Mike Rochford pitched in eight games over parts of three very good seasons — 1988-1990 — for the Boston Red Sox. The team finished in first place in 1988 and again in 1990, and in third place in the year in between. It was a tough time for the left-handed native New Englander to try break into the big leagues.
Rochford had been a first-round pick for the Red Sox in the January 1982 draft, selected 17th overall. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound freshman was selected out of Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville. The Boston Globe reported that both he and his parents were lifelong Red Sox fans.1
Michael Joseph Rochford was born in Methuen, Massachusetts, on March 14, 1963, to Bill and Jeanette Rochford. His father, a Holy Cross graduate, had been a pitcher who threw a no-hitter on his 17th birthday and another no-hitter, against Boston College, in his first college game. He’d spent three years in the Boston Braves farm system but never gotten higher than two games at Class-B Cedar Rapids in 1959.
“My mom was from Vermont,” Mike Rochford said in a 2021 interview. “Before she met my dad, my mom worked at a little grocery store her dad owned.”2 Bill and Jeanette married and had five children. “I have two brothers and two sisters. She was really a housewife, a full-time job.” Mike was the fourth of the five, the middle son. His sisters were Cindy and Cia, his older brother was Bill Jr. and his younger brother was Chris.
Though Mike was born in Methuen, the family was only there for a short time. Bill Rochford had come from Brasher Falls, New York. His degree was in Business Administration and he had taken a position as a bookkeeper with Burlington Tire Company of Vermont and moved to South Burlington. He soon got a job with IBM, in human resources. And he made time for his children. “My dad was the whole reason I got into sports,” Rochford said, “If it wasn’t for my dad…He coached all my teams. He was very involved. It was our time together.” Mike recalls their father taking his brothers to hockey practices and Little League games.
Mike had been a star at South Burlington High, going 11-0 in his senior year 1981, when they won the state championship. He’d been All-State in three sports, quarterback on the football team — which also won the state championship, and had scored over 1,000 points for the basketball team.3
After graduation, the 6’4”, 205-pound lefthander pitched for the amateur Burlington Expos, his fastball getting up to 90 mph. Playing with the team was Reggie Wentworth. He was impressed with Mike as a pitcher and that helped lead to a scholarship in Florida. “Reggie was on my summer team in Vermont. Don Picard was my coach for the semipro team that I was on. I was going to go to the University of Vermont, just to go there. They didn’t give out scholarships. Reggie called Coach Bergman, who was coaching the University of Florida team at the time. He (Reggie) said — this was over the phone — ‘Listen, I’ve got this guy…’ He called Bergman, and in an hour and a half I had a full ride to Santa Fe [Community College in Gainesville, Florida]. Off a phone call! I couldn’t turn that down.” Arriving in the autumn of 1981, he compiled a 5-0 record in fall ball.4
SFCC started its 1982 baseball season in February, with Rochford notably winning a 14-2 four-hitter on March 2 against Vincennes (Indiana) Junior College while having to bat in the game due to an injury to the team’s shortstop early in the game; he collected four RBIs at the plate.5
Longtime Red Sox scout George Digby is credited with the Red Sox drafting and signing Rochford. “George Digby was the one who signed me. He saw me pitch for Santa Fe at an All-Star Game I pitched in down at Miami-Dade Community College. I pitched three innings there, really well, and that’s how I got drafted.” One phone call got Mike Rochford a scholarship and Digby watching three innings earned him a first-round selection in the draft.6
In May 1982, young Rochford signed and began his career with the Elmira Pioneers of the Low-A New York-Penn League, posting a 6-4 record in 14 starts. He relieved in two other games, working in 85 2/3 innings. Two of the games were shutouts, but he struggled at other times, finishing with an earned run average of 4.20. He had gotten better later in the season, his best effort a two-hit shutout on August 22.
In 1983, Rochford put in a full season with the Class-A Carolina League’s Winston-Salem Red Sox, starting 29 games and completing the season with a 16-11 (3.00 ERA) record. His one shutout came early in the season, when he struck out 13 Hagerstown players on April 23, allowing seven hits. Peter Gammons wrote, “Rochford’s delivery makes him look like a Ken Holtzman clone.”7 He had also been the winning pitcher in the Carolina League All-Star Game.
