When the Pirates promoted a player from Class A to the majors during the 1991 pennant race, Pittsburgh GM Larry Doughty acknowledged, “There will be players in our farm system who wonder why Scott Bullett came up and not them. Well, nobody else can run like Scott Bullett.”1
But while Bullett’s speed helped him reach the top level, it wasn’t enough to keep him there. Instead, during a 19-year career that saw him play professionally in six different countries, he only spent all or parts of four seasons in the majors. While he was still an active player, though, Bullett started a baseball academy in Canada that was still going strong more than a quarter century after his final big-league appearance.
On December 25, 1968, Scott Douglas Bullett was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, about 95 miles west of Baltimore. His parents, James and Frances (Redman) Bullett, had eight children – six boys and two girls – of whom Scott was the second youngest.2 “All of us kids played one sport or another,” recalled Scott’s older sister Vicky. “We were just an active family, and we had enough to make our own team.”3 The siblings honed their skills by competing against each other in the backyard of their home on Eulalia Street.4
James Bullett, a machine operator at Corning Glass Works, had an athletic background.5 “My dad played semipro baseball in the Negro leagues, but he also played basketball in high school,” Vicky explained. “He was an observer…We’d come home and complain and he’d say, ‘Don’t talk to me, I’m not your coach.’ Dad didn’t get involved. He’d come to the games but you wouldn’t know he was there. He would tell us to work hard and made us work hard for the things we wanted.”6
Like most of his siblings, Scott played varsity sports for the Martinsburg High School Bulldogs. At the time, former 1960s New York Yankees first baseman Ray Barker was the school’s only alum to reach the majors, but Bullett and teammate Doug Creek would become the second and third.7 Bullett – who stood 6-feet-2 and weighed 200 pounds when fully grown – played baseball and football for the Bulldogs but garnered the most attention for his basketball skills. During his senior year, Martinsburg lost West Virginia’s Class AAA championship game in overtime, but he scored a team-high 19 points.8 He was selected to play in the state’s North-South All-Star showcase.9
No professional sports leagues drafted Bullett, but he planned to try out for professional baseball teams shortly after his 1988 graduation. Rain washed out a Baltimore Orioles camp that was scheduled for a Wednesday, but he attended another session the following day operated by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had watched him during his junior year.10 Bullett threw left-handed; at that time he batted from both sides but became a full-time lefty hitter in 1993.11 Pittsburgh’s Middle Atlantic scout, Ron Rizzi12, and scouting supervisor Joe Consoli13 liked what they saw and signed him on June 20, 1988.14
Bullett reported to Pittsburgh’s rookie-level Gulf Coast League farm club in Bradenton, Florida, and batted .180 in 21 games. After attending classes at Glennville State in Charleston, West Virginia, that offseason, he returned to Bradenton in 1989 and improved to .255 in 46 contests, with 15 stolen bases and a team-leading 24 runs scored.
In 1990, Bullett advanced to the Welland (Ontario, Canada) Pirates of the short-season Class A New York-Pennsylvania League. He named San Francisco Giants first baseman Will Clark, a career .304 hitter entering the year, as his favorite, explaining, “He is a tough player and he works very hard to be good.”15 In 74 games, Bullett batted .302 with 30 steals in 36 attempts. He also fell in love with Welland. “It’s nice and peaceful here,” he said later. “It’s just like my hometown in West Virginia except there’s no hills.”16
When Bullett returned to Martinsburg after the 1990 season, he recalled, “I came home, looked at the street sign and said, `What is this?”17 The block that his parents resided on had been re-named “Vicky Bullett Street.” “She deserved it,” Scott remarked. “She did it for her country.”18 Prior to leading the University of Maryland to a Final Four appearance in the 1989 NCAA tournament, Vicky, a 6-foot-3 forward, had been a member of the United States team that won the women’s basketball gold medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. (Later, she helped Team USA win bronze at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, spent six years in the WNBA following a successful professional career in Europe, and was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.)
