January 2, 2009
All the Lettuce
The Prospectus Q&A series was once again a regular Sunday feature in 2008, and as the primary author I hope that you found the interviews to be both informative and entertaining. A wide range of personalities from within the game of baseball shared their thoughts and opinions with BP readers from January to December, and here are some of their best quotes:
"In 1961, when we played the Yankees in the World Series, the team received a letter from a judge in Pennsylvania who wrote that he hoped the name Redlegs would be reconsidered, as he dreaded seeing a headline of 'Reds defeat Yanks.' The team's response was along the lines of, 'We've been the Reds longer than the communists have been in power, so we're keeping the name.'"
"What I'm saying is, that scouting is a science of empiricism unlike the naturalism or experimentation type of sciences currently within the game. My type of evaluation is a mixture of sciences, and science is merely a system of acquiring knowledge based on the level of expertise."
"What I've found over the past couple of seasons is that baseball is full of Anti-Prospects. We're everywhere."
"The WBC was a totally different event. It was a great experience to play in the very first one, and it was very well organized and professionally run, but nothing quite compares to the Olympics. There are so many athletes competing in so many different sports and the whole world has a huge interest."
"We want to make sure that a given player is ready to compete at the major league level and help us win. Sometimes, because of injuries, we aren't allowed that full development time, but whenever possible we like to be as certain as possible that the player is prepared for the expectations of playing at the highest level for a full season."
"In Arizona, most of our scouts get to see at least part of our organization during the course of the season. In my opinion, that helps to make an apples-to-apples comparison. If I see the Oakland Athletics' Low-A team in Kane County and I've seen our Low-A team in South Bend, I'm better able to judge how a player on Kane County stacks up against someone in our system."
"Lincecum is a fascinating case, and he does a lot of things exceptionally well mechanically. He definitely has plenty of Koufax in him, both good and bad, but the pitcher I find myself comparing him to most often is Roy Oswalt. They are very similar with respect to mechanics, size, and stuff."
"He's actually very short to the ball. People think his swing is long, but most of that comes afterwards because he ties himself up being so aggressive. But one of the clichés that older scouts will use is that the big guys have to prove they can't play and the little guys have to prove that they can, and that's still true. Pedroia is obviously one of those guys."
"This industry is constantly evolving, and the backgrounds of front office executives have become much more diverse. Any time diversity is introduced, there is some resistance. That should be expected. Over time, though, if the diversity leads to a different perspective that can add value, it tends to wane."
"It also seemed like there were maybe two other black people in North Dakota, but still, and I learned this from people like Satchel Paige and Larry Doby, you couldn't feel sorry for yourself for being different. You had to just go on the field and try to win."
"You realize just how few guys make it and how brutal the process can be. ... When you see that first teammate get released and have to look them in the eye and shake their hand as they pack their equipment bags, things become very real very quickly."
"I grew up in Monterey [CA] until I was about nine years old, then we moved 15 minutes inland to the lettuce capital of the world, Salinas. That's where you get all your lettuce."
"I think some arbitrators are a little concerned about awarding someone five million dollars, as if to say that no one is worth five million dollars to throw a baseball. The answer to that is: that's not your job. Your job is to decide what a club would pay this player if he was there on the free market. He's not on the free market, because he's still covered by the reserve system until he has six years of major league service."
"If you can't see the ball, you're not going to hit it, and the earlier you see it, the more time you're going to feel like you have. You're going to have the same amount of time either way, but if you get in a better position early you're going to feel like you have more time to react to it."
"I think that the most important aspect of any baseball game is the pitcher-catcher relationship. The thing that happens most on a baseball field, on any given night, is a pitcher making a pitch to a catcher. That's a basic fundamental of our game."
"The common fan really has no idea what happens from pitch to pitch. As a player, I thought that we'd just go out and play a baseball game, and the manager probably didn't have any idea what was going on. But a good manager is in complete charge of what's going on in every situation."
"I'm a big believer in karma. I try to play the game the right way, and I do everything in my power to get better. I'm a really open-minded individual. Today I tried out a new grip with my two-seamer and I was a little bullheaded about it at first, but I'll try anything once to see if it works. There are parts of my game that are different from anyone else's."
"There are no pitching coaches who know it, or previous players who have used it, so I changed to a more conventional style to fit in better with people's expectations of what a pitcher looks like. With a guy like Dontrelle Willis, his motion is more of a variation on a theme. Mine was its own unique theme."
"During the winter we sit and look at different lineups, and we talk about them and study them; we have our numbers guys look at them and study them. That's how we came to the conclusion of Jason Kendall hitting ninth. We thought that we'd have anywhere from 30 to 40 more run-scoring opportunities with him hitting ninth than if he was hitting eighth or seventh."
