Springer relishes role as mentor
Veteran Cardinals reliever likes working with young pitchers
JUPITER, Fla. -- If Russ Springer can do for the St. Louis bullpen what he did for Houston's the last three years, the Cardinals will have picked up a bargain for the $1.75 million they will pay the right-handed reliever this season.
Springer, 38, appeared in 72 games last season and 62 in 2005 and his ERA was 3.47 and 4.73, respectively. He was effective in limited stints -- his ERA when he worked one inning or less was 3.32, but 6.75 when he worked more than an inning.
And yet his former teammates are quick to tell you not all of Springer's contributions show up in the statistics. Houston relievers like Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler praised Springer's presence as an influential and unifying factor in the bullpen, a role Springer hopes to continue with the Cardinals.
"When I got over there [in 2004], it was a situation where you had a couple of young relievers and a couple of guys who had never relieved in their lives, and all of a sudden they were relievers," Springer said. "I was like 'What's going on here?' [The young relievers] didn't have a game plan, they didn't have preparation or a daily routine. They didn't know, nobody had ever taught them."
Springer, remembering his rookie season with the New York Yankees, decided to take it upon himself to mentor the young guys.
In '92, the then-23-year-old Springer and another 23-year-old right-hander, Bob Wickman, had greybeards like Steve Farr, Steve Howe and Tim Burke to show them the reliever ropes. Springer never forgot the favor.
"When I came up as a rookie, I had never relieved in my life and I got called up as a reliever for the Yankees," Springer said. "I had older guys take me under their wing and show me, because relieving isn't the same as starting."
Springer approached Houston's young relievers and asked them if they would be interested in talking about some of the things he had picked up over the years.
"All of them, to a man, were like 'Heck yeah, show us how to do this,'" Springer said. "It snowballed from there, and they were awesome. I was comfortable leaving them knowing they have an idea now and a good plan."
For Springer, part of the lure of returning to St. Louis, where he pitched in 2003, was another chance to both pitch and to mentor.
"When I signed here, I knew [Adam] Wainwright and [Braden] Looper were going to start," he said. "They want me to throw later in the game, that's what I'm most comfortable doing, but whatever they need me to do, I'm ready."
Springer will also get a chance to work with some of the youngsters in the Cardinals bullpen.
"They've actually said something to me about it, the young guys here, but I'm not going to just jump right in the middle of it," Springer said. "I'm not going to jump in and throw my weight around, I'll take it more on an individual basis."
Though he's been around his new bullpen mates only a couple of weeks, Springer is impressed with what he's seen.
"I like 'em," Springer said. "I was telling somebody the other day that I was lucky in Houston, that group in the bullpen, we were tight, we had a bunch of great guys. I see the same type situation here. It's going to be a fun year."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.