Steve Ontiveros

This article was written by Clayton Trutor

Steve OntiverosSteve Ontiveros played in 10 major-league seasons (1985-1990, 1993-1995, 2000). A long and lithe right-handed pitcher, Ontiveros played for the Oakland Athletics (1985-1988, 1994-1995), Philadelphia Phillies (1989-1990), Seattle Mariners (1993), and Boston Red Sox (2000). A model of perseverance, the right-handed-hitting Ontiveros twice overcame injuries and struggles in the minors to return to the major leagues after extended absences. Despite making just 207 big-league appearances, Ontiveros had considerable success both as a long reliever and a starting pitcher. In his two stints with the Athletics, Ontiveros proved to be a successful starting pitcher, solidifying the middle of Oakland’s staff in both the late 1980s and mid-1990s. In 1994 Ontiveros excelled as a part-time reliever/part-time starter for the A’s and boasted an AL-best 2.65 ERA. His success in the strike-shortened season helped him earn a spot on the 1995 American League All-Star team.

Steven Ontiveros was born on March 5, 1961, in the village of Tularosa, New Mexico, not far from the larger city of Alamogordo and Holloman Air Force Base, where his father, Ramon “Ray” Ontiveros, served in the US Army. Ray and his mother, Jeannine Michelle (LaCroix) Ontiveros, whom he met while serving in France, raised four children. Steve was the second oldest. The family later relocated to Portage, Indiana, in the Michiana region of northwestern Indiana/southwestern Michigan. Ray was an avid sports fan who encouraged his son’s interest in baseball.1 The family is not related to Steve Ontiveros, the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants infielder of the 1970s.2

Ontiveros was a standout pitcher as a freshman and sophomore at Brandywine High School in Niles, Michigan, and as a junior and senior at St. Joseph’s High School in South Bend, Indiana. As a junior he posted a 22-1 mark and led St. Joseph to a number-four ranking in the state.3 Ontiveros earned a baseball scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he played alongside future big leaguers Chris Sabo, Jim Paciorek, and Gary Wayne for coach Bud Middaugh, who oversaw the Wolverines’ 1980s heyday. Ontiveros was Middaugh’s relief ace in the early 1980s. The Wolverines earned bids to the College World Series in Ontiveros’s freshman (1980) and sophomore (1981) years.4

After Ontiveros’s junior year at Michigan, the Oakland Athletics selected the 21-year-old in the second round of the 1982 amateur draft. His ascension through the A’s system was rapid. In 1982 he spent most of the summer with West Haven of the Double-A Eastern League and appeared to be out of his depth. He posted a 6.33 ERA in 16 appearances. The young righty remained in Double-A in 1983, pitching for the relocated Albany A’s of the Eastern League. This time, Ontiveros showed he was ready for Double-A baseball, tying for the team lead in wins with 8 and putting up a 3.75 ERA. He made 32 appearances, including 13 as a starter.

After missing most of the 1984 season with ligament damage in his right arm, Ontiveros impressed with Tacoma of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League early in the 1985 season. In 15 relief appearances, he posted a 3-0 mark with a 2.94 ERA. Ontiveros was called up to the Athletics on June 13. He impressed working out of the bullpen in the waning days of manager Jackie Moore’s regime. Ontiveros posted a 1.93 ERA in 39 appearances, earning eight saves and boasting a WHIP of 0.857. The rookie told the South Bend Tribune that his efforts to diversify his pitch selection had helped him become a successful major-league pitcher. No longer did he simply rely on his heavy fastball to get hitters out. “My fastball,” he said, “I can throw one that runs away from left-handed hitters and one that cuts in.” At the time, he was also working on a curveball that would serve him well as he adjusted from being a fireballer to being a crafty veteran later in his career.5

In 1986 Ontiveros suffered through a sophomore slump. He made a career-high 46 appearances, all in relief, for the Athletics, as both a long reliever and a closer. His ERA ballooned to 4.71,but he had a career-best 10 saves.

Ontiveros’s 1987 season was much more robust. In his first full season as Oakland’s manager, Tony La Russa moved Ontiveros into the starting role the pitcher had aspired to since early in his big-league career. The right-hander made 22 starts and a total of 35 appearances. He proved to be one of Oakland’s most dependable starters in 1987, winning a career-high 10 games against 8 defeats. He lowered his ERA to 4.00 while working a career-high 150⅔ innings.

Ontiveros made 10 starts for the 1988 AL champion Athletics, nine of which were in the first three months of the season. He went 3-4 with a hefty 4.61 ERA, the lion’s share of which came from a couple of rough starts early in the season. Ligament damage in his right arm forced Ontiveros to undergo arthroscopic surgery, which cost him most of the season.