During spring training in 1984, though not with the big-league club, he reportedly caught manager Ralph Houk’s eye. Rochford was assigned to the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox in April and got off to a good start with just two earned runs in his first eight innings, spread over two games.8 Peter Gammons described “a funky motion that is deadly for lefthanders” and opined that, given the Red Sox search for a lefty reliever, he might progress quickly.9
The Pawtucket staff also included Oil Can Boyd, Roger Clemens, Rich Gale, and Steve Crawford among 11 pitchers who eventually made it to the majors, some only briefly. The 21-year-old Rochford was 8-10 (4.90), understandably finding Triple A more difficult. He started 3-1, but then threw a pitch that broke the jaw of Maine outfielder Dwight Taylor. Rochford didn’t pitch well for the next couple of months until finishing strong, 3-2 in his final six starts.10 Looking back on the beaning, he told Steve Buckley, “I shouldn’t have stayed in the game after that. I was too upset. I lost my concentration.” Buckley observed, “He lost four of his next five starts, allowing 31 runs.”11
The PawSox finished in fourth place but beat the Columbus Clippers and then the Maine Guides in the International League playoffs. Rochford won Game Four of the final round, 9-2. Manager Tony Torchia was named Manager of the Year.
In 1985, Rochford began the season in Double A, pitching for the New Britain Red Sox. He was 8-5 (2.99) in 14 starts. On July 4, he was promoted to Pawtucket, where he was 5-2 for the remainder of the season with a 4.13 ERA. Over the final month of the 1985 campaign, he was 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA.12 In November, Rochford was added to the Boston Red Sox roster.
Assigned to the PawSox again late in March 1986, he remained with Pawtucket for both 1986 and 1987, putting up a two-year record of 11-10 and a 3.54 ERA. Before the 1987 season, he had a virus and a very high temperature and fell in his bathroom in Gainesville, Florida. His wife, Kathleen, found him unconscious. The fall resulted in a torn ACL that required three hours of arthroscopic surgery.13
He pitched pretty well in 1987 spring training and was a last-minute cut, as both Rob Woodward and Jeff Sellers made the team in Boston while Rochford was sent back to Triple A. He got off to a rough start and was 1-5 over the first part of the season, but — despite reportedly still feeling the effects of the surgery as late as mid-August — at one point threw more than 20 consecutive scoreless innings in late July and early August.14 He converted his early record to an 8-8 one at season’s end, though his ERA had declined a bit more than a full run to 4.58.
Rochford was once more optioned to Pawtucket for the 1988 season. This year, however, he never started a game. He was converted to a reliever and worked in 52 games, closing 22 of them. His won/loss record was 1-5, but the more important statistic was his earned run average, which he brought down to 3.09. The poor record was, he said, “kind of misleading. In at least three of those losses, I didn’t even give up a hit. In one of them I came in and walked a guy intentionally and he wound up scoring. In another, there were a couple of errors.”15 In July his son Jarryd was born.
On the first of September, when rosters expanded, Rochford was recalled to Boston and joined the major league team for the first time after seven seasons of pitching in the minor leagues.16 Upon joining the team in Anaheim he said, “It was more a relief than anything else” to have gotten the call. “After five years at the same level in the minor leagues, you wonder if you were being overlooked.” He said he had been starting to lose sight of his goal and working out of the bullpen got him back on track. “Sometimes you have to press yourself to keep working hard. You don’t want to get down on yourself, and I haven’t. I’m still playing baseball. I still love the game.”17
Mike Rochford pitched to one batter in his major league debut on Saturday night, September 3, 1988, at Anaheim Stadium. The game was tied, 1-1, after 7 ½ innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Dennis Lamp took over for starter Mike Boddicker. On three pitches, Lamp got two outs before Angels second baseman Mark McLemore bunted toward first base for a single, then stole second. Johnny Ray, the DH, walked. Red Sox manager Joe Morgan called on Rochford to pitch to left-handed batter Wally Joyner. Working with his new sidearm delivery, he built a count of 1-2, but then threw one over the top. Joyner singled and drove in McLemore for what became the winning run. Lee Smith was brought in from the bullpen and struck out Chili Davis.
