—— After spending so many great years in San Diego as a player, how does it feel to be back?
It feels great! I spent some of best years here as a player, so I’m happy to be back in San Diego. It’s one of the reasons I took the job. I really wanted to share and get back in touch with the people and the place where I had so much success and I ‘d like to get that going here with the GBL.
—— Can you tell us a little bit about this new league, the GBL?
The Golden Baseball League is a new independent pro-league and its pretty exciting. We cover CA and AZ with eight teams and we’ll play a slate of 90 games from May through September over at Tony Gwynn Stadium. Most of our games will be night games, with Sunday day games here. Of the eight teams in the league one of them will be a traveling team—from Japan, the “Japan Samurai Bears”, and they’ll play all their games on the road. Another unique thing about the GBL is that the league owns all of the teams and that allows us to check all the egos at the door and present our teams in the best possible way. We play baseball, but we are in the entertainment business and the entertainment we provide is baseball.
—— So the Surf Dawgs will be playing over at Tony Gwynn Stadium and the man himself is coaching there. You guys played together on some pretty good Padres teams over the years.
Absolutely. A lot of people don’t realize that when he came up he was just an average fielder, but then how many gold gloves did he win…10? He turned himself into a great, outfielder, and of course we all know what he did at the plate. He was a student of the game, of the pitchers, he knew his own swing—he was a hit master. It was a total tribute to his hard work and dedication. Everyday he hit early and almost everyday I can remember he was working on his swing, working on hitting the holes.
—— You’ve been in the big leagues with the Padres, Cardinals, Orioles and Giants, how did you get involved with the GBL and the San Diego Surf Dawgs?
Well, last year I was in Triple-A with the Dodgers and Nick Belmonte, a player procurement guy for the GBL, called and said I should check it out. I was a little skeptical at first and told him, “I don’t know Nick,” but I went up to the league office anyway to hear what they had to say—and I signed a contract with them before I left that day. I was impressed with what they are doing and I liked the whole model of league-owned teams, another thing I liked is that we’re playing National League rules.
—— What’s you role here with the Surf Dawgs?
General manager, farm director, scout, PR…you name it! This is fun. I enjoy doing these interviews to expose the league and my players. I know there are some questions that the public has, but they’re going to be answered very soon. Once people come out to the ballpark and see us and see what we’re doing, I think they’re really going to enjoy it. The beauty of it for me is that baseball is still baseball. As a manager here, I have a degree of control now that I never had before. In affiliated ball there was always somebody above me that that had a say in personnel matters. If there was a No. 1, 2 or 3 pick, they were going to play — whether they deserved to or not. Here it’s up to me and its my philosophy and direction. It’s still baseball and we’re going to look at it just like we did when I was in the big leagues. We’ll have a blend of guys that have played professionally, like Ricky Henderson who just signed and everybody knows, and some guys who haven’t ever played. We’ve got 24 roster spots and 31 guys in camp; I feel good about 15 or so of the spots, but the rest are up for grabs. There are going to be some broken hearts, but there are no promises here or in any business, let alone baseball.
—— Did you always love this game?
Yeah, but in a different way. I think it was a vehicle at first. I love it more for what it is now. It was a vehicle for fame—I never even thought about the money — I just wanted to be a pretty good player. Fear of failure too…you don’t want to fail.
—— Most of us have played a little baseball as kids, but you, you’ve played in the big leagues, as an All-Star, and in the World Series—that’s like a dream come true for most of us.
Yeah, I was pretty fortunate. You can’t really understand what it’s like, unless you’ve been there. It’s just so unlike anything. We were taken care of and all we did was play. It’s funny because when you finally can afford things—you get everything for free! There is no higher league and your job is to play and to win...and that’s everything. Looking back at the All-Star games, those were some of the best times of my whole career. What happens is that when you’re ambitious and goal driven like most professional athletes are you expect things to come your way if you’ve put in the work. So I was really pleased to be an All-Star, but I didn’t realize what kind of group it was until I walked into the clubhouse and saw the guys in there and I thought, “Yeah this is cooool.” In ‘81 my first year as an All-Star, Carter was the MVP; he hit 2 home runs in Cleveland and I think Vida Blue got the win that day.
—— I understand that your dad was a professional player too and you both played in the World Series. That’s a pretty good father and son team!
Yeah, up until 10 years ago I think we were the only father and son to ever drive in runs in the Series. The only problem is he won and I came in second—twice! (laughing) He played on that great ’48 Cleveland team; I think they had 7 hall-of-famers on that team! He was an outfielder with the Indians and was a 3rd baseman with the White Sox. What the old timers tell me is that he had the greatest arm ever in the field. I used to think they where just blowin smoke up my dress, but when I asked around they said he was as good as anyone. I’d like to have seen that, but I was born a year after he was done.
—— Did you guys talk much baseball?
Oh yeah!! I used to call him every time I’d pass one of his stats, hits or homers or something and I’d say, “Gotcha!” and he’d say, “Well that’s the point, isn’t it?” (laughing) I had a lot of respect for him. He was a player for 16 years and a manager; he did just about everything you can do in baseball except own a team and be a trainer. He had stories…stories you wouldn’t believe…I could write a book. When I was a kid and he was managing Oakland he always made a point to introduce me to the big guys. I can remember meeting Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Mickey Mantle, and I was on the field in uniform right up until game time. I met almost everybody that was alive, so it was pretty cool.
—— When did you decide you wanted to really give baseball a shot?
When I made the commitment I was 14 that I wanted to try, then I started working at it really hard when I was in high school it turned out okay. Out of high school I wasn’t even drafted, I’d grown so much in 15 months that I was a geek and nothing happened on the field. Then I went to college and I got it all together. Ended up I was the 6th pick in the 1st round by the Cardinals.
