Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An Interview with Jack Perconte

You may have noticed The Log uses the image of Jack Perconte as our general moniker here and on our Facebook account. You might even have wondered why.  

There's no concrete reason - but I can give you a couple that at least contributed to the choice. First of all, it's just a sweet picture, admit it. But secondly - I remember watching Jack Perconte at the plate, with his hands choked up on the bat about ten inches, just hacking like mad trying to put the ball in play rather than trying to launch it over a Kingdome wall. Jack Perconte was listed at 5' 10" and 160 lbs. I'm not sure what was above his locker but it sure as hell could have said "Nosce te ipsum" because there's probably no other player that better utilized the notion of "know thyself". Perconte was no-nonsene and about as blue collar as they get on the field, and he was easy to root for. 

I was recently contacted by writer Arne Christensen who interviewed Perconte and we agreed that his retrospective and "where is he now" would be a lovely fit for the Mariner Log. Thanks for the great piece, Arne! 


The mid-1980s Seattle Mariners were easy to ignore, playing sub-.500 baseball inside a dome in a distant corner of the U.S., with no greater star than Mark Langston. Their second baseman, Jack Perconte, had starred with the Dodgers’ AAA farm team, the Albuquerque Dukes, from 1979 through 1981. 

The Dukes are remembered as one of the great juggernauts of the Pacific Coast League, especially for their 94-38 1981 squad, for which Perconte hit .346 and stole 45 bases. Perconte won PCL titles with Albuquerque in ’80 and ’81, and also picked up a World Series ring in ’81 by playing a few weeks for the big league club in Los Angeles late in the year. 

He said of playing AAA ball all through the mid-season major league strike of 1981, and its impact on the Albuquerque team, “I believe it did help because with nowhere to go (no big league call up possibilities) everyone just settled in and played ball. We were so loaded with talent, that we actually received some notoriety from the Los Angeles and national press. Additionally, the Dodgers and other ball clubs sent out scouting personnel to see us that wouldn’t have been available if the big club was playing – people like Tommy Lasorda made the rounds so we felt like we were being showcased more than we normally would have been.”

Still, his greatest memories come from that time under Seattle’s Kingdome. The reason is simple: Perconte’s 1984 and 1985 seasons there were his only two as a big league starter. As he explained, “ballplayers enjoy parks that they play well in and dislike parks that they struggle in.”  He ranked tenth among A.L. leaders in hits in 1984, with 180, and seventh and eighth in steals in ’84 and ’85, with 29 and 31. 

They were not years filled with Mariner glory, but on September 1, 1985, Perconte nearly became one of the few dozen major leaguers to get six hits in a nine-inning game. Bidding for his sixth single of the day in the ninth inning in Baltimore, Perconte’s sharply hit grounder to third instead became a double play. 

He said of the game and his memory of it, “Show me a player who wants to avoid that sort of nostalgia and I will show you a liar. Just kidding, but some memories like that day are very vivid. I don’t remember each and every hit but it was definitely a day where I felt ‘in the zone’ and those in the zone days were very few and far between for me.  I don’t recall my approach being much different. It just felt like the ball was in slow motion and my confidence was sky high.

“I actually consider my greatest day in baseball, on a personal level, to be my final game of the 1984 season. Although going only 1 for 4, the one was my 180th hit of the season and against Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. That one hit (a double) tied the Mariner single season hit record at the time, and coming off such a pitcher makes it my greatest day in major league baseball.”

The Dodgers had traded Perconte and Albuquerque teammate Rick Sutcliffe to the Indians after the ’81 season, and he spent parts of 1982 and 1983 in Cleveland. Perconte, who grew up in Joliet, on the edge of the southwest Chicago suburbs, returned to Chicagoland to finish his MLB career with the ’86 White Sox.

Upon retirement in 1987, he opened Jack Perconte's Sports Academy in Naperville, about 20 miles west of the Loop, and ran the academy for two decades before becoming a private baseball coach. After glancing at this resume, you suspect that a man who’s made his living from baseball for three decades is going to be a pure jock, even after noticing that he’s written two instructional books, The Making of a Hitter and Raising an Athlete, and written extensively online about baseball and how to teach it.

Well: Perconte is perhaps the only major leaguer ever to be married to an ordained Methodist minister, Linda (still his wife, and mother of his three adult children), and he graduated summa cum laude from Murray State University, with a b.s. in sociology. Talking recently about his playing days, he acknowledged being “a little short of confidence my whole career” and added,I did not possess great major league hands.” The perspective provided by Perconte’s education, along with his status as a 5-foot-10, 160-pound player who walked onto the Murray State team and weighed 100 pounds as a high school freshman, kept him from getting a big leaguer’s ego. 

The contrast between the arrogance of the typical pro athlete and Perconte’s personality extends to his memory of “feeling insecurity over whether I belonged and could succeed in the majors” when coming to Seattle in 1984, four years after his big-league debut. 

Perconte said of the reason for his breakthrough that year, “I was basically obsessed with proving I could play in the bigs. I was able to concentrate through my lack of confidence and was able to maintain focus day in and day out.” From his playing days onward he’s credited hard work and mastery of the fundamentals, not natural ability or strength, with elevating his game to the major league level.

Perconte now lives in Lisle, Illinois, without the fame, controversy, and critics who have accompanied ex-teammate and longtime friend Sutcliffe and Harold Reynolds, who replaced him at second in Seattle, in their careers under the studio lights at ESPN and the MLB network.  He said of his nearly 25 years of teaching the game’s psychological and physical elements to children through his books and personal lessons, “I feel like one of the most fortunate former pro athletes because I found my passion in life of helping youth play baseball and softball. I often tell people that I am qualified to teach the game because at one time or another I made every mistake there is in baseball, so I can teach from experience as well as from all the study I have put into it over the years. Baseball, maybe more than other sport, is a game of failure, so, from experience at the highest level, I can help kids deal with failing, which often puts them on their way to reaching their potential.”

Arne Christensen runs a site about the ’95 Mariners. He’s talked with Perconte before, about playing in the Kingdome and about his playing days in other extinct ballparks.

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