Jeff Plympton (TRADING CARD DB)

Jeff Plympton

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Jeff Plympton (TRADING CARD DB)In Jeff Plympton’s major-league pitching career, he never gave up a run – earned or unearned. Reading a statement such as that, one might correctly guess that his time at the top level was brief. He pitched in 279 games as a professional, but only four in the majors, for the 1991 Boston Red Sox.

Plympton was a right-hander, a Massachusetts native who had been a 10th-round pick of the Red Sox in the June 1987 draft. His professional career was entirely in the Red Sox system, from 1987 through 1993. He started just 13 of those 279 games, 12 for the Double A New Britain Red Sox and one at Pawtucket in 1991. His career earned run average in minor league ball was 3.23.

Jeffrey Hunter Plympton was born in Framingham, Massachusetts, on November 24, 1965. His parents were Bay State natives Marcia and Warren Plympton. His mother was from Southborough, and the couple lived in Framingham (about 20 miles west of Boston) for a while after marriage. Jeff and his brother Steve (who was three years older) grew up in Plainville, Massachusetts, which is on the Rhode Island border. Warren Plympton was from the Brighton/Allston area of Boston; he was a warehouse worker for many years at General Motors in Westwood. As Jeff said in an October 2021 interview, “He was in the union there. A hard worker. My mom worked for a doctor’s office for many years. She basically ran the office for an ophthalmologist. But mostly, she was at home with the kids – my brother and I – for many years, in those pivotal years.”1

Jeff graduated from King Philip High School in Wrentham, Massachusetts, some 20 miles south of Framingham. The school draws students from Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham. He added, “Steve was also a pitcher at King Philip High School and an all-star there himself. He doesn’t get too much credit for his accomplishments as a pitcher but was a great competitor.”

Jeff played basketball and soccer, as well as baseball, at King Philip. Though he’d never played soccer before his freshman year, he was chosen MVP of the team in his junior year. Soccer did result in some knee surgery, and basketball earned him a broken thumb. Baseball left him relatively unscathed in his high school years.

In the summer of 1983, Plympton played in the highly competitive Boston Park League for the Conley Club team.2 One of his teammates that summer was Billy Morgan, son of Red Sox scout Joe Morgan – who was the team’s manager when Plympton finally made the majors.3 Jeff had a 23-3 pitching record for King Philip under coach Gary Lombard.4 As a youth, Plympton often took in games at Fenway Park, perhaps a dozen games a year.5 He pitched in one game at Fenway – the New England Collegiate All-Star Game.6

Plympton was initially drafted out of high school by the Cleveland Indians in June 1984, but deep down – in the 45th round, the 826th overall selection. He’d been drafted so low because he had pretty much let the scouts who had been following him know that he planned to go to college in Maine. He said he’d love to pitch in the major leagues at some point, “but college comes first.”7 He told another newspaper, “When they drafted me, they knew I wasn’t going to sign.”8

Rather than sign with Cleveland, going to college seemed perhaps a better choice. Jeff was offered a full scholarship and enrolled at the University of Maine, pitching for the Black Bears team which had appeared in the College World Series for four years in a row. The summer after his freshman year, he played for the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod League.

Over three years in Orono, Plympton put up a record of 20-10. On May 2, 1986, he struck out 17 and threw a no-hitter (the first for U. Maine since 1950), beating St. Joseph’s College, 15-0.9 That summer, he played for Team USA and was named one of the All-Star pitchers.10 He took part in international competition, beating a team from Canada and combining on a shutout to beat the South Korean team in the Pacific College Cup Tournament.11 He then pitched for Team USA in Europe, beating Venezuela, 4-1, in the Pan American Games at Rotterdam during the 29th World Baseball Championship.12 In the two months the team was on tour, Plympton posted a record of 7-2. The U.S. team took bronze.

