Find a League In Your Area
By David Krival, from Winter 1993 issue of HardBall Magazine
On May 23, 1993, Mike Zamba, of the San Jose MSBL Expos, pitched a seven-inning perfect game. Zamba threw 79 pitches, 63 for strikes; 71 were fastballs. Zamba struck out 18 San Jose Yankees.
It was the second game of the day for the Expos, who lost badly to the Royals in the morning. Zamba had strep throat and a fever, but the snickers of the Yanks on the sidelines raised his hackles, so he asked for the ball. "The bone chips were all in alignment. I pitched on amoxicillin, ibuprofen and Tiger Balm,” he said. "Felt twenty-one again. Haven't thrown like that in years. My fastball was moving all over the place.”
Through August 29, Mike won eleven straight grames in 1993, striking out 145 in 96.1 innings with a 0.55 ERA.
Mike graduated from the University of New Haven in 1980 and was drafted by Pittsburgh. After a season and a half with Alexandria in the Carolina League, Pittsburgh promoted him to the AA Buffalo Bisons to be used as a reliever. Mike balked at the idea.
"If I had gone along, I might have made the majors, but I believed I was a starter, and I was headstrong. When I asked for my release, I had no idea how hard it would be to sign elsewhere, but if I had to do it again, I'd do it the same way. I never compromised my love of the game,” he said.
In 1983, Mike joined the Utica Blue Sox, the only independent team in organized baseball. Writer Roger Kahn (The Boys of Summer) was principal shareholder and president. Utica won the NY-Penn League championship in '83, to the chagrin of the farm system directors who had released many of the players on its roster.
In his book, Good Enough To Dream, Kahn chronicles that season. Zamba, a starter at last, and—at age 24 something of an elder statesman—is mentioned often, sometimes for his pitching, sometimes as a team spokesman. A clear portrait emerges of an articulate, assertive, funny and hardnosed team player.
Zamba won 12 games for the Sox, two in the final week. His 2.32 ERA, impressive at any level, is almost unheard-of in the low minors. Kahn describes him as an intelligent pitcher, adept at spotting the ball, changing speeds, mixing his pitches.
"We were all unwanted orphans,” Mike remembers. "We were determined to show the organizations that dropped us that they had made a mistake. I was determined to prove that I was a starters. I'll never forget that experience.”
Mike's performance with Utica was noticed. Oakland signed him for 1984. After Spring Training, Mike was farmed out to San Jose. Although not directly affiliated, the Bees weren't outcasts like the Blue Sox. Most players were under contract to a big league farm system. Optioning players to an understocked independent like San Jose ensured them more playing time.
Steve Howe, Derrel Thomas and the others did not arrive until 1986, so Mike missed the Bad News Bees, but in 1985, after a so-so-season with San Jose, he played in the Italian "Spaghetti League.”
"The umpires sear red and the strike zone changes every inning,” Mike recounts. "They drove us around in a Mercedes bus.”
Mike married a local girl in San Jose, and stayed on after his retirement from baseball in 1986. Single again, he became General Manager of the Almaden Valley Athletic Club.
He joined the San Jose MSBL in 1990 and played for the 1992 MSBL World Series Champions. Mike lost to San Diego in the qualifying round, yielding only two earned runs. Scheduled to pitch the Final, he came up sore. "My heart said ‘Throw!' but I knew it wasn't best for the team.” Rubber-armed John Yandle beat the San Diego Gems, as Mike cheered from the bench.
Mike speaks highly of San Jose MSBL league president Ron Dunn and directors Buzz Sheridan, Ric Foley, Rod Jensen, Rich Kehrig and Dave Meier. "I respect the work they do. The competition is more intense every year, but they maintain a strict Code of Conduct. Three ejections and you're out of the league.”
"The MSBL is the greatest thing since Abner Doubleday invented the game. It rekindles the same desires and passions that got us into baseball in the first place,” he says. "I've got a ring now, and a perfect game. I guess it's all downhill from here.”