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Arizona Diamondbacks All-Time Top 50: #41, Matt Mantei

The Ice Man

Mantei’s demeanor is like this ice sculpture of Hideki Matsui
Mantei’s demeanor is like this ice sculpture of Hideki Matsui

  • Avg ranking (high/low/most common): 37.15 (16/50/47)

  • Seasons: 1995-2005

  • Stats: 315 games, 322.2 IP, 4.07 ERA, 110 ERA+, 4.3 bWAR

  • Two best seasons:

1999 – 65 games, 65.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 162 ERA+,1.7 bWAR(32 saves). Marlins traded him to D-backs on July 8, 1999. That half-season, playing for the D-backs, he had 22 saves, 15.2 strikeouts per 9 innings, and 0.3 homers per 9 innings. Awesome!

2003 - 50 games, 55.0 IP, 2.62 ERA, 180 ERA+, 2.1 bWAR (29 saves). Depending on which stats are important, this season was better than 1999!

Ice Man was his nickname. His cool demeanor served him well in the role of closer. No need for serenity coach!

He was a closer. His pitch control was exceptional. He ranks third for most career saves (74) for the D-backs. He ranks fourth in most games finished (132) for the D-backs. Let’s look at some of his stats for his two best seasons.

Mantei’s Two Best Seasons

Metric 1999 2003
Metric 1999 2003
saves 32 29
save percentage 86.5% 90.6%
shutdown/meltdown 4.7  (28/6) 5.4   (27/5)
goose egg conversion rate 87.5%  (14/16) 80.0%  (20/25)
strikeouts per 9 innings 13.6 11.1
homers per 9 innings 0.7 1.0

Injuries made an impact. He explained his injuries by saying, “The Mantei luck.” Without injuries, who knows what success he would have enjoyed? Perhaps he could have been the rare reliever who is considered for the Hall of Fame. Instead, injury was common and he had two best seasons – 1999 and 2003. He played for the D-backs both best seasons.

He had three ambitions.

  • Be a closer. He finished 197 games with 93 saves from 1995 to 2005 Check this ambition off as achieved.
  • ”You know what my biggest ambition in baseball is?” Mantei asked his interviewer with a laugh. “I want to be Randy Johnson’s friend.” Although his sense of humor was on display, there was some truth in what he said. He played on the same team as Randy Johnson for 6 seasons – four of which Randy won the Cy Young award. I am confident they were friends. Check this ambition off as achieved.
  • ”Just once I’d like to pitch in the World Series.” He pitched in the NLDS in 1999 and 2002. Although the NLDS is not the World Series, the experiences were similar. He came close to achieving this ambition.

A baseball field was named in his honor. On September 26, 2003, Matt Mantei field in Tempe was dedicated. It is a little league field that is part of the Field of Dreams Program.

Mantei attempted a return to baseball. In spring of 2006, he sprained an oblique muscle and was sent to AAA Toledo. In May 2006, he asked for and was granted his release. He said, ”I put down the baseball and headed to the golf course.”

Mantei kept in shape. In late 2007 he decided to return to baseball. He told his agent, “I’m not interested in pitching for anyone else but the Tigers.” The Tigers’ GM, Dave Dombrowksi, agreed to have Mantei report to the Tigers on Jan. 11, 2008 for a physical and a chance to throw pitches for some major league officials.

A return to baseball at age 35, after missing two seasons, would have been an amazing and inspirational story. Instead, the story is speaks to anything is possible. And the story speaks to Mantei’s passion for baseball.

Where is he now?

In 2002 he said, “I want to stay here in Arizona. I’d rather be the closer, but I’ll do whatever they want. This is a very special team.” Certainly that sounds a lot like what Archie Bradley said.

In 2007 he said, ”When my career is done the closest I want to get to baseball is coaching my son.”

My guess is he is in Michigan. He said of Michigan, “It’s God’s country.” In any case, I hope he keeps in contact with his good friend Randy Johnson.