Dallas Braden is more than a talented pitcher; he is also, in his own words, “a pretty honest dude.” The straight-shooting Athletics left-hander pitched a perfect game on Mothers' Day—two weeks after having some choice words for Alex Rodriguez—and he isn’t shy about speaking his mind about either event. Nor does he mind offering his opinions on the media, Armando Galarraga, Bryce Harper, or Stephen Strasburg. Braden sat down to address those subjects, and more.
David Laurila: How would you describe yourself?
Dallas Braden: Colorful. Eccentric. Eclectic. A pretty honest dude. A lot of people know that they can come to me for an answer to a question, whether they’ll like it or not, because they know it is going to be the truth. And I like that.
DL: Is there enough color in baseball, or have players become too careful?
DB: Guys have become way too careful, but that’s the nature of the beast. It’s the nature of the media. You have certain venues and certain markets that feel they’re above all other venues and markets, and they like to take things that guys say and spin them. The media—the beast that is the media—has kind of created that in their own right, in their own respect. There are a lot of people that I think would like to be candid in their interviews, but otherwise have to break out the book of clichés, for fear that their personality is going to be misinterpreted and misperceived.
DL: Why are you so willing to be yourself?
DB: Because I really don’t care what you guys have to say, or think, about me. You guys don’t factor into my daily life. I mean, I’d love to… and I obviously don’t say that in a rude way, it’s just that if you’re going to ask me a question, you’re going to get the answer, and what you think of me doesn’t affect how I live my life.
DL: Many people in the media would say that they are only giving the fans what they want. What do you think the fans want?
DB: The fans want an insight. The fans would love to have a spy cam in the clubhouse, and the fans would like to have a microphone hidden in the clubhouse to hear what we talk about and see what we are doing in our daily routines. But if the fans have questions, the fans should also have answers. I think the media’s job is to relay that between the two [sic] mediums.
DL: You’re a lot better known now than you were when the season started. Is that a good thing?
DB: Well, I’ve heard many people say that the only kind of bad press is no press, so I guess that anything you can get your name out there for would be nice. But you always want to be noted for good reasons and not for anything that is going to bring a black eye to you or to who you represent.
DL: Most everyone sees your perfect game as a positive, but a lot of people view the A-Rod-crossing-the-mound incident as a negative.
DB: I think you’re wrong there. I don’t think that a lot of people look at it negatively. I think there is a certain demographic that might look at it negatively, but I’ve had the subject reinforced to me quite a few times by some pretty stand-up people in the game of baseball. So there again, like I say, what other people say or do, or think, doesn’t affect the way I live my life.
DL: Is there an old-school-versus-new-school dynamic in those perceptions?
DB: There is. It’s the old-school train of thought, and it is the old-school guys in baseball that have been reinforcing me on this. It has definitely been the old-school guys that have stuck by me and kind of defended me, and let me know that I’m OK in the way that I am handling this.
DL: How do most players define “old-school”?
DB: I think that with the term “old-school,” you just automatically start thinking about gritty, grindy effort out on the field. Day in and day out, you’re bringing your best, whether you have it or not. You know, it’s the take-out slide, taking an extra bag from first to third—anything and everything you can do to help the team win is old-school throwback, the Charlie Hustle effort.
DB: Cobb possibly could have gone a little too far, but then again, that’s a completely different era of old school than I think anybody around today would even know, or could even relate to. But if that’s what he needed to do to get himself ready and help his ball team win, then so be it. But, specifically, you never want to play at a level that is going to put another player at risk as far as his career, or physical health, is concerned.
DL: Outside of hard work, why are you a successful big-league pitcher?
DB: I don’t know. I have no idea why I’m successful. I think maybe it’s because I believe. I don’t take anything for granted or have a sense of entitlement. I know that anything and everything that I’ve had coming to me, or could potentially have coming my way, is going to be due in part to how determined I am.
DL: Are there players in the game who feel a sense of entitlement?
DB: Sure. I think we all, at a certain point, feel like we deserve something from this game, but the old-school train of thought is understanding that we need this game; this game doesn’t need us. I also like to take that one step further and understand that I don’t define this game, and this game is not going to define me. I treat it for what it is. It’s a game, the most-hallowed, beautiful thing on this earth.
DL: When you were drafted, did you assume you would pitch in the big leagues, or did you ask yourself, “What will I do if I don’t make it?”