Shortly after Scott entered professional baseball, his father told a reporter, “We didn’t set out to raise athletes. We wanted to raise the kids to be good people, good citizens,”19
Pittsburgh sent Bullett to the Class A South Atlantic League in 1991. In 95 games with the Augusta (Georgia) Pirates, he batted .284 and swiped 48 bases to earn circuit All-Star honors and the club’s MVP award. On July 24, he was promoted to the advanced Class A Carolina League.20 There, he hit .333 with 15 more stolen bases in 39 games for the Salem (Virginia) Buccaneers. After the season ended in September, Buccaneers manager Stan Cliburn told him that the Pirates wanted him to report to the majors. “I thought they were pulling my leg,” Bullett recalled.21
The Pirates were closing in on a second straight National League East division championship, and manager Jim Leyland remarked, “I don’t really expect him to steal bases, but I know for sure he can score from second on any type of base hit.”22
As it happened, Bullett appeared in 11 games, swiped one base in two attempts, and went 0-for-4 with two runs scored – both when he was aboard on teammates’ homers. He debuted at Candlestick Park on September 3, 1991, as a seventh-inning pinch runner for Don Slaught. Bullett advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt but was stranded when the next two Pirates were retired.
Bullett’s only start came on September 15 in Philadelphia, leading off and playing center field. He went 0-for-2, and Pittsburgh lost, 8-3, but he made an impact. After Phillies right-hander Tommy Greene hit Bullett with a pitch in the third inning, he became so distracted by the speedy rookie’s presence on first base that he allowed a game-tying homer to the next batter. “I’d heard all about him [Bullett],” Greene told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I knew he could run and I didn’t want to give him a chance.”23
When one Pirates beat writer asked Bullett if he would also have a street in Martinsburg named after him, he replied, “I want a ballpark named after me.”24 To another, he quipped, “Maybe a parking lot.”25
Bullett led all Pirates minor-leaguers in steals (63), runs scored (83), and hits (161) in 1991, and tied for the top spot with 11 triples. Heading into 1992, Baseball America rated him Pittsburgh’s top position-player prospect.26 The Pirates assigned him to their (North) Carolina Mudcats farm club in the Double-A Southern League.
But Bullett was so worried about his sick father that he felt “on the edge every day.”27 And following his taste of the big leagues, he was not happy about returning to the minors. Before April was over, Bullett received a three-game suspension for throwing dirt on an umpire.28 In July, Pirates GM Ted Simmons flew to North Carolina to deliver a message. “[Bullett’s] behavior was in direct correlation to who he thought he was and who he wanted to be. So, I took a chainsaw and split his head open,” Simmons described. He told Bullett, “Either you get on our agenda or get off… There is a truck heading for the major leagues and if you’re not on this truck moving at light-speed, we’re not even going to touch the brake pedal when we throw you off.”29
“I’m still tipping my hat to him. The way he yelled at me, I deserved it,” Bullett reflected a year later.30 The Mudcats wound up 40 games under .500, but Bullett led the club in extra-base hits, runs scored and steals while hitting .270 in 132 games. He finished the season in the Triple-A American Association by going 4-for-10 with two triples in three games with the Buffalo Bisons. That offseason, Bullett married Nancy Gauthier, whom he had met while playing in Welland.
In spring training 1993, Simmons proclaimed, “What we have now is Scott Bullett, major league prospect.”31 First, Bullett returned to Buffalo to gain more Triple-A experience and work on his bunting and base stealing with Pittsburgh’s minor-league baserunning instructor, Paul Noce. “The organization has really emphasized to [Bullett] that he should be doing some bunting to use that speed,” explained Bisons manager Doc Edwards.32
In his first 85 games, Bullett batted .297 with 48 runs scored and 26 steals. “I think I had 21 bunt hits at Buffalo,” he said. “That paid off.”33 Five of them came in a span of three games.34 The Pirates called him up at the All-Star break. He recorded his first major-league hit on July 16 in Atlanta – a bunt single against future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. The following night, Bullett went 3-for-4 with two steals, a run scored, and an RBI triple.
