Right-hander Scott Bankhead pitched for 10 years in the majors, half of them for the Seattle Mariners and the other half for the Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, and New York Yankees. Not long after his final season in 1995, he founded the North Carolina Baseball Academy, which has provided a fulfilling second career.
Bankhead pitched in 267 major league games, starting 110. His career marks at the top level were 57-48 with a 4.18 earned run average. His two best seasons were in 1989 (14-6, 3.34 while starting for Seattle) and 1992 (10-4, 2.93 working 54 games in relief for Cincinnati). Though he was on the small side for a big-league hurler – 5-foot-10 and listed at 175 pounds – Bankhead had a good sinker and slider, also mixing in a change and the occasional curve.1
Michael Scott Bankhead was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, on July 31, 1963. Father Jerry Bankhead was a textile executive and mother Virginia (née Dozier) was a homemaker. They both came from the small city of Hamlet, North Carolina, in Richmond County, near the border of South Carolina, about 90 miles south of Greensboro and 75 miles east of Charlotte.
Scott had a brother, Todd, one year younger. Jerry Bankhead worked for Burlington Industries in Reidsville, North Carolina, about 100 miles northwest of Raleigh, and, except for a few years in Mount Olive as the decade changed to the 1970s, the boys grew up in Reidsville.
Scott was active in school sports, as well as American Legion baseball. He attended Reidsville High School, where he played shortstop. He took up pitching, too, promptly showed a talent for it, and was named an All-State pitcher that year. In its issue of October 23, 1981, Collegiate Baseball announced that he had been named National High School Player of the Year.2
A month before turning 18, Bankhead was selected in the June 1981 draft in the 17th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He did not sign, instead going to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a baseball scholarship. There was no parental pressure involved, he said in a January 2023 interview. “We had face-to-face meetings with the scouts and they laid out everything about how it worked at the time, but I was coming out of a small town and my heart was set on college and playing college baseball. It just wasn’t for me at that time. It just wasn’t something I was interested in pursuing at 17 years old.”3
Three years later, he was ready. He was a first-round pick (#16 overall) of the Kansas City Royals in the June 1984 amateur draft.
After both his freshman and sophomore years at UNC, he had pitched for Wareham in the summer Cape Cod League, developing a slider, and was named an All-Star both in 1982 and 1983. He pitched for UNC for three years and “helped lead the UNC baseball team to three straight ACC championships. During Scott’s three years at UNC he compiled an overall record of 24-3 and won a then-ACC record 20 straight decisions over his final two years. Scott was named All-ACC First Team twice and All-American twice for his and the team’s success on the field.”4 It’s not surprising that he became a first-round selection, especially in light of what he later heard from the Royals’ area scout, Roy Tanner.
Todd Bankhead played high school sports, but not beyond. He followed Scott to UNC, got his MBA from Wake Forest University, and in the early 2020s owns a commercial real estate business in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Scott had majored in Industrial Relations at UNC in 1981-84 and may have been headed for a career in business, but because he entered professional baseball after his junior year, he did not graduate. His experience and education may have both contributed to the calling he ultimately followed, founding and running a successful baseball academy.
Unlike his prior experience with the Pirates scout, Bankhead hadn’t really met Roy Tanner before the June draft. He asked Tanner about that when a few of the Royals came to visit in hopes of signing their top pitching prospect. Tanner said, in effect, that he’d seen Scott early in the spring but thought he would be claimed before the Royals’ turn at #16, so he had devoted more attention to scouting others on the advice of the scouting department.
The Royals were clearly glad Bankhead was still available. He did sign and the contract they negotiated commenced with the 1985 season because he wanted to join the 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team. That July, he stated, “My No. 1 priority was to represent my country and hopefully help it win the gold.”5 A number of teams had perhaps overlooked him because of his size. He was determined, though: “I’m not going to let anybody tell me size is going to keep me from making it. I know guys 6-4 and 6-5 who can’t throw it through a pane of glass.”6
The Olympic squad, coached by Rod Dedeaux, was loaded with future big leaguers, including Bankhead’s batterymate at UNC, B.J. Surhoff. The Americans were runner-up to Japan in the Los Angeles Olympics. (Because baseball was a demonstration sport that year, no official medals were awarded.7) Bankhead appeared in two games for Team USA, winning his only decision and allowing just one earned run in 9 2/3 innings.8 The win came as he pitched the first five innings in a 16-1 rout over Italy.9
Once the Games concluded, Bankhead pitched that fall in a Royals instructional league setting. In the spring of 1985 his professional career truly began, with the Memphis Chicks of the AA Southern League. After a slow start, he ended up starting 24 games and finished strong, posting a record of 8-6 for the fourth-place (65-79) Chicks.