Three years after the Indians had first tried to sign him, the Red Sox made Plympton their 10th round pick (266th overall selection) in the June 1987 draft. Scout Bill Enos was credited with the signing.13

Plympton’s first assignment was to the Double A Eastern League, pitching for the New Britain (Connecticut) Red Sox. The team finished 61-79, in sixth place, but Plympton was 4-1 with a 3.82 ERA. He had played in 23 games, starting six and closing seven. For the 1988 season, he dropped down a level, pitching in Single A. He pitched entirely in relief, working in 41 games for the Carolina League’s Lynchburg Red Sox. He closed 22 games, with a 2.60 ERA and a record of 5-4. He struck out 105 batters in 83 innings. Though the team had a losing record (68-72), they made it to the final round of the league playoffs before being beaten.

In 1989, Plympton was back in New Britain for another full season. His season stats were similar to those from 1987: 4-4 (3.72 ERA) in 38 games.

Plympton split the 1990 season between New Britain and the Triple A Pawtucket Red Sox. For New Britain, he had a 2.67 ERA. Again, New Britain made it to the final round of the playoffs but was defeated, this time by the London Tigers.14 Plympton’s won-lost record – never that meaningful a statistic for a relief pitcher – was 3-4 in 37 games. In 30 of the games, he threw the final inning or innings. In his first 13 games in 1990, he racked up eight saves, on his way to 13 total. In his first 28 innings, he struck out 27 batters and walked only three.15

On August 3, he was promoted to Pawtucket. Plympton recalls, “There were three or four of us in Double A who went up to Triple A as soon as Ed Nottle got fired. Johnny Pesky took over and I was the closer for the last month of the season.” He pitched in 11 games for the PawSox, closing eight of them, and in 17 1/3 innings did not give up a run – earned or unearned.

That winter Plympton played baseball for Los Mochis in Mexico.16 After returning, he joined the coaching staff of the South Shore Baseball Club in Hingham, working with youngsters there until it was time to report to spring training.

The Red Sox were hopeful that he was ready to join the Boston team, along with his “above-average fastball.”17 Plympton (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) said he enjoyed working in middle relief and even more as the closer. His fastball was reportedly 89-90 miles per hour at the time; in camp, he observed, “if I spot it well, it could be effective along with the slider and forkball. Some guys go into a tough situation thinking, ‘I’ll do the best I can.’ I go into it thinking, ‘I’m going to get out of this.’ I love tight spots. It’s a challenge. I love the pressure. Hey, a starter can pitch seven great innings, but it comes down to the closer. He’s got to get the last six outs.”18 Near the end of March, however, Plympton was assigned to Pawtucket.

The Red Sox had enjoyed playoff runs in 1986, 1988, and 1990, and they were in first place as late as May 28. From May 23 through June 6, they hit a 2-11 stretch. For the 19 games leading up to June 6, the pitching staff had recorded a 5.70 earned run average – what the Boston Globe called “second division quality.”19

Starter Matt Young was unable to pitch after May 30 for a couple of months. Boston brought up Tom Bolton as a starter but also summoned Plympton on June 13. At the time he was 2-0 with five saves and a 1.75 ERA in 19 games with the PawSox. He had 28 strikeouts in 25 innings.20

“It was unbelievable,” Plympton said after walking on the field the next day. “I’ve been in shock almost for the last 24 hours.”21 He also said, “This will probably sink in after the game tonight, and, to be honest, I’m rooting for Roger [Clemens] to go all the way.”22

Plympton’s major league debut was not in a pressure-packed situation. On Saturday afternoon, June 15, in front of 32,591 at Fenway Park, Mike Gardiner started for the Red Sox, facing the California Angels and Chuck Finley. The Red Sox scored seven runs in the bottom of the first inning, and Finley departed. The Angels scored three times in the fifth, but Boston came right back with three more of their own. After eight innings, the score stood 13-3, Boston. Manager Joe Morgan had Plympton take over.23

It wasn’t the easiest of innings for the rookie. At 3:54 P.M., the first batter he faced, Bobby Rose, lifted what Plympton called “a lazy fly ball to center – but it scraped off the center-field wall.” Rose wound up on second with a double. Plympton got his first out, inducing a pop foul to third baseman Mike Brumley. Dave Parker stepped into the box. A wild pitch let Rose take third base. Parker, too, popped up foul to Brumley. Plympton walked Dave Gallagher, but got Max Venable to fly out to short left-center. No runs had scored. The game was over, a Red Sox win. The fans at Fenway cheered. The players congratulated each other on the field.