Bullett spent four weeks with Pittsburgh and started in 13 of his 23 appearances, but he batted just .200 with a .237 on-base percentage. On August 11, the Pirates sent him back to Buffalo and called up Andy Tomberlin, a lefty swinger with more power.35
After Bullett finished with a .287 average, one homer and 28 steals in 110 games with the Bisons, the Buffalo News rated him a grade C prospect. “[Bullett’s] superior speed, combined with bunting skills honed during the season, makes him a viable candidate for a utility role in the big leagues,” explained beat writer Bob Dicesare. “But he’ll have to improve his base-stealing techniques and become a more attentive outfielder before challenging for a starting spot in The Show.”36
Bullett went to the Arizona Fall League and batted .344 in 41 games with the Sun Cities Solar Sox.37 But on March 29, 1994, less than a week before Opening Day, Pittsburgh traded him to the Chicago Cubs for minor-league reliever Travis Willis. Bullett spent the entire season with Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate, the Iowa Cubs. In 135 games, he batted .308 with 13 homers and tied for the American Association lead in hits, with 163. The Cubs did not call him up, but the September 20 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times reported, “Scott Bullett will be recommended for the Cubs’ center-field job this week when new club president Andy MacPhail meets with general manager Larry Himes and manager Tom Trebelhorn.”38
In the Venezuelan League that winter, Bullett hit .263 in 22 games with the Águilas de Zulia.39 Spring training was shortened by the players’ strike that stretched from August 1994 until April 1995, and the Cubs traded for Kansas City Royals center fielder Brian McRae shortly after it was settled. Bullett, out of options, became Chicago’s Opening Day left fielder. “He’s an impressive athlete,” remarked new Cubs manager, Jim Riggleman. “Now it’s time to see if that translates into an impressive baseball player.”40
Bullett platooned with his friend, righty-hitting Ozzie Timmons, and started 22 of Chicago’s first 38 games. On May 5, he hit his first major-league homer – a three-run blast off the Pirates’ Jon Lieber in Pittsburgh. “It felt good to come back and do it against these guys,” Bullett said. “I was pumped.”41 After the Cubs traded for left fielder Luis Gonzalez on June 28, however, Bullett became a full-time reserve. In 104 games, he made 164 plate appearances and hit .273 with three homers, seven triples and eight steals. As a pinch-hitter, he batted .324 (12-for-37). “He knows that we want him to be a Chicago Cub, not an Iowa Cub or a Cincinnati player or anything else,” Riggleman said. “He’s known this, and it’s helped him relax.”42
In 1996, Bullett remained in his backup role. He missed the second half of May with a broken rib.43 On June 11, in just his second start of the season, Bullett went 5-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs in Philadelphia. “I was just in one of those zones,” he said. “I want to put a little pressure on these guys, let them know I can play this game, too.”44
Bullett’s best opportunity came after the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa suffered a season-ending broken wrist on August 20. The following day, Bullett replaced Sosa in right field and went 3-for-4 with a homer and steal; in the field, he also started his only big-league double play. “Originally, I felt happy about the chance to be an everyday player,” Bullett reflected after retiring. “But then I thought, ‘Do I have to hit a home run every day and get the fans excited like Sammy?’ No, I didn’t, but that was the kind of pressure I felt.”45
Prior to one contest, Bullett sprinted to his position and saluted Wrigley Field’s Bleacher Bums – Sosa’s signature ritual. “Ozzie [Timmons] made fun of me, saying you’re trying to be like Sammy and you’re not Sammy,” Bullett recalled. “[Former Cubs] Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins counseled me too. Relax. Play your game. Don’t swing for the fences like Sammy. Just be Scott Bullett… It was hard.”46 Bullett started slumping, and the Cubs tried other right fielders in September.
Bullett appeared in a major-league career high 109 games (20 starts) in 1996 but slashed just .212/.256/.297. In 165 at-bats, he struck out 54 times. The Cubs released him in December.
That offseason in Welland, Bullett organized a series of baseball clinics for five- to 18-year-olds. “Kids would always be coming over to our house asking if I’d throw the baseball with them,” he explained. “I’d look outside and there’d still be snow on the ground. I found out a lot of kids like playing baseball, even though this is Canada and people say it’s all hockey.”47
Meanwhile, Bullett signed with the Reds. [Cincinnati GM] Jim Bowden called me and said they wanted me to be their center fielder,” he explained. “And then a week later, they signed Deion Sanders. I knew it was just a matter of time before they let me go.”48 Bullett was released during spring training.49 He caught on with the Orioles and spent 1997 with Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate. With Major League Baseball preparing to add two more expansion teams, Bullett wanted to produce big numbers, but he batted just .250 with nine homers in 136 games for a Rochester (New York) Red Wings team that won the International League championship.