Come May 1986, Bankhead was in the major leagues. He had begun the year with the Triple-A Omaha Royals (American Association) and was 2-2 but with an impressive 1.49 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings. He and David Cone were the two pitchers the Royals were looking to for the future. Bankhead was named the American Association pitcher of the week in mid-May. “The way Bankhead’s pitching, we had to make room for him,” said manager Dick Howser.10 The team traded reliever Mark Huismann and called up Bankhead. Though he had never worked as a reliever, he was placed in the Royals bullpen.11
Bankhead made his big league debut on May 25 at Royals Stadium, the fourth pitcher of the game against the visiting Chicago White Sox. The score was tied, 1=1, both teams having scored in the eighth – and Howser brought Bankhead in from the pen after the first 13 innings. The first batter he faced (Wayne Tolleson) singled, then Harold Baines hit into a double play. Greg Walker doubled. Bankhead was told to walk Carlton Fisk intentionally, then successfully got out of the inning. He retired the side in order in the 15th, 16th, and 17th innings, striking out the side in the 17th, and was the beneficiary of a one-out Jamie Quirk double, a single, an intentional walk, and Jim Sundberg’s game-winning sacrifice fly. Scott Bankhead had his first major league win.
After three more relief appearances, he replaced Mark Gubicza (who had gone on the disabled list) in the rotation and started in his next 17 games.12 Bankhead won his first three decisions, then struggled, losing four in a row – often because of one bad inning. He finished the season 8-9 (4.61) working 121 innings for the third-place 76-86 Royals.
That December, he parted ways with the Royals, dealt to Seattle in a five-player trade.13
Bankhead settled in for five seasons with Seattle, 1987 through 1991, with only a few brief appearances for rehabbing in the minors. In 1987, he was almost exclusively a starter for manager Dick Williams and began by winning his first three outings. That couldn’t continue, of course; he often found himself victim of the home run, giving up 35, most on the Mariners, in just 149 1/3 innings. By season’s end, Bankhead was 9-8 (5.42). The Mariners finished fourth. After the season, he had surgery to remove scar tissue from his right shoulder.
In 1988, Bankhead missed the first month-plus with what was described as tendinitis in that shoulder. After that late start, he pitched much better for the rest of the season, bringing his ERA down to a team-best 3.07 in 21 starts, but the team finished in seventh place. They won just 68 games (15 by Mark Langston) against 93 losses. Bankhead was 7-9, largely owing to lack of run support. In six of his nine losses, his teammates scored only one run or none at all. He struck out 102 while walking only 38.
The 1989 Mariners finished sixth – 26 games out of first place – which makes Bankhead’s season all the more remarkable. Whereas the team only won 45% of its games, Bankhead’s record was 14-6 (3.34), with five more wins than anyone else on the staff. At one point, he tied a club record by winning nine in a row.14 He had two shutouts, against the Indians on July 9 and a two-hitter at Kansas City on September 23. He struck out a team-leading 140, 36 more than second-place Randy Johnson (who came over on May 25 as the M’s traded Langston).
Bankhead’s 1990 season was discouraging. He appeared in only four games for Seattle (all starts), with his last one on June 1. His record was 0-2 with an ERA of 11.08. He played two early-season games in Calgary, again on a rehab assignment, but right shoulder pain held him back. On June 12 he underwent season-ending surgery to have a bone spur removed from his shoulder.
After signing another one-year deal with the Mariners, Bankhead’s 1991 was again dogged by arm problems. He made nine starts (2-5, 5.48) through June 11 and then spent another stint on the disabled list, followed by a stretch of rehabbing in the minors. This included a total of eight appearances spread between Low-A Bellingham, High-A San Bernardino, and Triple-A Calgary. He was recalled to Seattle in September, working exclusively in relief, a total of 18 innings in eight games. He won one and lost one, and brought his season ERA down to 4.90.
Seattle chose not to offer Bankhead another contract and he was signed to a non-guaranteed contract in January 1992 by the Cincinnati Reds. The opportunity gave him fresh life.
He impressed in spring training and never let up. “The ’92 season was my first year going to the bullpen. That was really the only way I was going to be able to stay a major league pitcher. The surgery I had in 1990 did not allow me to pitch that many innings and throw that many pitches as a starter. Cincinnati gave me opportunities as a relief pitcher.”
“I pitched in a really good bullpen, so I was kind of a setup guy for Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble and was able to be used sparingly in certain situations, I think I pitched in 54 or 55 games that year.”
Indeed, he worked exclusively in relief, in 54 games for manager Lou Piniella, and posted the best earned run average of his career – 2.93. His 10-4 won/loss record was the best on the team. In midseason, the team had thought about asking him to start but the idea didn’t last long. Piniella asked rhetorically, “Why risk turning the best setup man in the game into a six-inning pitcher who might hurt himself again?”15 In his setup role, Bankhead relieved in 103 career games but had only one save, working the bottom of the 16th inning on April 24, 1992, as the Reds defeated the Padres,7-6, in San Diego.
