PEORIA, Ariz. – The last time he was with the Seattle Mariners, George Sherrill remembers reading the trade rumors.
“I was 30 years old, about to turn 31, and I kept wondering why a team would want an aging, left-handed specialist,” Sherrill said Sunday. “I hadn’t made the big leagues until I was 27.”
A man who spent five long years toiling in baseball’s independent leagues, moving from Evansville to Sioux Falls to Winnipeg, Sherrill joined Seattle in 2004.
Three years later, he was dealt to Baltimore, along with Adam Jones, for left-handed starter Erik Bedard.
Between then and now, when Sherrill returned to the Mariners as a free agent in December, life has been one grand ride.
In Baltimore, Sherrill became an All-Star closer, saving 51 games in less than two seasons. Traded to the Dodgers in 2009, Sherrill faced lefties late in games as Los Angeles charged to a division title.
Along the way, he made a lot of money, established himself as one of the most effective lefty-vs.-lefty relievers in baseball history, married and had a son, Dalton.
Back in the Seattle bullpen, Sherrill will turn 35 in April and appreciates his veteran status – on and off the field.
“My role here? Well, Brandon (League) is the closer and I’m a left-handed specialist who can pitch late in the game and be something of a second bullpen coach,” he said.
One thing Sherrill won’t do is make rookies fetch him drinks or equipment.
“I never understood the way some veterans treated rookies, and now that I’m the veteran, I still don’t like it,” he said. “It’s one thing to tease young players, but they’re your teammates, not bellmen.
“If they ask, I’ll help them any way I can. You respect your teammates.”
When he came out of the independent leagues, Sherrill carried far too much weight on his 6-foot frame. Born in Tennessee and raised on deep fried foods, Sherrill came by his shape honestly.
“My parents are big, my brother is big, but my dad and brother are big and athletic,” Sherrill said. “I’m old school, in the sense that I don’t come to camp in perfect shape.
“I don’t want to come in out of shape. I have worked out. I just use spring training every year to get me into peak shape for the regular season.
“I’m an athletic big guy, but I work to hide it well.”
Sherrill gets plenty of work during the season; when he was with Seattle he appeared in 72 games one year, 73 more the next.
Left-handed batters facing Sherrill have a career average of .180 – the second lowest in major league history, behind B.J. Ryan’s .179. Usually, he’s used to face one, maybe two hitters in any appearance.
The longest outing of his career?
“That was in the All-Star Game,” he said, laughing. “As the game went deep, the only pitchers left were me and Scott Kazmir, and they didn’t want to use Kazmir because he’d started two days earlier.”
That ’09 All-Star Game went into extra innings.
“I wound up pitching 2 innings, more than I’d ever pitched in my career,” Sherrill said. “Kazmir worked the last inning and we won the game.
“I was watching Baseball Tonight afterward with my wife, and I remember John Kruk saying I’d been the MVP of the game. I always liked that.
“From a purely personal standpoint, the All-Star Game was a high point. To go from the independent leagues to the All-Star Tame was special,” Sherrill said.
“I walked into that All-Star clubhouse and was in awe, but there was no time to think about it because there was so much to do.”
And then there were two pennant races, one in L.A., the other last year in Atlanta, although that one ended prematurely for the Braves.
“Ask any player. What you want more than anything in the game is a (championship) ring,” Sherrill said. “To be in a couple of races, to get to the postseason, that was the most fun I’ve had.”
Now, Sherrill knows why teams look for aging, left-handed specialists. What he can give a team is always in demand, although for half a decade no one in the majors looked to him to provide it.
“The Mariners were the team that gave me the chance, and I never had a problem with the trade,” he said. “I’m happy being back.”