“I settled down after Rose hit that ball off the wall,” Plympton said afterwards. “I was just happy to go out there and throw strikes. After I got that first out, I felt more comfortable.”24

For Plympton, memories of his father came forth. “My father lived for the Red Sox,” he said afterward. “You talk about Red Sox fans. He was as big as they come.” Gesturing toward the bleachers, he said, “I can remember so many times we sat out there. We’d come here, my father, my mother, my brother, and me. We’d come about 15 times a year and sit in the bleachers. They were great times.”25 In 1982, Warren Plympton was diagnosed with cancer. It worsened in 1987, when Jeff was in his junior year at Maine, and the year he was drafted. Jeff returned from college about two weeks before the draft and his father kept telling him that the Red Sox were going to draft him. They did. Jeff signed two days later. Less than a week after that, Warren died. “But he knew. He knew the Sox took me and he knew I signed…I’ll tell you now, he’s the reason I’m here. He was always there, always supporting me, but he was never a pusher. He sat and watched. I’m sure he’s smiling right now.”26

A couple days later, after the June 18 game, Plympton was sent back to Pawtucket to make room on the roster for reactivated outfielder/first baseman Mike Marshall. In July, Plympton was called back to Boston for four days but saw no action before Mike Gardiner was reinstated from the disabled list. In early August, when Daryl Irvine was placed on the DL, Plympton was called up a third time. This time, in what one paper called the “yo-yo derby,” he stayed for 10 days, but was then returned to Pawtucket – again without having entered a game for the big club.

It was an odd year for Plympton. “I’d sit on the bench for two or three weeks in the bullpen, pitch one inning, and then get sent down when Matt Young was brought back off the DL. It was kind of unfair. I’m ready to go! I’m ready to pitch in the big leagues, but I didn’t get that shot. Joe Morgan was the manager. Joe sent me back down, four or five times, up and down. When I’d go back down and pitch for Butch – Butch Hobson – I don’t think he could really understand what was wrong. I just wasn’t getting work.”

Despite all the ups and downs of the season, by year’s end Plympton had a 3.12 earned run average in 41 games for the PawSox (though his won-lost record was 2-6).

On September 8, he was called up a fourth time and – with expanded rosters—this time he stayed. He made his second big league appearance that day, in a Sunday afternoon game against the visiting Seattle Mariners. Gardiner started. After six innings, the Red Sox had a 17-3 lead. After the first Mariner in the top of the seventh singled, Plympton relieved Gardiner. He gave up a walk and a single, loading the bases, but then recorded three outs on a pop fly to right, a sacrifice fly (scoring the inherited runner), and a strikeout of Edgar Martinez. He worked a three-up, three-down eighth, keeping the ball in the infield.

Three days later, in Detroit, Plympton was called upon again. In the bottom of the eighth, the Tigers added three runs to bump their lead up to 8-2. With two outs, Plympton relieved Greg Harris and struck out the one batter he faced.

On September 16, back home at Fenway, Plympton made his fourth – and what proved to be his final – major league appearance. It was a Monday night game against Baltimore. The Orioles led, 9-2, when he was called upon to pitch the eighth and ninth, as Boston’s fourth pitcher of the game. He gave up a single and a walk, then a fly ball out, followed by another walk which loaded the bases. He got Randy Milligan to ground into a 6-4-3 double play, which ended the inning. In the ninth inning, he gave up two singles but escaped without a run scoring, helped in part when Luis Mercedes was called out for batter’s interference.