On February 16, 1989, Ontiveros signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies. He made just six appearances for the club, missing most of the season to undergo a second major reconstructive elbow surgery.6 Ontiveros had five starts and one relief appearance for Philadelphia, posting a 2-1 record with a 3.82 ERA. He opened 1989 with a pair of strong starts, earning a victory on April 6 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field and a win over the Montreal Expos at Veterans Stadium on April 11. In the win over Montreal, Ontiveros threw seven scoreless innings while surrendering just five hits.

During that Expos game, Ontiveros recorded the only base hit he ever made as a batter – a double in the bottom of the fourth inning. The score was tied, 1-1, as he came to bat against Pascual Perez with the bases loaded. His double to right field cleared the bases and gave the Phillies a 4-1 lead. Three batters later, he scored the fifth Phillies run on a sacrifice fly by Von Hayes. The final score was 6-2, Phillies.

Primarily an American League pitcher, Ontiveros had only 13 plate appearances – all in 1989 – and the one hit.

Ontiveros struggled to make it back into the Philadelphia bullpen. He made a total of five appearances, all in relief, for the 1990 Phillies, posting a strong 2.70 ERA in 10 innings pitched. In 1991 Ontiveros made just seven appearances, all for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. After the season the Phillies released the 30-year-old right-hander, who began the first of his two mid-career minor league odysseys.

Ontiveros signed with the Detroit Tigers in early 1992 but he never made an appearance for the club, still trying to heal his injured right arm. He spent most of 1993 with the Minnesota Twins organization, rebuilding his career with the Portland Beavers of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Ontiveros boasted a 2.87 ERA with Portland as well as a 7-6 record, mostly as a starter.

On August 10, 1993, the Seattle Mariners got a steal when they flipped minor-league outfielder Greg Stockey for Ontiveros, who made a significant late-season contribution for the Mariners. In arguably the most effective stretch of his career, the 32-year-old Ontiveros made 14 appearances in August and September for Seattle. He allowed just two earned runs in 18 innings pitched for an ERA of 1.00. Oakland, his original big-league home, scooped him up as a free agent after the season.

Once again Ontiveros became Tony La Russa’s jack of all trades. He made 14 relief appearances and 13 starts for the Athletics in 1994. He won six games against four defeats with an AL-leading 2.65 ERA, besting second-place Roger Clemens and third-place David Cone for the title. After the season Ontiveros signed the biggest deal of his career – a one-year pact worth nearly $1 million.

Ontiveros had another solid season for Oakland in 1995. Holding down the number-two spot in the rotation, he made 22 starts and went 9-6 with a 4.37 ERA. He was picked to play in the All-Star Game and played a prominent, if dubious, role in the midsummer classic. He entered the game, which was tied 2-2, in the top of the eighth inning and surrendered a game-winning home run to the Florida Marlins’ Jeff Conine. Conine was named the game’s MVP and Ontiveros took the loss.7

The 1995 season proved to be Ontiveros’s final full big-league campaign. A free agent after the season, he signed with the California Angels, but his 1996 campaign was over before it began, shut down due to right shoulder surgery.

The latter half of the 1990s was a second minor-league odyssey for Ontiveros. He bounced from the Angels organization to the Baltimore, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Colorado systems between 1996 and 2000, never staying in any minor-league city too long. Released by the Rockies on July 7, 2000, he signed with the pitching-starved Boston Red Sox as they pursued a third consecutive trip to the postseason. The Red Sox failed to make the playoffs but Ontiveros did make three late-season appearances (two starts), posting a 1-1 record with a 10.13 ERA. The Red Sox released the 39-year-old after the season. He was signed by the New York Mets in January 2001 and spent part of the season with their Triple-A affiliate in Norfolk. Ontiveros made one final shot in professional baseball, finishing out the 2001 season with Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento before calling it a career.

After retirement, Steve and his wife Cindy settled in Scottsdale, Arizona. He has remained in baseball, serving as the head coach for Scottsdale Preparatory Academy and several baseball instructional academies in Arizona. He has worked there as recently as 2017. In 2008 he was the pitching coach for the Chinese national baseball team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.8



1 “Ramon ‘Ray’ Ontiveros,” South Bend Tribune, June 21, 2015: C5.

2 Curt Rallo, “This Ontiveros Is Out to Make a Name for Himself,” South Bend Tribune, June 20, 1985: 41.

3 Curt Rallo, “This Ontiveros Is Out to Make a Name for Himself.”

4 Ryan Zuke, “Michigan’s History in the College World Series,”, September 19, 2019. Accessed on July 20, 2020:

5 Curt Rallo, “A Happy Reliever, Ontiveros Hopes to Start,” South Bend Tribune, September 25, 1985: C1.

6 Sam Carchidi, “Ontiveros Out for Season,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 2, 1989: 5C.

7 “Nationals Put on a Power Display,” Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), July 12, 1995: 3S.

8 “Steve Ontiveros Is the Spin Doctor,”, 2019. Accessed on July 20, 2020:

Full Name

Steven Ontiveros


March 5, 1961 at Tularosa, NM (USA)

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