If you look at John Patterson’s page on baseball reference, you’d think something isn’t right. Here is a player that was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 1996 MLB amateur draft, at pick number 5, but he was never in the Expos’ minor league system, although he would eventually end up in the franchise later on in his career, as a Washington National.
It looked like I was either going to be the first overall pick with Pittsburgh or the sixth overall pick of the Detroit Tigers. We really hadn’t heard much from Montreal. It was a little bit of a surprise, but I was super excited. I had just gotten drafted fifth overall and was excited that I got to live a dream that had since I was nine years old. - John Patterson on the draft process in a 2020 article
According to his own retelling, Montreal was a slow negotiator and didn’t put much effort into the process. In truth, the offer was disappointing in the eyes of Patterson and his father. Then something unexpected happened.
“Did you ever receive an official letter from Montreal?” his agent asked. “One that said they drafted you fifth overall and offered you this amount of money?” Patterson didn’t recall and had his father scour through a stack of paperwork. He found paperwork not on official letterhead, which is a violation of the terms of contract negotiations. - Quote from a 2020 article about John Patterson’s draft process
We have to go back to some old “archived” information on the internet to find out what it is that happened.
John Patterson was drafted by the Expos with the fifth-overall pick in the 1996 draft, out of high school in Orange, Texas. It seems like ancient history now, but the ‘96 draft was marred by controversy, as several alert agents took advantage of a previously-ignored loophole in the rules to have their clients declared free agents. The Expos didn’t formally tender Patterson a contract in accordance with the rules, and he was thus declared free to sign with anyone. - John Sickels in a 2003 prospect review of John Patterson
What was that exact loophole?
Because of violations to Rule 4(E) of the Professional Baseball Agreement, which required that teams make a formal contract offer to every pick within fifteen days of the draft, MLB had to grant several top talents free agency. - Quote from John Manuel from SABR about the 1996 amateur draft, in a 2010 article about the past and future of the draft
A total of 7 players took advantage of the “loophole”, although 3 would still sign with the team that drafted them. But the other 4 were all snatched from the free agency market by newcomers Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks for some big dollars.
“We started getting offers almost immediately from everybody that were triple or quadruple what Montreal had offered.” Within a month, after visiting the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and New York Yankees, he decided on the Arizona Diamondbacks of the National League. “They were trying to build their organization [under owner Jerry Colangelo and manager Buck Showalter] and I really fell in love with Arizona.” - John Patterson about the free agent signing process in 1996, in a 2020 article
See how the first overall pick in that 1996 draft signed for “just” $2MM and it is easy to see why this technical loophole was so interesting for the amateur draftees and their agents. The Diamondbacks signed first baseman Travis Lee, who’d go on to enjoy a fine career, for a staggering bonus of $10MM. The Rays would hand out a bit more to Matt White, a flabbergasting $10.2MM, a starting pitcher that would never reach the majors. Bobby Seay (Rays, $3MM) also got more than the first overall pick. Today’s random D-Back John Patterson sat somewhere in the middle with $6.075MM when he signed in the 1996 off-season, a lot more than the Diamondbacks’ first round pick Nick Bierbrodt, who got a bit more than $1MM.
But Patterson was worth a shot. He was the highest drafted player out of high school in the 1996 draft, and landed immediately at the top of the prospect ranking lists. Baseball America ranked Patterson #2 in the farm and #41 overall.
It isn’t easy for Patterson to start his pro career in the minor leagues, although not in a way you would immediately expect.
He faced jealousy in the minors because of the financial discrepancy with other players. “I felt somewhat guilty because I had so much and other guys were struggling,” Patterson said. “I would take the guys out to dinner, but it is something your really can’t escape from. I even felt a little bit from the coaching staff. I started to have trust issues. It was affecting my personality and I began putting pressure on myself.” - John Patterson on his years in the minor leagues with the Diamondbacks, in a 2020 article
It does not really affect his performance in the minor leagues in the first two years. Patterson has a fine although rather unspectacular first year in South Bend, but in 1998 he dominated the California League for the High Desert Mavericks at A+. It’s a fine rotation the Diamondbacks run out there, with Bierbrodt, Patterson, Brad Penny and Eric Knott. Of pitchers with more than 100 innings that year in A+, Patterson leads them all in ERA, with only the walks holding down his good 3.52 K/BB. Patterson is ranked as the #10 prospect in the country by Baseball America heading into the 1999 season.
Patterson holds his own the following year in the Texas League, closer home to his Orange, although he is more hittable than the year before. He has a great performance in two starts for Team USA at the 1999 Pan American Games, helping the team to qualify for the 2000 Olympics, but then fatigue sets in when he returns to the organisation, to pitch in Tucson in AAA. He doesn’t pitch that well, and suffers a minor injury at a, for him, crucial moment.
“I was warming up for the last game of my minor league season before September call-ups,” Patterson said. “I threw a pitch warming up and I felt a pop in my ribcage. I said ‘Wow, this is not good,’ but I kept throwing pitches. I don’t think I got anybody out in the first inning and they pulled me which was not good because sitting behind home plate were all of the Diamondbacks executives and they were about to make call-ups. I wasn’t called up because I had pulled a muscle in my ribcage. That was a defining moment, because I always wanted to be in the big leagues at 21. When that [the call-up] didn’t happen,” Patterson said, “it hurt me mentally.” - John Patterson about his first mental blow in pro baseball, in a 2020 article
On top of that the following season he blows out his arm after 15 innings at AAA and needs TJ surgery.