—— I guess you got some good coaching from your dad.
He was there all the time; 90% of what I know came from being around him and that carried me a long way. Then, I came up in the Cardinals organization, which is about as good as it gets for teaching; George Kissel, who was the field coordinator at the time, knows as much about baseball as any man alive and he really helped me.
—— Were you the type of player that made it on his physical talents or his smarts?
No, no, no. It was my head that got me through. I had talent, but it was definitely my head that got me through. I was always ready when camp started. I was always a hot starter in April and May, then I’d cool off a little and finish strong. Catching is a tough position and it wears on your legs and that’s what cost me during my last few years.
—— Was there some type of turning point for you in your career?
Lou Brock said something to me one day, and Lou’s a pretty good guy, he said, “You’ll know. You’ll make a play or have a game and you’ll tell yourself I belong here—I know I belong here.” I don’t know if I can point to any one game, but during the ’80 season, my first full year, I did some things; I didn’t play regularly, but I knew I could compete.
—— Was playing baseball still fun at that level or did the pressure to win kind of temper that?
No, it’s always fun! In fact, even till the end the actual 9 innings were fun, but as you get older the travel and being away from your family gets to you. The game itself was always fun. I just felt like a big kid. That’s the way it’ll be here too. I always enjoyed the game…still do.
—— You’ve got to tell me about the hit. I understand you are the only guy to ever hit it out of Qualcomm.
Oh that. That was a home-run contest… It was home-run contest with Dale Murphy and I had one more swing to go and I walked up into it and I hit it pretty good. It went out between the pillar and the scoreboard.
—— Good for some bragging rights?
Are you kidding? Nobody even remembers that—it was only a home-run contest. Now, if it was during a game — that would have been different.
—— Did playing help to prepare you for being a coach?
When I was a player I was playing all the time, so I didn’t really have the time to stop and think about why we did everything. I started studying that more later in my career. When you’re a starter you don’t have time to do anything but just go out and play. That’s why sometimes a guy who’s on the bench can make a better manager than a starter, because he’s got the time to sit there and take the game apart. Catcher’s do make good managers though, because we’re involved with everything; we know the bunt plays, we know the run down plays, the cuts and relays so we’re in touch with the fundamentals more than most players. When I left it I swore that I’d never go back—that was 13 years ago! I took a year off, went back to school, then I had to get back in. I figured it was pretty selfish of me after what all those coaches and managers had done for me that I wouldn’t give something back.
—— Are you a hands-on kind of coach?
Oh yeah. I was thinking about being the hitting coach too, but I’m not going to do it. My hitting coach is going to be Dan Cholowsky who played for me in the Cardinals chain, but I’m going to handle all the defense because that to me is the most important thing and all the fundamental plays. Larry Owens is going to be my pitching coach. It’s going to be fun teaching and developing the players, so we’ll se how good I was at picking them, especially the rookies, and we’ll see what I can do with them.
—— Are the coaches and teams in the GBL going to be more accessible to the fans?
Yes, definitely. We’re going to make it a point here. I think rookies will be more amenable to it because what they were required to do when they were in college. None of them are jaded enough not to participate. That’s a prerequisite for the job in our league.
—— Can you tell me a little bit about the GBL’s Japan connection?
Well, we’ve got a Japanese team, the Samurai Bears, managed by Warren Cromartie. They are a traveling team and they’re pretty good from what I hear. They’ll be on the road all the time, so that gives the rest of us more home games. I’m guessing that in each city when the Japanese team comes in that they’ll attract the biggest crowds. I really think so. I think that our relationship with Japan will only grow, especially since Takenori Emoto was named Vice-Commissioner, responsible for International Baseball Operations. He was an All-Star pitcher in Japan and later an author, broadcaster, actor, and politician so he’ll bring a lot to the league. I think it will really give people here a chance to be exposed to the Japanese style of baseball.
—— I guess you must’ve played against most of the managers around the league at sometime during your playing career?
Played with and against a lot of them. One of the best things the GBL has done is that they hired the right people to manage these teams for a couple of reasons: they give us a lot of visibility and they know the game. We’ve got Darrel Evans, Gary Templeton, Mark Parent, Les Lancaster, Ozzie Virgil, Bennie Castillo and Warren Cromartie so these guys really know what it takes.
—— I guess you’ll be reviving a few of the old rivalries with some of the guys?
Well, I played with Tempy and Mark; played against Evans and just caught Les at the end of my career and played against Ozzie a lot. I’ve thought about this and we’re all competitive and we’re all going to try and win every game. I can see some serious games coming up and that’s going to stir up all those competitive juices. That’s why we play; we play to win.
—— What are you excited about in this league?
I’m excited about the youth of this league. I 'd like to see some of these rookies get a chance and see if a couple of them can break through. Maybe we’ll do something right with one of ‘em and they’ll get a chance to go and play…move on into affiliated ball. That’s our goal, to sell players and let them move on. There are guys that can and will make it. A local guy, Matt Wheatland, will be here and I really believe this guy can make it back and then we’ve got Rickey. I think they’ll figure something out. For most guys whether they move up or not at least they can tell their grandkids that, “Yeah, I played professional ball.” This league is going to do nothing but get better over the course of the year and from year to year.
—— You’ve been around organized baseball just about your whole life, can you imagine doing anything else?
Now, maybe, but it would have to be something special cause I don’t like wearing suits and I don’t like going to offices. Coming out to the ballpark is great, it’s where I’m comfortable. There’ll be a time someday for something else, but I think at this point it becomes more of a service to the league and the players. I’ve done my thing…I’ve done just about everything and now I want to pass some of what I know on to the next generation.
(06-01-2005 issue, Interviewed by Terry Nicholas)