Morgan explained his unorthodox move after the game: “Why not? He’s here to help us. He made three great pitches and then he hung the last one. That’s how you find out, I guess. I’m not afraid to use people. You can see that.” For his part, Rochford said, “I had come at him from the side and tried to come over the top and he just pulled it over the second baseman’s head. I guess that’s gonna happen. It’s part of baseball.”18 Morgan’s hunch was not appreciated by some on the club. One anonymous player griped, “That was a stupid decision…especially when you have a guy who’s making a million dollars [Lee Smith] out there [in the bullpen].”19 “I was grateful for the opportunity,” Mike said. “I just wish things had turned out a little differently.”
It was 3 ½ weeks before Rochford got another call. The Red Sox were in a pennant race (they finished in first place, but Oakland swept them in four games in the ALCS). At Fenway Park on September 27, the Toronto Blue Jays held a 12-1 lead with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. It was a good time to let him take the mound again and see what he could do in a game that appeared to be lost. He faced one batter in the top of the fifth and got Ernie Whitt to ground out to first base, Rochford taking the throw for the putout at first base. He gave up two singles in the sixth and a single and a walk in the seventh before being replaced in the eighth. He began to work on a sidearm delivery, adding to his repertoire against left-handed batters. The next time Rochford pitched for Boston was in June 1989. As the year began, Joe Morgan said, “We’re going to give Mike Rochford a look. He’s got to stay sidearm against lefties to be effective, but I think he can do it.”20 As he had been doing, Rochford signed another one-year contract. It was back to Pawtucket after a spring training that started off kind of rocky. When he threw sidearm to left-handers, he was very effective, but he didn’t always stick with the delivery. “There remain times when Rochford zigs when he should have zagged, times when he goes back to throwing over the top when he should be throwing sidearm. ‘When he gets away from that,’ said Red Sox GM Lou Gorman, ‘he gets himself into trouble.’”21
He did very well at Pawtucket in the first couple of months, running off a streak of 15 scoreless innings in relief. He was moved to the starting rotation in late May. Pawtucket manager Ed Nottle later said he’d put him in the rotation “even though he was doing such a great job in relief. I wanted to put him in the best light I could to get him to the big leagues.”22
“They gave me a taste,” said Rochford, in the middle of his sixth season in Pawtucket. “But a taste is just an incentive. It isn’t a chance.”23 Just a couple of days later, he added, “I wish in baseball they’d say where you stand. ‘What do you want? What is it going to take for me to make the big leagues?’”24 A four-hit shutout of Tidewater on June 12 no doubt helped, as did a one-hit shutout of Buffalo on June 20. He was named Player of the Week in the International League. When an ongoing left ankle problem put Carlos Quintana on the disabled list in June, Rochford was called up to Boston for what turned out to be a week.
When he arrived, he said, “No more sidearm. I’ve bagged it.”25 It had been an approach that worked for him for a while in 1988, but it had also seemed like a curse because of the one pitch that hadn’t been sidearm which he’d thrown to Joyner. People began to think the only way he could get left-handed batters out was by throwing sidearm. Not so, he had proven with work in Pawtucket. “It got to the point where I actually hated it…I’ve developed a good sinker,” he said, “and I’ve been putting pitches where I want.”26
He pitched that night at Fenway Park, coming into a game the Twins led, 6-0, with a runner on second base and nobody out. He was pitching on just two days’ rest after the complete game shutout. He got two groundouts, but then gave up a single, a walk, and a three-run homer to Gary Gaetti before striking out the final batter. On Sunday afternoon against the Twins, he got another shot and retired the three batters he faced in the top of the ninth, in another game the Red Sox lost, 7-0.
On June 28 in Milwaukee, the Sox were getting blown out again, 8-3. Rochford was asked to pitch the bottom of the eighth. As on June 23, he got two outs, but then allowed a walk, a single, and another walk. A play at second base could have gotten him out of the inning, but a throwing error by Jody Reed let in two runs. An intentional walk and then a two-run single resulted in four runs before he got the final out. All the runs were unearned.