"For our offensive approach, we handed out a few statistical analysis equations and statistics to show our players that the number one thing that impacts on-base percentage is bases on balls. It's something that I want our players to understand. I certainly don't want them to memorize the numbers; I just want them to understand, as a group, how it can help our run production."
"The point of the game is to either score them or drive them in, so I think those two stats [OBP and SLG] are very relevant when you're talking about how runs can be produced. I just think that in baseball, sometimes we try to over-analyze everything because this is a very numbers-type sport."
"I watched a lot of hitters growing up, and there are guys like Gary Sheffield that can wave the bat a hundred times before they take a swing, but I'm not doing that. I learned at a young age that for me to be successful I need to keep things simple. At the beginning of the season things got real complex for me. I started over-analyzing things and basically got inside my own head."
"You'd see all these beautiful black women sitting at the games in their nice dresses; you'd see all the brothers in their best three-piece suits. It was an event then; now it's just 'we're going to the game.' Back in the days of the Negro Leagues, even back when the white men were playing this game alone, you'd see everyone with their cigars and nice suits, and the women with their hats and dresses."
"B.J. is a great athlete, but he's just a long-action type player. It's just like you see him out there in center field-he gallops and he's nice and smooth; his strides are long. His arm stroke is also kind of long, and in the outfield that plays great."
"You can basically throw a curveball with any grip; you can throw a slider or a changeup with any grip. It's the same with a sinker. It really doesn't have anything to do with the grip; it's the way you manipulate the ball with your arm action."
"I think that hitting and pitching are pretty similar; they're both about leverage and ground angles and being able to be efficient with your body. Your arm, for pitching, is a lever. Your hands with the bat, that's a lever, too. All of the power and energy that you generate, starting from the feet, it ends at the hands and a lot of that is generated from your legs and your core-that's science-based."
"It depends on who the shortstop is. Sometimes they help you out by letting you know, and sometimes they don't. I guess it's just one of those things where if they let you know, they let you know, and if they don't, hang with them and make the play if the ball is hit at you. What else can you do?"
"The guys here, I wouldn't say they're carefree, but they're a lot more relaxed. Triple-A can be a tough place for a lot of people, because there are guys there who are bitter that they aren't here. They're thinking that they should be, and they're not, so there's a little more of a tense atmosphere."
"Frank Robinson made me a tougher person. He made me take charge of situations that earlier in my career I wasn't allowed to do. I was a young player coming up in the San Francisco organization, and I was treated a little bit like a younger player, and when I got to Baltimore he made me grow up and be more of a leader. Needless to say, that's an important quality to have as a manager."
"Making in-game decisions is what I do. My thought process is thorough, and often starts early in the day by playing out scenarios and hypothetical situations that might occur during the game. Each game is unique to itself, so for every decision I make there is a basis for reasoning behind it. I love talking about it after the fact with anyone who wants to talk baseball."
"The best piece of baseball advice that I was ever given came when I was a rookie. Sparky called me in and said, 'Travis, do you see that gentleman out there?' and he pointed to Alan Trammell. He said, 'Watch him, and do what he does, and you'll be just fine.'"
"For me, there's nothing more enjoyable than hitting a ball well, and seeing that trajectory, and having that feeling in the bat where it's almost a feeling of nothing, yet it's something. It's almost like magic."
"I had some interesting things happen to me in the minors, like the skull fractures-things that drew some attention. But it's still crazy. I'm just a small-town guy, and I feel like I lead a pretty simple life, so it's pretty weird to be asked to answer a lot of questions when I get to the field every day."
"Those few days I pitched for Boston, I didn't know my ass from my elbow, so to speak. I was kind of like a lost sheep out there, very overwhelmed and very unlike myself. Up to that point, I would always pitch fearless and aggressive, and when I was there, for whatever reason, my nerves and emotions just took over. I pitched like a girl."
"Having been a player myself, I've always tried to allow the clubhouse to be the players' clubhouse. I don't get involved in what goes on in there other than the fact that I may go in there now and then. I think I told those guys when I first took over that the clubhouse is theirs; I just don't want to see the police or the firemen in there."
"You talk to most managers, and when you get to the ballpark every day you're going to have a problem somewhere. You just prepare yourself for it, knowing that when you walk in there's always going to be something going on."
"I don't think the public knows who I am or what I do. I think that people see a different kind of personality than who I really am. A lot of people on the street, or around the ballpark, and a lot of media members that aren't from Chicago, they perceive me like I'm the tough guy, crazy, real bad, a troublemaker. But it's the complete, complete opposite of what the people perceive me as."