In a flight of whimsy, Boston Herald columnist Gerry Callahan had envisioned a scoreless game against the New York Yankees on September 21 in which “after using every hitter on his bench, Joe Morgan is forced to send a pitcher up to the plate in the last of the ninth with the score tied and two outs. Yankees walk Jeff Plympton on four pitches. Sox win, 1-0.”27 It didn’t happen. He never batted in a big league game.28

Morgan said that Plympton would have pitched in the penultimate game of the season, on October 5, but Jeff’s wife Linda was in the hospital.29 The Plymptons were married in 1988. How they met is an interesting story. “Linda’s dad worked with my dad at General Motors. If you go back to the days when I was in high school, her dad would say, ‘Hey, Lin. Do you want to go see this guy pitch? He’s pitching for the Conley Club, and I work with his father.’ She had no interest in doing that. I didn’t know who she was. It turned out that, a couple of years later, my catcher in college was this guy from Newton, Colin Ryan. Linda’s from Newton. She was from UMass, and she came up to the University of Maine to visit Colin. I met her. We hit it off. It was good from that point on. We’ve been together ever since. That was’86, ’87. I was going into my junior year in college. Then I was drafted by the Red Sox. We had to make a decision – are we going to get married or just go our own separate ways?” They chose the former and have been together ever since.

In his four games, Plympton pitched a total of 5 1/3 innings. He faced 24 batters, gave up five hits, and walked four while striking out two (he was not involved in any fielding plays). He allowed one inherited runner to score but had not given up a run himself. Thus, his major league career ERA was 0.00.

Plympton went to spring training with the Red Sox in 1992 and 1993 but was assigned to Pawtucket each year – he never got another shot with the big club in the regular season. In 1992, despite some problems with tendinitis in the springtime, he appeared in 58 games – more than anyone else on the PawSox staff.30 Indeed, he led the International League in appearances. He had a 3.43 ERA and a 6-9 record. After the season, he cleared waivers and was outrighted to Pawtucket, no longer on the 40-man roster. Over the winter, he offered private pitching instruction and worked at UPS.

In 1993, he had rotator cuff tightness in his right shoulder, enough to prompt an MRI in the first part of March. He spent an extra month in extended spring training, only rejoining the PawSox in mid-May. In retrospect, he says, “I had to fight my way to get back on the Pawtucket roster. By then, Buddy Bailey was the coach and he’s got three or four guys that he liked. They were younger, and unproven. It never ends. Mentally, you’ve just got to keep that confidence rolling. It’s difficult sometimes. My numbers are a little higher in ’93 if you noticed. There were games I had that were good and games I had when I didn’t feel that good. At the end of that ’93 season, I had to have surgery.” His season ERA was 4.44 in 30 games (2-1).

Plympton’s real problem, wrote the Boston Globe’s Marvin Pave, was that he was “a good pitcher caught in a logjam of good pitchers.” He quoted Plympton: “I’ve been in a stall in this organization. I think if given a better opportunity the last couple of years, I could be up in the big leagues right now. I know that if I’m given the ball three or four times a week, I can do the job.” He added, “I’m happy for what the Red Sox have given me, don’t get me wrong.31

After the ’93 season, he had shoulder surgery. “I pitched the whole season of ’93 with two tears in my shoulder. At the end of the season, I had the opportunity to see Dr. Pappas again in October. I had my surgery in November, and I was back playing in big league camp in ’94, in February. It wasn’t fully healed yet and that’s when they ultimately released me.”

In August 1994, Plympton got a job as pitching coach for Boston College under head coach Moe Moloney.32 He did some color work on broadcasts at Pawtucket, and then filled in for a year as interim head baseball coach at Dean College.

For a few months, he worked for Putnam Investments, doing data entry, but then found a solid position. From 1996 through 2004, Plympton worked in sales for ABC Moving Services, a commercial moving company based in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was work he enjoyed, but the commute was long – nearly an hour from Wrentham, where he and his family had come to live – and he was often in downtown Boston, tied up 12 or 13 hours a day. With his two children just beginning to enter high school, he wanted to find a job that was nearer by. He could hardly have found one closer to home.

