the ball which had eluded Bill Buckner was auctioned off for $93,500 (purchased by actor Charlie Sheen), that the Carlton Fisk hit off the left field foul pole to win Game Six of the 1975 World Series had gone for $113,273, that Barry Bonds’s 73rd home run ball sold for $450,000, and that Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball had sold for $3 million. He quoted Boston area sports memorabilia dealer Phil Castinettti as saying, “It might be worth a million dollars.”12

A minor controversy developed and one of the authors of this article was asked to debate the issue with noted Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz. The discussion was printed in the Boston Globe Magazine.13

The Red Sox and Mientkiewicz agreed to lend the ball to the Hall of Fame for a year, but in November the Red Sox filed suit against the first baseman and in December 2005 the two parties agreed to submit to arbitration.14 In the end, the ball was donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “Me, my family, went through hell and back. I’m glad it’s over,” said Mientkiewicz after the matter was finally resolved.15

Following that win, Mientkiewicz played five more major league seasons with the Mets, Royals, Yankees, Pirates, and Dodgers before retiring in 2010 as a minor league player for the Marlins.

In January 2005, the Red Sox traded him to the New York Mets for minor leaguer Ian Bladergroen. He played first base in 87 games for the Mets, six more games than fellow first baseman Chris Woodward. He hit for a .240 average with 29 RBIs. The Mets added Carlos Delgado in 2006; Mientkiewicz was granted free agency in November 2005.

In mid-December he signed with the Kansas City Royals and a pattern developed where each October or November he was granted free agency and then signed with a new team for the following season.

With the Royals in 2006, he played in 91 games, batting .283 and driving in 43 through July 25. A back problem was discovered and in late August he underwent season-ending back surgery for a herniated disc.16 Next up was a year with the New York Yankees in 2007. In 72 games (more than any other Yankee first baseman that year), he hit .277 and drove in 24. A midseason broken wrist cost him three months of playing time, from June 3 through September 3. In 2008 he signed a minor-league contract with the Pirates, then made the team in spring training. In 125 games, many as a pinch-hitter and some for late-inning work behind Adam LaRoche, he hit .277 and drove in 30.

Mientkiewicz started the 2009 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but after hitting a two-run pinch-hit double in the April 16 game, he separated his right shoulder diving into second base, requiring surgery that kept him out almost the full season. He rehabbed with the Triple-A (Pacific Coast League) Albuquerque Isotopes.17

That August his wife Jodi had heart surgery.18 He was brought back up to the big leagues in September and played in 13 games for the Dodgers, almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter. For the year as a whole, he was 6-for-18 with Los Angeles. He had hoped to return in 2010 and signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers in December, but was released by the Dodgers on April 3. On May 6 he signed with the Florida Marlins and appeared in four games for their Triple-A affiliate New Orleans Zephyrs before he was granted free agency and announced his retirement as a player.

In the majors, he had appeared in 1,087 games, with a career .271 batting average (and .360 on-base percentage). He homered 66 times and drove in 405 runs. His lifetime fielding percentage of .9963 currently ranks him sixth among major-league first basemen.

In 2012, he worked as hitting coach for the rookie-league Ogden (Utah) Raptors of the Pioneer League. For 2013 he was named manager of the Class-A Fort Myers team in the Florida State League. The Miracle won the South Division title, but lost out in the playoff semifinals.

The next year Mientkiewicz and the Miracle went all the way, beating Daytona three games to one in the finals. After the season, he was one of three finalists for Ron Gardenhire’s replacement as manager of the Twins. Instead the Twins selected Paul Molitor. He admitted to being “crushed. I thought I was ready.”19 He was named to manage the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Twins’ Double-A team in the Southern League and led that team to a league championship, his second in as many years.

It was the Lookouts again in 2016, then the Miracle for 2017 and the Detroit Tigers’ International League affiliate Toledo Mud Hens in 2018. In both years, his teams made the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. In 2019, the Mud Hens finished third in the West Division and Mientkiewicz was relieved of his position.

He was hired by ESPN to work as a college baseball analyst on its ACC Network, beginning with the 2020 season, but the season was placed on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of the March 28 interview, all concerned were waiting for baseball to resume.

Last revised: June 2, 2020

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Paul Doutrich and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Chris Bouton.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the authors also relied on Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and the Doug Mientkiewicz player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The other players to earn an Olympic gold medal and a World Series championship (through 2020) are: Ed Sprague Jr., Tino Martinez, Orlando Hernandez, Pat Borders, Jose Contreras, and Yuli Gurriel.

 

Notes

1 Ryan Palencer interview with Doug Mientkiewicz on August 27, 2019. Unless otherwise indicated, all direct quotations come from this interview.

2 Bill Nowlin interview with Doug Mientkiewicz on March 28, 2020.

3 Seth Livingstone, “Mientkiewicz Had Had A Pronounced Impact,” USA Today Baseball Weekly, April 3-9, 2002: 37.

4 Adam Kilgore, “Mientkiewicz Has Golden Memories,” Boston Globe, August 15, 2004,

5 Steve Serby, “Serby’s Sunday Q&A with…Doug Mientkiewicz,” New York Post, February 27, 2005: 46.

6 Serby.

7 Bob Nightengale, “Unpronounceable but Unstoppable,” USA Today Baseball Weekly, May 9-15, 2001: 5.

8 The Boston Red Sox sent Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton to the Chicago Cubs. The Montreal Expos sent Orlando Cabrera to the Boston Red Sox. The Chicago Cubs sent Francis Beltran, Alex Gonzalez, and Brendan Harris to the Montreal Expos. The Chicago Cubs sent Justin Jones to the Minnesota Twins.

9 La Velle E. Neal III, “Gone by Game Time: Four-team Swap Sends Gold Glover to Red Sox,” Star-Tribune, August 2, 2004:

10 Dan Shaughnessy, “For Now, He’s Having A Ball,” Boston Globe, January 7, 2005.

11 Wayne Drehs, “The Lesson of Doug Mientkiewicz,” ESPN.com, April 30, 2011.

12 Dan Shaughnessy.

13 Clare Leschin-Hoar, “Field of Schemes,” Boston Globe Magazine, February 13, 2005: 320. Bill Nowlin took the position that tradition would dictate the ball remained Mientkiewicz’s. Prof. Dershowitz essentially argued that Red Sox fans should decide. Both agreed that perhaps a charity should benefit.

14 Chase Davis, “Sox Drop Suit over Series Ball,” Boston Globe, December 17, 2005.

15 Associated Press, “Mientkiewicz Says Last-Out Ball from 2004 Series Headed to Hall,” Oneonta Star, April26, 2006.

16 Associated Press, “Mets Cut Ledee to Make Room for Green,” Utica Observer-Dispatch, August 25, 2006.

17 Kevin Baxter, “Dodgers’ Doug Mientkiewicz Toughs Out A Comeback,” Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2009.

18 Information on their marriage, subsequent divorce, and children is not available. Mientkiewicz preferred not to discuss his personal life.

19 Chip Scoggins, “Mientkiewicz Manages Through his Frustration,” Star-Tribune, March 30, 2015.

Full Name

Douglas Andrew Mientkiewicz

Born

June 19, 1974 at Toledo, OH (USA)

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