"And nothing against Lou Piniella, who I loved as my hitting coach, and as a player when I first got over there, but his first year of managing he was Billy Martin reincarnated. It just got to the point where I said, 'I'm fed up with this.'"
"When things are going really rough you might feel like you don't have any idea where the ball is going, or it feels like a beach ball in your hand and nothing seems to be going right. But aside from that, it's kind of like the groove thing, where it's more of a mental deal."
"The drama isn't really there; it's in the really minor leagues with all the so-much-more authentic characters, many of whom are playing in less-than-favorable circumstances. There are guys with wives, and sometimes children at home and they're not making any money. They're wondering, 'Will I ever be able to hit the slider?' or 'Will I ever be able to get good hitters out?' or 'Do I love her?' or 'Should I stop playing?' That, to me, is the story."
"There's a lot of chance in baseball, and I think that leaves more room for free will. Through willpower you can make things happen. Physical preparation is only half the battle in a game that has time built in for reflection and thought."
"If you start overloading guys with a lot of stuff, they'll start thinking about this, thinking about that, and then they're trying to react to a 90 mph fastball with all these issues, all these demons going through their head. Then, bingo, now you've got some problems. So you try to keep it simple. That's my philosophy: simple."
"I've seen a lot of smart pitchers-guys who are intelligent and know how to pitch-who just struggle with execution, and people say, 'Man, he's got a million-dollar arm and a two-cent head.' Well, that may not necessarily be the case; he just struggles with execution."
"I actually gave him his nickname of Goose Gossage. ... I looked at the scoreboard and said, 'Look at all the goose eggs.' This was one of his first appearances in the big leagues. Rich kind of had a gangly motion, all elbows and arms and legs, which must have been awful tough on hitters, so I put two and two together and started calling him 'Goose.'"
"It was complicated, humiliating, challenging, and interesting; it's got a lot of stories. Leo [Durocher] was quite a character. He screamed at me, he yelled at me, he humiliated me as much as any person I've run across in baseball. Yet, he still remains an icon of our baseball history."
"I certainly don't put the best stats up. I try to play hard every time, and like I said before, I'd rather go unnoticed than noticed. So it always kind of blows my mind that I would be popular. I guess it must be the hair."
"I found out after one of our games at Norfolk. My manager called me into the office and said to get a haircut, clean up, and get out of here."
"I guess you've got your strikeout pitchers, who are more like your authoritative governments than your ground-ball pitchers, which I guess would be most of us considering that if you have more than one strikeout per inning you're going to lead the league. So, I'd call it pretty democratic."
"I think that there is a greater percentage for people who-and I don't know if this is a proven fact-have gone to college. They have a greater chance to make it to the big leagues, and stay. As a person, I feel that's true in my case. I'm much more mature, both physically and mentally, when it comes to dealing with playing every day and the struggles of professional baseball. The type of game that baseball is, is to deal with failure."
"In this game, you can never let your last pitch affect your next pitch. And I think that with young guys, that's what happens. They let certain things affect them more so than a veteran guy. A veteran guy will shake it off and move on, and he'll show how he's let it go. A young guy will tell you that he let it go, even though he doesn't necessarily believe it himself."
"Everybody wants to throw strikes and not walk guys, but you have to actually execute that. I think I've been more aware of keeping my mind in the moment and slowing things down before it turns into something real bad. And when things are going good, I've just tried to keep the same momentum and the same tempo."
"The year I won 22 games, I think I led the American League in walks. And believe me, as a pitching coach I wouldn't want my pitchers to pitch the way I did, but the fact is, when I did walk somebody, to me it didn't matter, because I was going to get the next guy out. Defensively we had a really good team, and I wasn't going to succumb to the crap that I got myself into. Do you know what I'm saying?"
"If you're going to get pitching, it's really something you're going to have to develop yourself, because if you're going to trade for it, you're going to have to give up a lot for it. So you have to be willing to spend money up front, to develop them as fast as you can to get them to the major leagues. That's where you get your talent; that's where it comes from. Pitching comes from the farm system."
"You can't afford to keep a guy down too long, because how are you going to find out if he can play or not? Let's get right down to the nuts and bolts. You can get a guy to the big leagues and pay him $400 grand, or you can go sign a free agent for $2.5 or $3 million bucks. A lot of it is cost effectiveness."
"He would literally scream, 'Bordick! Take a step to your left!' and I'd move over. What it did for me is that it reminded me of the importance of how much just an inch makes with the movement you make as an infielder. It made me learn that I would have to pay more attention to the books, and the tendencies, and the statistics on how offensive players hit our pitchers. And that is what is so unique about major league baseball, that you have all those books and statistics."