In 2004, Wrentham hired Plympton as the town’s first full-time recreation director. His task was to raise $5 million to build a new athletic complex.33 Land was acquired, and the project went forward, helped in 2006 by funding by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It’s become a fairly large (80-acre) facility with a number of sports fields, named the William Rice Recreation Complex. “Bill Rice was a good friend of mine,” Plympton said. “He was one of my baseball coaches in high school. He was the athletic director at the high school and a principal at King Philip Middle School. He was the recreation director, and he was retiring from that position.”

The work became Plympton’s life calling, and he was still at it more than 15 years later. Linda Plympton works for the Town of Wrentham, too. For many years, when the children were in school, she worked part-time for the New England Patriots doing what some call “mother hours” – more or less, 10 to 1– working at the pro shop, stocking or out front at the cash register. (Wrentham is right next to Foxborough, where the Patriots are based.) Her current position (as of late 2021) is as administrative assistant for the Senior Center run by the town.

That all Plympton family members work and live close to each other is remarkable. In late 2021, Nicole was working as a fourth-grade schoolteacher in Medfield (a little over 10 miles from Wrentham). Nicole was due to be married in 2022. Jeff Jr. is also a teacher, at King Philip High School, teaching phys. ed. and health. He is the varsity baseball coach as well. That job puts him in touch with his father, who said, “They do use one of our fields here for his JV teams to play. Jeff’s wife is a second-grade teacher over at Medfield. So, all three are teachers. I’m pretty proud of that.”

The elder Jeff Plympton had never stopped working with baseball. While still playing, he had become co-owner of Baseball Coaches Academy in Ashland, Massachusetts, a position he held from 1991 until 2009. They had an indoor facility, and it was a successful business, but ultimately those involved went on different paths.

The following year, he began operating Crush Baseball in Wrentham, a travel team with the NB Select League which has 150 children aged 10-17. He had still been active with that venture in 2021. “I’ve been doing that since 2010,” he said. “We’re strong. We had 12 teams, which is good, ages 10 to 17. It keeps me busy.”

From time to time, someone notes that Plympton’s major league career earned run average was, as noted, 0.00. His time in the majors was brief, but it’s in the books. “That’s baseball. You’re in the big league and facing these expert hitters. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Last revised: April 14, 2022

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Evan Katz.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org. Thanks to Rod Nelson for scouting information.

 

Notes

1 Author interview with Jeff Plympton, October 22, 2021. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations otherwise unattributed come from this interview.

2 Dan Nowak, “Conley still alive, 6-5,” Boston Globe, August 17, 1983: 73. Also see Scott Thurston, “Baseball preview,” Boston Globe, April 10, 1984: 61.

3 Marvin Pave, “Nice to see him again,” Boston Globe, June 15, 1991: 33.

4 Email from Jeff Plympton, December 20, 2021.

5 Mike Shalin, “Naehring’s wait painful,” Boston Herald, June 15, 1991: 15.

6 Marvin Pave, “Catching up with…Jeff Plympton,” Boston Globe, April 24, 2016: 27.

7 Karen Guregian “Plympton ‘slurves’ up K rations,” Boston Herald, May 6, 1984: 56.

8 Frank Dell’apa, “Plympton’s Maine effort is cut short by rain in 4th,” Boston Herald, May 19, 1985: 49. “I really wanted to go to the University of Maine,” Plympton said in the October 2021 interview, “because there was a guy named Joey Johnson who played in the big leagues five years ahead of me. Went to King Philip High School. Went to the University of Maine. Joe sort of paved the way for me to go to Orono.” Johnson broke into the majors with the Atlanta Braves in 1985 and was 20-18 over three years in the majors.

9 “Sports Log,” Boston Globe, May 3, 1986: 27. The 17 strikeouts tied Bill Swift’s record set in 1984. Plympton was a teammate of infielder Mike Bordick, who played in the majors from 1990-2003.

