Nate McLouth may or may not have deserved a Gold Glove last year, but there’s no doubt that the 27-year-old native of Muskegon, Michigan emerged as an impact player. Not only did he become the first Pirates center fielder to win a Gold Glove since Andy Van Slyke in 1993, but McLouth also played in the All-Star Game and hit a robust .276/.356/.497/with 26 home runs in his first season as an everyday player. The National League’s most efficient basestealer over the past four seasons, McLouth has been successful 91.9 percent of the time, swiping 57 bags in 62 attempts.
David Laurila: You won a Gold Glove last year. What does that mean to you?
Nate McLouth: It means a lot. Defense hadn’t been one of my strong suits. It was definitely lagging behind my offense, so I worked real hard at it, and I still work real hard at it, so it was definitely rewarding to get it last year.
DL: An article in The Fielding Bible opines that you didn’t merit a Gold Glove. What are your thoughts on that?
NM: Well, you see, here is what I can tell you about that. I have seen those stats, and I’ll tell you why I think it’s garbage. There are a couple of reasons. I would rather have big-league managers and coaches who see me play and know the game of baseball, vote me as a Gold Glove winner, than people who attended MIT or Stanford, and think that you can quantify defense with numbers. There are so many variables to take into account, like the depth at which you play, the park that you play in, the surface-grass is different in different places. There is also the view, the background, and things like that. So that stuff means little or nothing to me. I’d much rather have big-league managers and coaches voting for something like that.
DL: The same article compares you to Carlos Gomez, and states that Gomez prevents more extra-base hits because he plays deeper than you do.
NM: Oh yeah, there’s absolutely no question about it. I play shallow. That’s something we talk about every day in here. The percentage of balls that are hit shallow, and fall in, is a lot higher than the percentage of balls that are hit deep and get over a center fielder playing at normal depth. I play probably as shallow, if not shallower, than anyone else in the league. And that’s not saying anything good about me or anything, it’s just the way that the coaching staff prefers that I do it.
DL: Has that been the case since you came into pro ball with the Pirates?
NM: Not necessarily. It’s just something that we talk about, and it’s what we’ve come up with; it’s the way I’m going to do it. I’m going to play shallow, but it’s not just on me. It’s what they tell me to do.
DL: Which center fielder did you most admire growing up?
NM: Griffey. I always did, and I still do. I think he is one of the-if not the best-players ever. It’s just unfortunate that he had to miss so much time with injuries. Otherwise, there is just no telling what his numbers would be.
DL: You grew up in Michigan. No Tigers on your list?
NM: Oh yeah, yeah. If you want to go Tigers guys it was Trammell. Alan Trammell was my favorite player with the Tigers, growing up. Not really any center fielders, though.
DL: Did you ever wonder what it would be like playing center field in Tiger Stadium?
NM: Oh yeah, and if you think I play shallow now, think about how shallow it would look with another 40 feet added on behind me. So sure, I used to think about that.
DL: You almost didn’t sign with the Pirates in 2000 when they drafted you out of high school in the 25th round. How close did you come to being a Michigan Wolverine?
NM: Within days. It was something I was excited about, and my brother actually plays there now. It was something I was looking forward to, but I made the right decision in the end. One of the main reasons I signed [a letter of intent] there, is that I’m such a Michigan fan; I like the school. But I don’t dwell on it too much. I do think it would have been fun.
DL: The Red Sox were reportedly among the teams interested in drafting you. Is that true?
NM: I have no idea. None at all.
DL: How much contact did you have with scouts before the draft?
NM: None, just none at all. Not one bit. The only time I had contact with scouts was… I think I went to a couple of little workout days that anybody could go to. I went to one at Western Michigan; I think I went to one at Eastern Michigan. Those were things where for fifty bucks you could go.
DL: Do you have any good stories from the All-Star Game last year?
NM: Not really. It was just fun. The whole thing is a good story; the fact that I was there is the good story. I had only been in the big leagues for a couple of years, and nobody knew who I was. I hadn’t played that much, but I finally got a chance, and that’s where it got me.
DL: You had more home runs  than stolen bases  last year. Does that surprise you?
NM: Yeah, that’s funny, because I thought that would never happen. I kind of looked at it and saw more home runs than steals, and… it won’t happen again this year. But that’s because I’m going to steal more bases, not because I’m going to hit less home runs.
DL: Why are you going to steal more bases? I know that your success rate has been very high.
NM: That’s why. That tells me that if my percentage is that high, I need to run more. Whatever my percentage is, 90-some percent… let’s say, just for the sake of examples, that it’s 95 percent. If I can steal six or seven more bases in a year and be at 90 percent, I think that’s more effective.
DL: Why have you had such a high rate of success?
NM: I think that I pick the situation. I try to steal bases in situations that mean something. I’m not a blazing-fast guy, although I do have pretty decent speed, so I think I really need to pick my situations. I need to pick my pitch and things like that.
DL: Conventional wisdom is that it’s harder to steal against left-handers than right-handers, though some good basestealers have said that’s not always the case. What do you think?
NM: I would say that lefties are easier to steal third off of, and righties are easier to steal second off of. But with some lefties, you can read their move, so it depends. Most guys are getting pretty darn good with their moves, so it can be pretty tricky. A lot of times it will be a first-move type of thing. You just go on their first move, and hope they’re going home.
DL: You first big-league hit and home run both came in 2005. Which was a bigger thrill?
NM: That’s a good question. I would probably say my first hit, for no other reason than it was my first time on base in the big leagues. I think it was my fourth at-bat, and it’s certainly something I’ll never forget.
DL: Standing on first base, did it mean anything to you that it had come against Roy Oswalt?
NM: I was standing on second; it was a double! Can’t let you sell me short! But it was the type of thing where I was so happy to get my first hit, that I didn’t care who was pitching. It just turned out that it was Roy Oswalt, who is one of the better pitchers in the National League over the last seven or eight years. So it was nice to get my first hit and have his name on the ball. You know, “First major league hit, Roy Oswalt.”
DL: Last year you were the Pirates nominee for the Clemente Award, which honors character and charitable contributions to the community. How meaningful was that to you?
NM: Any time you can have your name attached to a name like that, no matter what the reason is, is special. Simple as that. The fact that he was a great baseball player was overshadowed only by the fact that he was an even better human being, so to have my name attached to his, in whatever way that it is, is special.
DL: The fact that you won the award says something about you.
NM: You know, baseball is what I do, and I love it, but I try to do it as… not only what I do, but as a service to other people. It’s entertainment for other people. I loved going to baseball games, and looked up to baseball players when I was a kid, and hopefully some kids are doing that for me now. So you have to be that person who knows that they’re watching, and you want to give them something good to watch that they can be proud of and look up to for the right reasons.
DL: Any final thoughts?
NM: Never again will the Michigan Wolverines win only three football games in a season. I’m absolutely certain of that.