Despite his success, the Reds did not re-sign Bankhead for 1993. Instead, he signed a lucrative two-year deal with the Boston Red Sox. He had been seen by Boston scouts as “the premier middle reliever in the National League.”16
If he was so highly regarded, why did not the Reds make more of an effort to re-sign him? Recalling the time 30 years later, he thought it stemmed from a change in philosophy. Jim Bowden came on as GM in 1992. “They were sort of moving in a different direction. Manager Lou Piniella left after the ’92 season. Paul O’Neill got traded. I was just a part of who they weren’t bringing back. That’s the way I remember it.”
In Bankhead’s two seasons with the Red Sox, he had a winning record both years, but by the slimmest of margins – he was 2-1 (3.50) in 1993 and 3-2 (4.54) in 1994. He wasn’t used as much as expected in ’93, making just 40 appearances. He then worked in just 27 games in ’94, missing more than three weeks in midseason that year after re-aggravating a groin pull he had suffered in spring training. After he returned from four games with Pawtucket on a rehab assignment, he resumed work. His final game was August 10; the next day, major league ballplayers went on strike.
Through July 28, his ERA was an excellent 2.45, but he was hit hard in his final five outings, and that swelled his mark to 4.54.
Even while the players were on strike at the end of the 1994 season, the New York Yankees didn’t wait to be in a position to sign Bankhead out of free agency. Just before September 1, they purchased his contract from the Red Sox for cash considerations and a minor league player to be named later. Why? Still hoping the season would resume, the Yankees had three left-handed starters and wanted to add right-handed strength in the bullpen.17 And Yankees pitching coach Billy Connors had been Bankhead’s pitching coach when both were with Seattle. Bankhead said the two had a good rapport.18 He added, “It feels strange to be traded during a strike because I don’t think we’ll be playing baseball again this year…. I guess I’ll always be the answer to a trivia question.”19 He became a free agent anyhow, on October 17, and then signed a fresh one-year deal with the Yankees on November 1. The signing included an option for 1996.
Bankhead’s 1995 season began on April 30, in the fourth game after the season belatedly commenced. He won a game in his second appearance, in a four-inning stint against Milwaukee on May 5, and then lost one on May 29 in Seattle, facing just one batter (Rich Amaral) who led off and homered in the bottom of the 12th. All told, he worked in 20 games, with the 1-1 record but a 6.00 ERA. The Yankees designated him for assignment on July 19 and released him on July 25.
On August 4, the Oakland Athletics signed Bankhead. He worked 18 1/3 innings for their Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League, the Edmonton Trappers. In 12 games, he gave up 18 runs and was released on September 10.
“The next year, ’96, I went to spring training with Houston. Got released the last week of spring training and retired.” His time as a pitcher was over.
In December 1998, he founded the North Carolina Baseball Academy in Greensboro. At the time of the January 2023 interview, the business was still going strong.
What had he done in the intervening couple of years?
“I spent time with my very young family – we had three small children – and I did my soul-searching, what I wanted to do. I did some high school baseball coaching, which piqued my interest in teaching, coaching, getting into business a little bit. I sought out some opportunities and then decided to build what I currently have today some 25 years later.”
Scott and his wife Kelly (née Springer) married in 1989. Their three children are Alec, Sarah, and a younger daughter, Karson.
The academy has provided baseball instruction – and perhaps a few life lessons – to a large number of youngsters from the Greensboro area. It does not recruit from outside the region. “We take local talent and try to develop them and we’ve been fortunate to see three kids make it all the way to the top. People come and go individually. We have roughly 110 kids who play in our team program from ages 10 through 17. A lot of those kids are more year-round for us, but on a day-to-day basis we offer opportunities for people to come to camps and classes and for individual instruction, sports performance training, and just to enjoy themselves hitting balls in our batting cage.”
The players who have gone on to play college baseball number in the hundreds. Three have made it to Major League Baseball. The first was right-hander Bryan Mitchell, who debuted with the New York Yankees in 2014. The second was Joe Mantiply, a left-hander who broke in briefly with Detroit in 2016 and was named to the National League All-Star team in 2022, pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Outfielder Jaylin Davis broke in with the San Francisco Giants in 2019 and played in each of the following three years as well. Bankhead adds, “We’ve got several guys who are still playing in the minor leagues, and we had our first-ever first-round pick in the 2020 draft, a young man named Patrick Bailey who went to N.C. State and is now in the Giants organization.”
