Also that season Mitchell was beaned flush on the C of his Cincinnati batting helmet by a fastball from the Padres' Kerry Taylor. The ball knocked the helmet from Mitchell's head. Remarkably the pitch caused no damage to him. But when he fell to the ground, he landed on the helmet and strained muscles in his neck.
The man is a crash-test dummy. He has played 1,172 major league games, but never more than 68 in a row. He vowed in '94 to play 150 games, which prompted Chicago Cubs announcer Steve Stone to crack that Mitchell must be planning on playing winter ball. "Tell Steve Stone to stop clowning me," Mitchell replied. "I le wears makeup. I don't." It took Mitchell three years, including the one spent in Japan, to reach 150. In fact, he has played at least 150 games in a season only once in his career—the year he was voted MVP.
Mitchell is the only man in baseball history to win that award and play for five teams before his 32nd birthday. Baggage? Ringling Bros, travels with less. Reds general manager Jim Bowden commissioned a Hooveresque 150-page dossier on Mitchell before Cincinnati, Team Number 5, traded closer Norm Charlton to get him from the Seattle Mariners on Nov. 17, 1992. "We did [the background check] because the guy had a bad public image," Bowden says. "What we found was a guy who could drive in 100 runs and who always played hard. The thing I had heard was that he didn't want to play. Really, it's just the opposite."
In '93 and '94 with the Reds, Mitchell missed games because of (deep breath here) a broken sesamoid bone in his left foot, a strained right hamstring, a sore neck, a tight lower back, a torn left shoulder muscle, a strained rib cage, a sprained left knee, a burned right eye, a sprained left wrist, a strained hip flexor, a chipped bone in his left ankle and bruised ribs. Nothing, though, captured the essence of Mitchell like his last 10 days in his second tour with the Reds in '96, a veritable Cliffs Notes to his epic career. The epilogue:
Sept. 8. Missed game because of sore right hip.
Sept. 9. Returned to lineup but left six innings later with twisted left ankle.
Sept. 10. Missed game because of that twisted ankle.
Sept. 11. Spent game sleeping on training table because of sore throat and fever.
Sept. 12-14. Stayed at his home near San Diego recovering from his illness.
Sept. 15. Showed up at Reds' clubhouse in San Diego wearing slippers and pajama pants. Sent back home to bed.