10 “College – U. S. Baseball Federation All-Star Team,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 27, 1986: 34.

11 “Plympton, Tanner shut down South Korea,” Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee), July 12,1986: 35.

12 “Sports Log,” Boston Globe, July 28, 1986: 30.

13 Plympton reckons he might have gone a little higher, but “In ’87, I started off the season a little shaky down south and I think I lost a little stock. I never threw hard enough to be in the top three rounds, but I think I would have been like a fifth or sixth round if I had shown better in the start of my junior year. I had a good slider and a decent fastball. I’d be 89, 90, 91. That was good, but it wasn’t tops, by any means.”

14 Plympton was on Pawtucket’s roster at the end of the season, and thus not with New Britain during the playoffs.

15 Nick Cafardo, “Lefty has right stuff,” Boston Globe, May 27, 1990: 55. The lefty in the article’s headline was Kevin Morton.

16 He said, “It was an eye-opening experience, I guess you could say. I played winter ball there through Thanksgiving and until Christmas. Interesting place. Organizations sent prospects to winter ball – whether it’s the Dominican or any Caribbean area – to get them ready for the next level.”

17 Nick Cafardo, “Sox have little room,” Boston Globe, February 21, 1991: 57, 64.

18 Nick Cafardo, “Finally, Sullivan speaks out,” Boston Globe, February 24, 1991: 48.

19 Nick Cafardo, “Sox draft plans for the future,” Boston Globe, June 7, 1991: 34.

20 Joe Giuliotti, “Plympton spells relief for Sox,” Boston Herald, June 14, 1991: 86. For the strikeout totals, see Nick Cafardo, “Morton may be called up from minors,” Boston Globe, June 10, 1991: 31.

21 Mike Shalin, “Naehring’s wait painful.”

22 Marvin Pave, “Nice to see him again.”

23 Morgan lived in Walpole, Massachusetts and had brought in a pitcher that had been raised two towns away from his hometown.

24 Kevin Paul Dupont, “Troublesome wrist causes Boggs to sit,” Boston Globe, June 16, 1991: 56.

25 Paul Kenyon, “Boston Rookie Plympton recalls his greatest fan,” Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas), June 17, 1991: 22, reprinted from the Providence Journal.

26 Kenyon.

27 Gerry Callahan, “Bird’s -eye view of Jays’ collapse,” Boston Herald, September 20, 1991: 14. The Jays didn’t collapse. They finished seven games ahead of the second-place Red Sox. Plympton never had a plate appearance in either the minor leagues or the majors.

28 Signed to an American League team, Plympton rarely had a chance to bat. Dan Shaughnessy wrote in 1992 that, at age 26, Plympton had only batted three times since high school. Dan Shaughnessy, “Pitchers back in the swing,” Boston Globe, March 7, 1992: 33, 34.

29 Joe Giuliotti, “No final-game fun for Lyons, Harris,” Boston Herald, October 6, 1991: B7. The fun referred to was Steve Lyons’ hope to catch part of the game and thus became the only Red Sox player to have played all nine positions in the field (and DH), and ambidextrous pitcher Greg Harris’s hope to have the opportunity to pitch left-handed in a game (which he eventually got to do in September 1995).

30 Plympton’s take on the year, in a nutshell: “I pitched in a ton of games with Rico Petrocelli [manager of Pawtucket] in ’92. He pitched me all the time. Truthfully speaking, I should have got another call to the big leagues from Boston, but that didn’t happen. That’s just the way it goes.”

31 Marvin Pave, “Plympton wants call to Fenway,” Boston Globe, August 8, 1993: 61, 63.

32 Howard Ulman, Associated Press, “And leading off for the Red Sox…Tom Howard?” Naples Daily News (Naples, Florida), March 3, 1995: 2C.

33 Lisa Kocian, “Ex-Red Sox hurler takes post in Wrentham,” Boston Globe, July 29, 2004: Globe West 12.

Full Name

Jeffrey Hunter Plympton

Born

November 24, 1965 at Framingham, MA (USA)

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