“My depression came with my first surgery when I was 22,” Patterson recalled. “I dealt with my depression with substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol. I lost all of my self-worth. I only identified as a baseball player and when baseball was taken away from me, I didn’t know how to deal with it. I pulled away from my family, which had always been a support system.” - John Patterson about falling into a depression, in a 2020 article
It’s a long road back to quality pitching for Patterson, both mentally and psychologically. He struggles with his addiction and also needs to build up arm strength, after losing 3 mph on his former 94-96 mph fastball. In 2001 he struggles heavily with his command as well, struggling to strike out batters and walking far too many.
But in 2002 he slowly progresses and gets back on track. Patterson isn’t spectacular in the Tucson rotation, but holds his own. After getting 5 wins in a row for Tucson, the Diamondbacks decide to call him up to make a start after Rick Helling hits the injured list.
Patterson goes 6 innings in his debut for the Diamondbacks, in a game against the Padres on July 20, 2002. He gives up just one run, a homer in the 3rd inning, but it isn’t enough for the win as then rookie and future Diamondback Oliver Perez keeps the Padres in the game as well until late. Eventually the Padres’ bullpen blows a 1-0 lead and loses the game 7-1. Bob Brenly calls Patterson’s performance “outstanding”. 5 days later Patterson blanks the Padres, goes 7.1 scoreless innings and achieves his first major league win.
I knew I could do this. I learned the work that it took to be a major league pitcher and stay consistent, and not just come in for a couple of starts and disappear. Yeah, I always believed I could do this. It’s not really a surprise. - John Patterson quoted after his second major league outing in 2002 on ESPN.com
But Helling returns from the IL and Patterson is put in the fridge. He returns to an MLB mound again on August 4, but the Mets hit 4 homeruns off of him and the rookie righty is pulled after 3.1 innings after giving up 7 runs. Patterson is optioned to AAA, but returns in September, pitching in 4 more games with more luck, finishing the season with a fine 3.23 ERA and good 4.43 K/BB.
“They were all great mentors for me,” Patterson said. “My locker was between Johnson on my left and Schilling on my right. Randy was all about execution and Schilling was more analytical, studying film, tendencies and setting up game plans.” Patterson had refocused on his passion for baseball. - Quote on Jim Patterson’s time with the Diamondbacks in the MLB, in a 2020 article
John Patterson has good hope for the 2003 season, but has to start the season in AAA. It is a huge disappointment for Patterson. He pitches well in Tucson, but apparently loses motivation and sight of his goals, pitching to a 6.05 ERA in the MLB in 55.0 innings, and the Texan requests for a trade. That off-season he also starts seeing a therapist.
Patterson is granted that change of scenery trade and the Diamondbacks move him to the Montreal Expos in exchange for reliever Randy Choate, who would pitch in 114 games for the snakes from 2004 to 2007.
With help from his family he is able to get out of the depression, but he also grants a lot of his wellbeing to Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, his manager with the Expos and Nationals.
“When I got to Montreal, I learned more about Frank’s career, his accomplishments and all of the adversity he had to overcome,” Patterson said. “Turns out that Frank was a great person. I loved Frank. It takes a little bit to get to know him. But Frank was the one manager I ever had that I felt truly cared about me. He wanted you to do well. He could have been self-absorbed, but he wasn’t. He cared about me, and I cared about him.” - Jim Patterson about former manager and hall of famer Frank Robinson, in a 2020 article in the Washington Post
His 19 starts for Montreal in 2004 are nothing to write home about, but in the Nationals’ first season in 2005 all things start to click and Patterson enjoys a terrific year. On August 4, 2005, he pitches a complete game, four-hit shutout against the Los Angeles Dodgers while striking out 13. Patterson is on his way up emotionally and physically, but at the end of a good Spring Training disaster strikes again.
The next morning, his elbow was swollen and very painful. But he kept pitching. On April 15, 2006, he struck out 13 Florida Marlins in a 2-1 win. But the pain got so bad that he reached a point where couldn’t move his arm and fingers to perform simple tasks like washing his hair. It was diagnosed as nerve damage and he underwent another surgery. - Storytelling on Jim Patterson and his 2006 injury in a 2020 article in The Washington Post
He returns once again to the MLB and even gets the Opening Day start in 2007 for the Nationals. But in May a new arm injury sets in: a radial nerve. He tries PRP therapy, but eventually has to go under the knife in September 2007. He is released by the Nationals. Patterson signs a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers for the 2008 season, but continues to suffer forearm pain and is released after a few months. Doctors warn him about structural damage that will prevent him from pitching and Patterson eventually announces his retirement on January 7, 2009.
Once again Patterson struggles with his perspective. He only knows life as a baseball player and just like in previous years, when he suffered from injuries, he struggles with the thought of not being one. He misses a purpose and his bad habits and feelings of depression and anxiety return, even spiralling into “extreme suicidal thoughts” at a certain moment.
He talks to wife, just expressing his thoughts, and it alleviates him a lot. It motivates him to write a book about his experiences.
“The book is not a baseball book,” Patterson said of Perspective Perception Perseverance. “It’s a book about life, success and failure. Dealing with depression, dealing with anxiety, dealing with addiction and dealing with expectations you put on yourself and the time it takes to get the right perspective and perception of yourself and your life. Of course I felt a little bit of guilt and shame about some of the reactions I had, but looking back, I did have success. I did overcome all of these things. That’s not something that I need to hide from. This is me, this is what happened, and I’m proud of getting to this moment.” - John Patterson about his book, in a 2020 article
In addition to writing, he also does motivational speaking.
John Patterson still lives from his well invested and (by his father) supervised money he earned as a baseball player. According to an article: “he doesn’t watch baseball much anymore except for the World Series. Instead, he enjoys playing golf as a hobby, travelling with his family, and coaching lessons on pitching to area youth. In addition to all of that, John has also started an investment firm called Orange Tree Capital Investments company.”
John Patterson...did you know his story?
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