Steve Buckley wrote a column with a headline that seemed appropriate to Rochford’s situation: “Getting there not half the fun.”27 The pitcher had put in plenty of time in Triple A. He wanted the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues, and as a starter. It had been a long slog.
Rochford ended the 1989 PawSox season with a 2.37 ERA and a record of 9-6, combining starts (18) with relief appearances (21). He rejoined the Red Sox on September 2, and worked in just one more game, in Oakland on September 5. The Athletics led, 12-1. There was nobody out and a runner on second. Rochford came in to relieve and threw a wild pitch which allowed the runner to move to third, then score on a sacrifice fly before Dave Parker grounded into a double play that ended the inning. He’d faced two batters and secured three outs without a base hit or a walk. In 1988, his major league ERA had been 0.00. In 1989, it was 6.75. A month after he was sent back down, his brief time was dubbed a “failure” by at least one writer.30 The same author, though, acknowledged a month later, “He has been cruising through the International League ever since: his earned run average is 1.70 since the demotion, and he has seven complete games in 11 starts. His ERA overall, 2.12, is the lowest of any pitcher in the IL.”31 The Red Sox finished in third place, raising a question Dan Shaughnessy articulated: “Why did the Sox bring up Tom Bolton and Mike Rochford in September, then let them rot in the bullpen?”32 Rochford’s 2.37 ERA was second-best in the league.
Rochford was a free agent and waited until the first week in March before committing. He signed again with the Red Sox on March 6, 1990. His first start in spring training saw him give up a three-run homer but manager Joe Morgan was impressed with his stuff: “Rochford had more life on the ball than I’ve seen the last few years so we’ll give him another look-see before the week’s out.” Rochford said his faith had kept him in the game. “I love this game…I love competing out on the mound. I love being out there. My whole thing is I want to be pitching against the best. I don’t want to be pitching against Triple-A players. I want to pitch against major leaguers.”33
Rochford made the Boston team out of spring training. He was reportedly a “favorite of catcher Tony Pena, who has told Morgan to keep him around. ‘He throws good,’ said Pena. ‘He’s got great stuff. He throws three pitches — fastball, slider and changeup — over for strikes. He’s got a backward slider that’s really tough on right-handed hitters.’”34 He’d been earmarked for Pawtucket, wrote Nick Cafardo, but he had a very good outing against Detroit. “He has been one of the most typecast pitchers in the organization. Though farm director Ed Kenney has always believed Rochford…could make it, too many others have thought he is limited. ‘I’ve just tried to come into camp positive,” said Rochford. “Hitting is timing and I’m just trying to keep them off balance.’”35 He told the Worcester Telegram’s Bill Ballou, “I’m getting a fair shot this spring and I know it. I’m relaxed, ready for it and I’m going to make the most of it.”36 He was hoping to become the fourth starter on a staff with Roger Clemens, Mike Boddicker, and John Dopson. Ballou wrote, “Veteran minor league lefty Mike Rochford could be a pleasant surprise if the Sox are patient with him.”37 On April 9, he got the word that he had made the big-league team.
Three days later, he was the starting pitcher in the April 12 Thursday afternoon game at Tiger Stadium. It didn’t go well. Tony Phillips bunted to his right for a leadoff single. He got Alan Trammell to line out, but then Lou Whitaker hit a two-run homer to right-center. In the second inning, he gave up a single, a walk, and a sacrifice advancing both baserunners. An error (again by Jody Reed) allowed one run to score. A single by Phillips drove in two more. Another walk and a single followed and Rochford was relieved by Wes Gardner. A wild pitch allowed one more run to score. He had given up six runs (four earned) and ultimately was charged with the loss. Cafardo wrote, “Mike Rochford, who won a job by default in spring training, made his major league starting debut a forgettable and regrettable one.”38
On April 16, he came into a game at Fenway with the Brewers leading, 12-0. He pitched pretty well in the sixth and seventh, but couldn’t finish the eighth. Two singles, a walk, a sacrifice fly, and a double saw two runs score. John Leister relieved. B. J. Surhoff tripled off him driving in the two runners he had inherited, charged to Rochford. In 2 1/3 innings, he had given up four earned runs. They were the last innings he pitched in the majors. On April 20, he was released to Pawtucket. The Red Sox called up Daryl Irvine.