DB: Oh yeah, and I still think about that. That’s still a very real, daily thought to me—what happens if? But the minute you’re given an opportunity to succeed and start climbing the professional ranks, to ultimately get to the cathedral that is Fenway Park, or get to the Yankee Stadiums and the Camden Yards, you want to believe that the work that you’re willing to put in, and the effort you’ve put in up until that point, is going to be enough to get you there. But you also have to understand that you’re up against some pretty firm odds.
DL: You were drafted in the 24th round. Have you ever gone up to Eric Kubota, the club’s scouting director, and said, “I’m better than you thought I was”?
DB: In so many words, yes. I told him that what I didn’t make in the draft, I’m going to be looking forward to making in my contract. That was obviously before any of this stuff ever happened, and it was spoken very lightheartedly. It was just a little bit of ribbing, because, as you alluded to, it’s a 24th-rounder who has made it to the big leagues and started to develop. I just tease him about how we both kind of understand how far of a long shot it really was.
DL: Coming up through the system, did you ever go up to teammates, pitchers who were high-round picks, and say, “I’m going to get there, too; I’m better than you are”?
DB: Oh, no, no, no. I would never… you never want to impose yourself, or put yourself above anybody and let them know, or let them believe that you feel, that you’re better than them. I was very good friends, and still am to this day, with Jason Windsor, who was one of our big dogs in the draft. We had a five-dollar bet on who would get to the big leagues first. He won that bet and I paid him his five dollars. We joke about it now, how he was the College World Series MVP, and the hero, and I’m the one still plugging along.
DL: The Major League Baseball draft is underway. What are your thoughts on Bryce Harper?
DB: It’s going to be interesting. It’s kind of a double-edged sword for that guy, because there’s so much hype. I mean, being dubbed “The LeBron of baseball”—I think we all understand how hard this sport is to succeed in. It’s a game built on failure and you’re talking about a kid’s success level and the things that he has already accomplished at such a young age, but it’s a different ballgame when you get up here. It’s a different ballgame when you get into the professional ranks, even at the lowest levels. It’s a totally different game, so the adjustments will have to be made, but it looks like he’s primed for the task.
DL: Stephen Strasburg is about to make his big-league debut tonight. Do most players around the game want to see him dominate right off the bat, or would they prefer to see him get an early lesson on just how difficult the game is at this level?
DB: Well, I can think of 24 guys in Washington who probably want him to become a household name fairly quickly, and dominate, and those are his teammates. But, I mean, there was obviously talk earlier in the year about some older guys—some old-school baseball guys—who weren’t happy with the amount of money he got, having never done anything in professional baseball. You don’t ever wish any kind of ill will towards anybody; this game has a very, very good way of humbling people. And it will. He’ll come across some tough times; he’ll hit a rough patch. It might not be as long as anybody else’s has been, or it might not be as rough as anybody else has had it, but he will be humbled, and he will learn. He’s going to be a tremendous talent, obviously, and I can tell you that I’m looking forward to seeing him pitch.
DL: How many times did you get lucky in your perfect game?
DB: Twenty-seven. Twenty-seven times I got pretty lucky. I wasn’t perfect. I didn’t throw perfect pitches and our catcher didn’t call perfect pitches. But we, all together as a team, played perfectly. We played perfect defense, and we had perfect timely hitting, and that is what resulted in the perfect game.
DL: Armando Galarraga threw just 88 pitches in his masterpiece, about 20 fewer than you threw in yours. Given his efficiency, was his game more perfect than yours?
DB: He was, well… I mean, his wasn’t a perfect game. But he was extremely efficient, yeah. He was filling up the strike zone, pounding the strike zone. To see that guy just… he came out and he dominated a lineup. He was, as you said, extremely efficient and that’s the kind of performance you want to take out there day in and day out, because I can guarantee you that even after the taste that was left in his mouth, he’s probably still OK with the one-hit effort that he was tapped with.
DL: Why have there been two, arguably three, perfect games already this season?
DB: Oh, I don’t know. I have no idea. I’m sure that if you talk to the hitters, they’ll say that it’s because it is early in the season and the timing. If you talk to us pitchers, we’re going to say that it’s because we’re just that good—but that wasn’t the case for myself. [Mark] Buehrle [in 2009] and [Roy] Halladay—absolutely. Those guys are that good, a lot of the time. But really, I don’t think that any one specific thing can point to why. I just know that I got lucky 27 times.