Baldwin, James

Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Pinehurst

First, Middle Names: James Baldwin Jr.
Date of Birth:  July 15, 1971
Current Residence: Pinehurst

High School: Pinecrest High School, Southern Pines, NC
College: Did not attend

Bats: R                         Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-3, 210
Debut Year: 1995       Final Year: 2005          Years Played: 11

Teams and Years: Chicago White Sox, 1995-2001; Los Angeles Dodgers, 2001; Seattle Mariners, 2002; Minnesota Twins, 2003; New York Mets, 2004, Baltimore Orioles, 2005; Texas Rangers, 2005

Awards: All-Star, 2000

 Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
266   79       74       2          5.01     1322.2 844      9.3

James Baldwin was a much-heralded prospect as he pitched his way through the Chicago White Sox’s minor leagues. If not for a kid named Derek Jeter, he would have been recognized as the best rookie in the American League in 1996. He would spend 10 more years in the majors and be an All-Star in one of them, but most of those other seasons were marred by puzzling inconsistency. He was never able to string together winning seasons, or even successful halves. Baldwin ended up as a journeyman, moving through nine different teams in six years, and finished his career with just a few more wins than losses.

Born in Pinehurst in 1971, Baldwin played baseball, basketball and football at Pinecrest High School in Southern Pines, North Carolina. He was an all-conference pitcher during his senior year in 1990 when the White Sox picked him in the fourth round of the amateur draft.

The joy that came with signing his first pro contract was overwhelmed a few days later by the death of his father, James Sr. “Coming out of high school, coming into the world on your own for the first time… it was tough for me,” Baldwin said of those first days at rookie camp in Sarasota, Florida. “I didn’t know how to deal with the outside world at the time.”[I]

He got the hang of it, though, and steadily pitched his way up the White Sox minor-league system. At Birmingham, Alabama, in 1993, he led the Class AA Southern League in earned-run average (2.25), or ERA, before being promoted to Class AAA Nashville, Tennessee, where he won 12 games and cemented his standing as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization.

Baldwin was favored to open the 1994 season as Chicago’s fifth starter. He trained with the club in Sarasota that spring and was the first professional to pitch to His Airness, Michael Jordan, during an intrasquad game.[1] Baldwin’s general wildness, however, persuaded team coaches that he needed more time in Nashville, where he won 10 games that season while striking out about a batter an inning.

He earned a spot In the White Sox rotation to start the new season and debuted on April 30. It didn’t go well. He got tagged for four runs by the Boston Red Sox, though his team managed to win 17-11. Baldwin lasted for only two outs in his second start after giving up five runs and was pounded by the Detroit Tigers for four home runs in his next turn. The White Sox shipped him back to Nashville the next day. He wasn’t much better there, however, losing his last six games along with his confidence. “There was one night in Indianapolis,” Baldwin remembered. “I was on the mound, getting knocked around again, and I looked into the dugout. I almost walked off for good right there and then. So frustrated. So lost.”[II]

He returned to Pinehurst after the season. “I got down on myself, but my mother, Lucille, and my little boy (James III was four at the time) got me through it,” he said “I knew I still had my family. No one could take that away from me.”[iii]

The road back to the majors started in Venezuela where Baldwin played that winter. “I went there to sort things out,” he remembered. “I had a lot of support in America, from a lot of friends I made with the Sox, but I didn’t need any more advice, as much as I appreciated it. I needed to get up on my own two feet, relax and start over. I needed to be a man about things.”[IV]

Though he began the 1996 season in Nashville, Baldwin was summoned to Chicago in late April to replace an injured starter. He won eight games before the All-Star break, but faltered afterwards, the start of what would become a troubling trait. His 11-6 record, however, was good enough for second place behind the New York Yankees’ Jeter in the balloting for Rookie of the Year.

Baldwin became a reliable, but erratic, starter for the White Sox over the next five seasons, acquiring a reputation as second-half pitcher. He had, for instance, a combined 7-12 before the All-Star break in 1998 and ’99 with an ERA approaching 7.00 and was 18-7 after the break with a 3.61 ERA. “I wish we could figure him out,” moaned Ron Schueler, the team’s general manager.[V]

The 2000 season was the exception. He was 11-4 at the midway point and was chosen to the American League All-Star team He pitched almost as well in the second half, but injuries sidelined him for almost two months. He finished 14-6. Baldwin had surgery after the season to remove a bone spur in his right shoulder and to repair his rotator cuff.

He was never the same pitcher. The White Sox traded him the Los Angeles Dodger midway through the 2001 season. Baldwin signed with eight different clubs over the next five years, appearing in games for five of them, mostly out of the bullpen. He retired after being released by the Toronto Blue Jays in April 2006.

Baldwin returned to Pinehurst to become the pitching coach at his high school where he helped his son, James, develop into a centerfielder who was drafted by the Dodgers in 2010. The youngster played six years in the minors.

Baldwin was also a coach for the Cincinnati Reds.

He and his wife, Sharon, live in Pinehurst.

Footnote
[1] Michael Jordan, who grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, retired from basketball in 1993. He surprised the sports world early the following year by signing a minor-league contract with the Chicago White Sox. He spent two years in the club’s minor leagues, advancing as far as Class AA Birmingham, Alabama, where he hit .202 and struck out 114 times. He quit in March 1995 because he feared Chicago would promote him to the majors as a replacement player during the player’ strike that season.

References
[I] Sullivan, Paul. “2nd Time up, Baldwin a Cut Above.” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1996.
[II] Verdi, Bob. “Baldwin’s Gains Far Outweigh Friday’s Pain.” Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1996.
[III] Sullivan
[IV] Verdi
[V] Sullivan, Paul. “Baldwin Again Tries to Put It All Together.” Chicago Tribune, February 17, 2000.

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