Rochford later said, “Detroit was not the place I would recommend for anybody to have their first start at. But I did. It didn’t go well. I want to say this in the nicest way, but my agent had told me I would be given so many starts and I only got one. I wanted more of an opportunity with Boston and I knew they weren’t going to give it to me. I wish they had thought more of me. I’d worked so hard to get there. I just wanted a couple more opportunities to prove myself, whether it was relieving or starting.”
Rochford had a major league record of 0-1, and an ERA of 9.58 over 10 1/3 innings pitched in 1988, 1989, and 1990. He appeared in nine games for Pawtucket in 1990 and was 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA. Rochford and his agent talked about his future. “Boston was not using me in any specific role. They had some good pitchers at the time. It was just hard to find a spot for myself — starter, middle reliever…My agent and I talked and I…I said, ‘I’m never going to know, if I don’t get more of an opportunity.’”
On June 13, the Boston Herald reported that the Pawtucket Red Sox had sold Rochford’s contract to the Yakult Swallows baseball team in Japan. He appeared in nine games — three of them starts — and was 0-3 with an 8.61 ERA during his time with the Swallows. “In June I went to Japan. I had just had the birth of my daughter, Sarah. I didn’t do well over there. I had a difficult time. I found it difficult, not speaking the language. It was a very difficult thing.” And his knees had never truly recovered from tearing his ACL. “In Japan you run a lot. My knees were just done.”
He gave it one more try in spring training 1991. “When I came back, I tried to rehab and get with Cincinnati. I didn’t make the club. They were going to send me to Triple A and I said, ‘No, you know, I think that’s enough.’”
Rochford got into the golf business. “My brother-in-law Mike at the time was a PGA professional. I started as his assistant at Sugarbush in ’92. The golf season in Vermont was only like six months, so you had to get in six years. You had to get all your schooling and stuff to become a head pro, but in Florida you could do it in three years instead of six. So I brought the family to Florida. I didn’t know anybody. I just took a job at Indian Spring in the bag room. They call it a ‘bag boy’ — you just take the bags off the carts and put them away.”
It was hard to give up the dream of playing baseball, though. “At Indian Spring, I met Johnny Orsino. He was the director of golf. He used to catch for the Baltimore Orioles. We start talking baseball and he said, ‘I want to catch you.’ I throw to him and he said, ‘Mike, you’ve still got it. I know somebody. Let’s go down for a tryout.’ I trained with him for maybe a month and a half and then we went and did that thing. We didn’t hear anything back.
“I ended up staying in the golf business, enjoying that. I just worked my way through the system. I became the head professional at St. Andrews at Boca Raton and eventually became the director myself, at Mizner Country Club in Delray Beach.”
He divorced and has enjoyed a second marriage to Tracy, a former Norwegian Airlines flight attendant. Mike has two children and two stepchildren. “Sarah is my daughter and Hayley is my stepdaughter. Jarryd is my son and Derek is my stepson.”
In more recent years, Rochford has borne some burdens. He would otherwise still be working in golf but, as he put it, “tragedy struck.” He explained, regarding a lengthy stretch in the years 2013-15. “I had my hips replaced. One got infected and then the other one got recalled. Then I had dislocations. Seven major surgeries later, I’m now on disability.” Asked if it might have been something genetic, he said it might be — that his younger brother has had his shoulders and a hip replaced. He is by no means wheelchair bound. He can still get around, but there are things he cannot do the way he once could.
After the February 8, 2021, interview with the author of this story, Rochford was sent a copy of a questionnaire that his father had completed in 1956, the year Bill Rochford turned 22 years old. It was understandably affecting to see his father’s handwriting, when Bill was himself trying to make it in baseball, and that his father had written that it was his ambition to make it to the major leagues. Bill never did, but his son Mike did.
Last revised: April 8, 2021
This biography was reviewed by Darren Gibson and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also relied on Baseball-Reference.com and Rertosheet.org.
