Continuing from Part I of the discussion…
Baseball Prospectus: Obviously by the time you left the Expos to broadcast Marlins games for the 2001 season the off-field situation had deteriorated in Montreal. But the Marlins seem to have faced many of the same problems. How does the Marlins’ situation differ from the Expos’?
Dave Van Horne: There are huge question marks in Miami–really a lot of the same signs we saw in Montreal. There is a level of support in spirit if not financially though; local government wants all sports to succeed in Florida, including the Marlins and the Devil Rays. But the political climate here is that public money can’t be used to prop up professional sports franchises. The question then becomes: Does Jeffrey Loria have the wherewithal–both the money and influence–to pull this off? He’ll be tested.
BP: Who’s been your favorite player to interview during the course of your career?
DVH: You know it’s funny. I interviewed players starting in the early years with the Expos. I did it every day until 1984. Then it stopped being part of my job, and I didn’t start doing it again until just two years ago. So there’s this big gap of time in the middle. As for the best interviews, I always had an appreciation for listening to some of the great players describing how they do what they do. Pete Rose and Tony Gwynn talking about hitting were both terrific interviews–though with Gwynn I only caught him at the beginning and end of his career.
BP: The Marlins took a lot of heat over A.J. Burnett‘s injury, with a lot of people blaming Jeff Torborg and Brad Arnsberg for overusing Burnett and helping to cause the injury. Why do you think Burnett is sitting out for a year?
DVH: Because pitching is the most unnatural feat o accomplish in sports. The pitching motion goes against everything the body’s meant to do. I don’t think anyone ever goes out to the mound at 100%. If you pitch for a living, you’re never at 100% physically.
BP: We’ve seen statistical and performance analysis seep into the game in major league front offices. Is there room for such analysis in the broadcast booth? Can it be done as part of the play-by-play, or is it something you’d need to use as preparation and background for doing a game?
DVH: I think it is something you arm yourself with before the game so that you can apply it during the game. Boog (Van Horne motions to broadcast partner Jon “Boog” Sciambi) does that really well. It’ll be a tight game situation, and that’s when he’ll help the listeners really learn something. Boog’s use is really efficient; a little while back Armando Almanza was facing Shawn Green with the game on the line. Green hasn’t been hitting well this year, and Almanza created a lefty-lefty matchup on top of that. But Boog had pulled out some historical numbers before the game, and he noted how Green has really improved over the years against left-handed pitching. A second later, I say, ‘Here’s the pitch,’ and Green hits the ball into the gap for a game-winning double. It didn’t have to be anything too complicated, just great, useful preparation.
BP: The Marlins seem to have turned their season around after Jack McKeon replaced Jeff Torborg as manager. do you see a difference in the two managing styles? Do parts of McKeon’s style stand out for you?
DVH: I think he is more demanding than Jeff Torborg. He’s tougher on the players and is very direct when he has something to say. He challenges players to be better, work harder and not sit on their laurels. Jack asks them to play hard and keep their heads in the game, and to have fun. He definitely goes longer with the starting pitchers and encourages them to go deeper into games. Jack will give a player a second and third chance to do his job, but if the performance is not up to his expectations, that player or pitcher will not get much playing time. While McKeon will rest the everyday player from time to time, he won’t take a hot bat out of the lineup.
I guess simply put, Jeff Torborg treated each player like a son, a member of “the family.” Jack considers them professional athletes who are paid well to do a job, and he’s more demanding–but he’ll also put his arm around a player and talk to him like a father. Jack just picks his spots for that carefully.
BP: You’ve been there to witness the Dontrelle Willis phenomenon first-hand. What is it that makes him special, as a pitcher and as a personality?
DVH: As a pitcher, he has a live, strong arm and a deceptive delivery that hides the ball. He gets a lot of action and movement on his pitches and has excellent command. His poise on the mound is exceptional and he dictates the pace and tempo of the game. The field is his while he’s out there. He takes an unspoiled approach to the game and has a great desire to succeed, thus a wonderful work ethic.
Dontrelle was obviously brought up in a loving environment. He is unselfish and takes great pleasure in seeing his family and close friends getting so much joy from his success. He is an outgoing 21-year-old, thrilled to be in the show. His teammates all enjoy being around him, and while he’s fun to be around, they have a great appreciation for his talent and what he’s done to help lift this team.
Between the lines, Dontrelle Willis is all business. He takes nothing for granted. His feet are firmly planted on the ground; except when he’s delivering the ball to the plate, at which time they are in the hitter’s face.