In 1998, Bullett went to spring training with the Blue Jays. If he made the team, his commute from Welland to Toronto would be just an 85-mile drive along the Queen Elizabeth Way. But the Blue Jays offered him a Triple-A contract with their Syracuse SkyChiefs farm club instead. “I told them they might as well release me because I wasn’t going,” Bullett said. “I would have to pay my bills there and here – I would just break even.”50 Bullett landed a more lucrative deal, but it came from the Tainin, Taiwan-based Uni-President Lions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. Far from his family, who remained in Canada until the dangerous Entovirus 71 outbreak in Taiwan51 subsided, Bullett batted .303 in 79 games. He led the team with nine homers, 36 steals, and 64 RBIs.
Bullett returned to Asia in 2002 for 49 games in the Japan Central League with the Nagoya-based Chunichi Dragons, where one of his teammates was future Cubs right fielder Kosuke Fukudome. In every other season from 1999 to 2006 Bullett spent time in the Triple-A Mexican League, suiting up for six different franchises. “Each year my Spanish is getting better and better,” he remarked in 2001.52 Bullett enjoyed his best year in 2000, hitting .333 with 35 homers and 100 RBIs for the Broncos de Reynosa. In 2005, he helped the Leones de Yucatán reach the circuit’s semifinals by slugging a team-high .586.
In the United States, Bullett’s last action consisted of 32 combined games in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League for the Rockies’ Colorado Springs affiliate in 2000-2001. In the majors, he finished with a .233 batting average, six homers and 19 steals in 405 plate appearances over 247 games.
After Bullett hit .333 in 106 Mexican League contests for two teams in 2006, he decided to retire at age 37. His three children – Scott Jr., Brianna, and Abby – were 16, 13, and six, respectively, and he explained, “It was time to go home with the family, watch the kids grow up.”53
Back in Welland, the annual clinics that Bullett offered expanded into the Bullettproof Baseball Academy, described by the organization’s website as “a year round operation which also includes Elite teams for the fall and summer.” In 2012, Bullett organized a showcase event for aspiring Canadian ballplayers that the Toronto Star noted attracted scouts from major-league teams and recruiters from U.S. college programs. Bullett stated his mission as providing “equal opportunities with guys across the border.”54
As of 2022, Bullett and his wife resided in Welland, and Bullettproof’s website listed more than 50 players signed by colleges – several of whom went on to play professional baseball.55 His personal biography reported that he continued to offer baseball camps around the Niagara region. He also mentored and encouraged at-risk students through the John Howard Society and Niagara Catholic District School Board’s Fresh Start program.56
Last revised: November 7, 2022
This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and David Bilmes and fact-checked by Ray Danner.
1 Paul Meyer, “Bucs Call Up 3,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 2, 1991: 49.
2 Bill Glauber, “High-Caliber Bullett is U.S. Team’s Secret Weapon,” Baltimore Sun, September 11, 1988: 7T.
4 Scott Bullett, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, February 4, 1989.
5 Glauber, “High-Caliber Bullett is U.S. Team’s Secret Weapon.”
6 Cobb, “Vicky Bullett’s Basketball Journey a Slam Dunk.”
7 The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Fulton Walker in the 25th round of the 1977 June amateur draft but he opted to attend West Virginia University instead. After the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the sixth round in 1981, he played five seasons as a defensive back in the National Football League. When Bullett was 14, Walker returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XVII.
8 “West Virginia,” USA Today (McLean, Virginia), March 21, 1988: 10C.
9 “West Virginia,” USA Today, May 23, 1988: 12C.
10 Bob Hertzel, “Bullett’s Speed Earns a Fast Rise,” Pittsburgh Press, September 17, 1991: 25.
12 Bullett, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss.
13 Scott Bullett, Publicity Questionnaire for Howe Sportsdata International, Inc., December 27, 1990.
14 Terry Larimer, “All 94 Candidates Brought Their Dreams,” Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), July 12, 1988: C1.
15 Scott Bullett, 1990 Pucko Welland Pirates card
16 Bill Potrecz, “Bullett Targets Big League Greed,” Standard (St. Catharines, Ontario), October 30, 1996: C1.
17 “Bullett Resides on Bullett Drive,” Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia), September 22, 1991: 22.