Quotations without citations come from the February 8, 2021 interview of Mike Rochford by Bill Nowlin.
1 Ernie Roberts, “Meyer Another Landry?” Boston Globe, January 16, 1982: 29
2 Author interview with Mike Rochford on February 8, 2021. Unless otherwise attributed, all direct quotations come from this interview.
3 George Kimball, “Major change of scenery,” Boston Herald, September 4, 1988: 91.
4 Rochford’s high school and college records are from Garry Brown, “The Morning Line: Sox Like Young Flamethrower,” Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), January 16, 1982: 18.
5 Jim Dielschneider, “SFCC Sweeps to Break-Even Mark.” Gainesville Sun, March 3, 1982: 19.
6 To be fair to George Digby, it is quite possible he had seen Rochford pitch on other occasions, and without doubt had done his homework.
7 “New Approach Gets Athletics Off to a Fast Start,” Boston Globe, April 22, 1983: 24.
8 Joe Giuliotti, “Red Sox Looking for Lefty Hitter,” Boston Herald, April 22, 1984: 59.
9 Peter Gammons, “Boyd Brightens Outing.” Boston Globe, March 30, 1984: 75.
10 Peter Gammons, “Red Sox Farm System Has Crop Still Growing,” Boston Globe, September 8, 1984: 27.
11 Steve Buckley, “Rochford appears to be odd man out,” Hartford Courant, March 15, 1989: B2.
12 Steve Turgeon, “Pawsox’ Rochford works on confidence,” Providence Journal, May 18, 1986: D07.
13 Kevin Paul Dupont, “Rochford hopes he will bloom in this Spring,” Boston Globe, March 30, 1987: 31.
14 Steven Krasner, “Rochford sparkles again for Pawtucket,” Providence Journal, August 13, 1987: C-07
16 Oddly, Rochford had joined the big-league for one game in May 1987 — a May 7 exhibition game against the Mets at Shea Stadium, but he was not used in the game. He returned to Pawtucket. See Joe Giuliotti, “Romero wins shortstop job,” Boston Herald, May 8, 1987: 19.
17 Larry Whiteside, “Major chance for Rochford,” Boston Globe, September 3, 1988: 35.
18 Dan Shaughnessy, “Red Sox stumble once again, 2-1,” Boston Globe, September 4, 1988: 49.
19 Joe Giuliotti, “Sox play 2nd fiddle,” Boston Herald, September 4, 1988: 81.
20 Larry Whiteside, “Boggs Key Figure in Sox’ Numbers Game,” Boston Globe, January 1, 1989: 52.
21 Buckley, “Rochford appears to be odd man out.”
22 Marvin Pave, “Rochford earns second chance,” Boston Globe, June 24, 1989: 37.
23 Steve Fainaru, “Mike Rochford,” Boston Globe, June 4, 1989: 83.
25 Mark Murphy, “Rochford sides with overhand delivery,” Boston Herald, June 24, 1989: 80.
27 Steve Buckley, “Getting there not half the fun for lefthander up from Triple A,” Hartford Courant, June 27, 1989: 143.
28 Mike Shalin, “Hetzel gets a chance this time,” Boston Herald, July 1, 1989: 71.
29 Joe Giuliotti, “Hetzel heading for spot in rotation,” Boston Herald, June 30, 1989: 94. Hetzel did stick, and pitched in 12 games. His ERA, however, was 6.26.
30 Steve Fainaru, “Bolton may be on deck,” Boston Globe, July 30, 1989: 49.
32 Dan Shaughnessy, “The third degree on AL MVP ballot,” Boston Globe, October 1, 1989: 50.
33 Joe Giuliotti, “For starters, Rochford pitches himself,” Boston Herald, April 3, 1990: 66.
34 Nick Cafardo, “Red Sox are playing the numbers game,” Boston Globe, April 2, 1990: 41.
36 Bill Ballou, “Rochford stint today could decide career,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 2, 1990: B1.
37 Bill Ballou, “Sox can’t win, or can they?,” Worcester Telegram & Gazette, April 8, 1990: D1.
38 Nick Cafardo, “Tigers play a shell game with Red Sox,” Boston Globe, April 13, 1990: 69.