Bankhead himself has had opportunities to continue with Team USA. “I’m very fortunate. I played for Team USA. It’s definitely the best to play with that on the front of your jersey, but I also had the opportunity to get involved with the 18-and-under national team in 2016. I had some involvement with Team USA for four years and in the last two years, in 2018 and 2019, I was the head pitching coach on the 18-and-under team. Our manager was Jack Leggett.” The team won the gold medal in the Pan Am Games in Panama in 2018 and won the silver medal the following year at the World Cup in Busan, South Korea, losing in the gold medal game, 2-1, to Chinese Taipei.
“It was just a tremendous honor to be able to represent our country and to be around some really good players, some really good, fine young men.”
Looking back at his own career, there were a number of coaches whom Bankhead wanted to credit for his own development. “One of the biggest influences in my youth in Reidsville was Jerry Talley. He was my baseball school coach for three years in junior high and three years in high school. Two other guys from the Reidsville area that I’d like to give recognition to are Ernie Holcomb, my American Legion head coach for three years, and Bob Gentry, an assistant coach on the American Legion team. Those three gentlemen had the biggest influence from a coaching standpoint in baseball. They were fantastic people, mentors, and coaches.
“Mike Roberts was my head coach at UNC and gave me the greatest opportunity that I have ever received in my life. The chance to attend such a great university and play in the ACC was life changing. Coach Roberts took a chance on a small-town player and I am forever thankful.
“Howard McCullough was my pitching coach at UNC and has been a lifelong friend and mentor to me. Howard helped me develop into a first-round draft choice and made a tremendous impact on my life.”
Scott Bankhead himself has been recognized by induction into both the North Carolina American Legion Hall of Fame and to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
https://ncbaseball.com – North Carolina Baseball Academy website
www.ncshof.com – North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame website (provided mother’s maiden name)
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by David Kritzler.
1 Bill James and Rob Neyer, The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers, New York: Simon & Schuster (2004): 126.
2 The article appeared on page 1. Email to author from Lou Pavlovich, Collegiate Baseball, January 19, 2023.
3 Author interview with Scott Bankhead on January 17, 2023. Unless otherwise indicated, all direct quotations attributed to Scott Bankhead come from this interview.
4 Per the North Carolina Baseball Academy website, at https://ncbaseball.com/. Accessed November 17, 2022.
5 Tracy Ringolsby, “Royals’ pick plans to bank Olympic gains,” Kansas City Star, July 10, 1984: C2. His signing bonus was thought to be $100,000.
6 Jack Etkin, “Bankhead may be pitching in LA, but he has an eye on KC,” Kansas City Times, August 4, 1984: E1.
7 “1984 Summer Olympics – The Results (Baseball),” Sport-Olympic website (https://www.sport-olympic.gr/sp/index.php/olympic-games/modern-olympic-games/summer-olympic-games/1984-los-angeles-summer-olympics/1842-1984-summer-olympics-the-results-baseball)
8 Scott Bankhead’s 1985 Topps baseball card.
9 “U.S. Baseball Team Routs Italians, 16-1,” Sheboygan (Wisconsin) Press, August 3, 1984: 18.
10 Bob Nightengale, “Huismann traded; Bankhead called up,” Kansas City Times, May 22, 1986: E1.
11 He said he had no idea regarding the routines of a reliever – “when I start warming up. When I set down. Nothing, really. At least this way I’ll have a chance to get some innings in without getting pressure as a start.” Bob Nightengale, “Promotion to Royals is a surprise to Bankhead,” Kansas City Times, May 23, 1986: D1, D4.
12 On June 5, he earned his second win, coming into a game with the bases loaded, striking out Mickey Hatcher, and then throwing five more innings of scoreless relief.
13 Bankhead was traded on December 10, along with outfielder Mike Kingery and right-hander Steve Shields for right-handed pitcher Rick Luecken and outfielder/DH Danny Tartabull.
14 For a profile of Bankhead after the first eight of the nine consecutive wins, and an emphasis on his work as a control pitcher, see Jim Street, “Seattle Banking on New Ace in the Hole,” The Sporting News, August 7, 1989: 28.
15 Dave Nightingale, “Red Alert,” The Sporting News, July 13, 1992: 11.
16 At midseason, Bankhead said, “I look like a guy lost in the shuffle.” Nick Cafardo, “Bankhead finally able to pitch in,” Boston Globe, July 25, 1993: 55.
17 Jack Curry, “Yankees Trade a Reliever and Get One,” New York Times, September 2, 1994: B9.
18 Nick Cafardo, “Red Sox strike Bankhead deal,” Boston Globe, September 2, 1994; 37.
19 Cafardo, “Red Sox strike Bankhead deal.”
Michael Scott Bankhead
July 31, 1963 at Raleigh, NC (USA)
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