18 Joseph A. Reaves, “Bullett’s Blast Lifts Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1995: A3.
19 Glauber, “High-Caliber Bullett is U.S. Team’s Secret Weapon.”
20 Scott Bullett, 1992 SkyBox baseball card.
21 Hertzel, “Bullett’s Speed Earns a Fast Rise.”
22 Meyer, “Bucs Call Up 3.”
23 Dick Polman, “Phils Exploit Mistakes by Pirates, 8-3,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 16, 1991: 4D.
24 Paul Meyer, “Bullett Tales,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 16, 1991: 13.
25 Hertzel, “Bullett’s Speed Earns a Fast Rise.”
26 “1983-2000 Top 10 Prospects Rankings Archive,” Baseball America, 1983-2000 Top 10 Prospects Rankings Archive (baseballamerica.com) (last accessed July 29, 2022). Bullett was ranked Pittsburgh’s number-two overall prospect, behind left-handed pitcher Steve Cooke.
27 Paul Meyer, “Attitude Makes Bullett High-Caliber Player,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 16, 1993: 23.
28 Ric Ruso, “Errors Cost Sunrays in Loss to Mudcats,” Sun Sentinel (Orlando, Florida), May 1, 1992: D4.
29 Paul Meyer, “Dodging Potholes,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 5, 1993: C7.
30 Meyer, “Attitude Makes Bullett High-Caliber Player.”
31 Meyer, “Dodging Potholes.”
32 Mike Harrington, “Bullett Fires Up Offense,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 13, 1993: E7.
33 Meyer, “Attitude Makes Bullett High-Caliber Player.”
34 Harrington, “Bullett Fires Up Offense.”
35 Paul Meyer, “Notes,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 12, 1993: C5.
36 Bob Dicesare, “Bucs’ Turbulence Gave the Bisons a Bumpy Ride,” Buffalo News, September 11, 1993: B1.
37 Paul Meyer, “Bucs Send Scudder to Minors, Bullett to Cubs for Righty,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 30, 1994: D4.
38 Joe Goddard, “Iowa’s Bullett Shoots into Outfield Picture,” Chicago Sun-Times, September 20, 1994: 83.
39 Scott Bullett’s Venezuelan League statistics are from https://www.pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/mostrar.php?ID=bullsco001 (last accessed August 18, 2022).
40 Joseph A. Reaves, “Bullinger Penciled in for Opener,” Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1995: 5.
41 Joseph A. Reaves, “Bullett’s Blast Lifts Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, May 6, 1995: A3.
42 Bill Jauss, “Myers Applies Clincher,” Chicago Tribune, September 28, 1995: 3.
43 Daryl Van Schouwen, “Broken Rib Lands Bullett on 15-Day Disabled List,” Chicago Sun-Times, May 16, 1996: 89.
44 Gene Wojciechowski, “It’s Oddball, but Winning Ball,” Chicago Tribune, June 12, 1996: B4.
45 David Haugh, “Trying to be Legendary Would be Bad Idea for Bears’ Hillenmeyer,” Chicago Tribune, September 20, 2009: 3-7.
46 Haugh, “Trying to be Legendary Would be Bad Idea for Bears’ Hillenmeyer.”
47 Kathryn Korchok, “Bullett Hits His Target,” Toronto Star, December 22, 1996: D10.
48 Jim Mandelaro, “Bullett Plans on Making a Statement with Wings,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), April 19, 1997: 31.
49 Hal McCoy, “Salkeld Among Five Players Sent Down; Two are Released,” Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, March 11, 1997: 3D.
50 Bill Petrecz, “Bullett’s Ricochet Lands in Taiwan,” Standard, December 8, 1998: C3.
51 “Child-Killing Virus Baffles Taiwan,” CNN, June 8, 1998, http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/asiapcf/9806/08/taiwan.deadly.virus/ (last accessed August 20, 2022).
52 Bernd Franke, “Scott Bullett Goes to Bat for Renegades” Welland Tribune, September 1, 2001: B1.
53 Bernd Franke, “Making the Grade,” Welland Tribune, April 18, 2009, https://www.pressreader.com/canada/the-welland-tribune/20090418/281711200587090 (last accessed August 20, 2022).
54 Brendan Kennedy, “Canadian Ballplayers Come in from the Cold,” Toronto Star, November 10, 2012: S4.
56 “Scott Bullett Bio.”