Engle came to accept that the throwing problem was psychological. If there’s any comfort, it’s knowing he is not alone. Infielders such as Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch encountered problems making easy throws, and other catchers, most notably Mackey Sasser, have had the same problem as Engle, getting the ball back to the pitcher.
Hrbek said he had “the weebie geebies” after fielding a pickoff throw with a runner at first. He said he always took a couple of steps toward the mound and lobbed the ball to the pitcher, fearful of throwing it past the mound.
“There’s probably a lot more guys than we know of who couldn’t throw the ball [on easy plays],” Hrbek said. “A lot of guys have the weebie geebies.”
Few, however, have had their careers affected as much as Engle, going from an All-Star catcher to not being able to play the position regularly by the end of the same season.
“The thing about David Engle, he beat out [Hall of Famer Wade] Boggs for the batting title in the International League , and he came to the big leagues with a reputation of being a hitter,” said former Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, who worked hours with Engle on his catching problems. “Well, he couldn’t find a position. … You get a mental block like that, you start thinking. And the more you start thinking, then you start making corrections and pretty soon you get screwed up between the ears.”
Engle, a .262 career hitter in nine big-league seasons, has learned not to look back. He said he thinks of the big perspective of his career, a total of 36 years in baseball as a player, coach and front office employee.
“It wasn’t an easy thing to deal with,” he said of his throwing problem. “But I’ve had a remarkable run in the game. You’ll never hear me complain. Sure, I wish I never had anything like that happen to me, absolutely. But for whatever reason, it did.
“But I have nothing but fond memories, and a lot of thankfulness that I was able to play major league baseball in any capacity. Ninety-nine percent of it was positive, 1 percent ‘What if?’ ”